Autumn colors are giving way to falling leaves and with eco-friendly fall maintenance tips in mind, the leaf blowers are tucked away and the rakes are handy. Even if there is curbside pick-up available in your area, it is still be beneficial to save those leaves to create your own compost pile.
With rising food costs, local food movements are on the rise and there are many aesthetic and environmental reasons to consider having a bamboo garden. Composting is a key component of a healthy garden as it adds nutrients to the soil, increases the ground’s ability to hold soil and promotes root growth. For tightly packed clay soils, the compost works as a porous divider that lets air and water enter the soil. For sandy soils, compost works as a sponge to help hold water and nutrients. Composting also alleviates the strain on local landfills as it reduces yard waste volume up to 75%.
You can start by making your compost bin (check back at Green Earth News on Wednesday for instructions) or purchasing one at a local hardware store. Begin by layering different types of shredded plant materials in 6 – 8 inch layers using equal parts dry and green plant materials. Be careful when using fine grass clippings as they can prevent water from moving through the mass. It’s best to alternate fine materials with woody plant prunings as a balance of dry and green materials.
While some people include soil as a layer, the weight of the soil makes the compost pile less efficient as it suffocate microorganisms. You should however add water after every few layers and possibly ½ cup of ammonium sulfate per bushel of material. Recycled yard waste is the best and most readily available material for composting and includes leaves, vegetable and flower plant parts, straw and some woody pruning, grass clippings and weeds. Plants lose between 50 and 75 percent of their volume in composting, so a lot of plant material can be processed effectively. Kitchen waste such as vegetable scraps, coffee grounds and egg shells also compost well.
Materials to avoid include animal wastes (including dairy products), human, cat or dog feces (they may transmit diseases), plants treated with weed killers and wood ashes. Manure, while once a popular choice, may now contain new strains of E. coli and should be avoided. Likewise, newspapers were once a staple of compost bins but they may be best recycled and re-used rather than composted. If you do use them, do so sparingly.
If a compost pile is properly mixed and maintained, a usable product should be available in as little as two months. The compost should be half its original size with a healthy, earthy smell. To maintain your compost pile, water consistently to keep it moist but not wet and use an aeration tool to turn the entire mass occasionally to provide uniform aeration.
Keeping a garden healthy requires much preparation but once prepared, a healthy compost pile will keep your garden bountiful for many seasons!