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Composting Made Simple

Turn garden spoils into nutrient-rich compost, and you'll never have to buy fertilizer.

Grass clippings, leaves, dead plants, shrub trimmings and other yard and garden "waste" can add up fast — especially from spring to fall. Instead of putting at the curb for pickup, compost it.

Finished compost is the best thing in the world for anything that grows. With the wealth of nutrients in finished compost, you can skip using fertilizers altogether if you routinely apply it. When you lay it on the soil surface, you're feeding the soil (rather than the plant). The soil will drain better, and the compost will attract earthworms and microbial activity in the soil.

The process of composting is a natural occurrence that usually takes years. When you compost at home, though, you speed up the process. With a little planning, you can produce usable compost in as little as three weeks. And, despite what people think, a properly maintained compost system doesn't create any unpleasant odors.

  • Containing the pile requires nothing more than a wire cage with enough area to generate sufficient heat — at least a 3' x 3' cage.

  • Place your pile — or cage or bin — in the sun, several yards from vegetation and tree roots.

  • Broken twigs make for a good base. The coarse material allows air flow and drainage at the bottom of the pile.

  • Add green and brown materials. A mix of green and brown materials is best. Green is foliage trimmings, spent plants, grass clippings and kitchen waste (containing no meat or fatty foods). Brown is dry, carbon-rich trimmings like fallen leaves and twigs.

  • This lump of new, coarse material will take a while to decompose, but there's a trick to speeding the process — blood meal. A cup or so accelerates decomposition. An alternative to blood meal is finished compost, which already has the bacteria and micro-organisms that help a compost pile get started.

  • It's also important to sprinkle water onto the pile, enabling microorganisms to do their thing. Not too much, though: The pile should be about as moist as a wrung-out sponge.

  • Building the compost over time means repeating the whole process — add material, then a little blood meal, then water.

    A step above the wire cage is the self-contained compost bin. A lid helps contain the materials, and a door on the bottom of the bin comes in handy when the compost is ready to be used. Expect usable compost from a bin like this in two to three months.

    Another high-end compost option is the tumbler. It's designed in such a way that you turn it every day, which helps generate compost more quickly.

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