Compost Happens!by Bill Garlette
Ok, here's the challenge. Next week, for all of your meals, only take vitamin and mineral supplements. What? No clue as to where to start? Ok. Then take all of your meals for the week and have them all at once for Sunday dinner. What are you, nuts!? But this is what we do with our lawns and gardens.
How can we figure out what our plants need for chemical nutrients if we can't do it for ourselves? And what's the problem with giving them all the "food" they need at one time? Won't they just sort it out? Truth is, plants do sort out what they need but on a much smaller and slower basis. So, here's that Soil Science degree thing again? Right? Nope. Let nature sort it out with compost. Embrace the simple and easy. Be one with the pile. Use the horse, Luke.
Properly prepared and matured compost will have tons of nutrients and biotics to provide plants with what they need, when they need it and at the rate they need it. Plants take up nutrients an atom at a time, so putting lots of chemicals down will kill the good microbes (remember, the salts in fertilizer kill them), make the plants dependent on the chemicals (like being on steroids), keep the soil firm and compacted, and essentially insure nothing improves.
Plants grown in poor, compacted soils that are low in nutrients, will grow futilely and be stressed by nutrient deficiencies. This, then, makes them easy prey for insects and disease. In contrast, soil that is rich, well-drained, and teeming with communities of assorted microbes markedly increases the plant's chance at a healthy life. And, since many pests and disease organisms spend part of their life below ground, having an abundant community of organisms to keep them in check is important.
- Beneficial organisms
- Loosens heavy clay soils
- Helps sandy soils retain moisture
- Can be used to make potting soil
- Can be used as mulch
Why use compost?
- No chemicals which kill the soil organisms
- Better plant and water quality
So how do you make compost or where do you get it in small quantities or bulk? How do you apply it?
Here in Kiln Creek, there are understandable restrictions on compost piles. You can use small, self-contained systems but you must be certain to use feedstocks that will not attract flies or unwanted critters. Below are some good things to use. Notice, I've omitted manures. They are excellent materials for composting, but our community is too residential to insure not offending your neighbors. Also, you won't see meats, dairy products and greases. You don't even want to think what comes along with these additions.
If you are truly interested, email me, firstname.lastname@example.org, and I'll send an attachment on how to make various composting systems. This includes designs for a worm compost system. Yep, worms, but not the night crawlers we usually think of. Red wiggles (Eisenia fetida) are the guys that do the job. You can use the small rubber storage container; leave it I the garage, shed or outside if it's not too hot or cold; put in newspaper and kitchen scrapes and the worms do the rest.
Where to get completed compost? Several places carry the good stuff on the Peninsula. Newport News has a compost facility on Warwick Blvd. and sells to the public, though you must transport it yourself. There are two commercial products that are carried at our garden and mulch centers--NutirGreen and Nature's Blend. Both are properly processed for use in any area of your gardening.
You can compost every place you would use fertilizer including your lawn. Actually, especially your lawn. Top dressing the lawn, with about one inch of compost, once or twice a year will add back nutrients and build up needed organic matter. And don't forget about using the mulcher-mower. Grass clippings are considered "green manure". Why give them to the city, so they can put them in their compost piles, so you buy it back, to put it back where it started to begin with--ON YOUR GRASS! On your beds, use 2-3 inches, once or twice a year. Here are a couple of good links to Virginia tech sites on compost:
We live in an amazing and wonderful exciting scientific and technological era. The big companies and lawn guys, though, would have us think that lawn care and gardening are very complicated; that their "scientific" approach to fertilizers, etc., is the easy and simple way (Oh, and by the way, comparatively, very expensive). And that's the beauty of free speech--there are those of us who can say, "Nope. Just use good organic stuff you already have on hand and nature will do the science." Use the One-Step program--COMPOST. Remember, "A Rind is a Terrible Thing to Waste".
"Greens" (Nitrogen sources)
Coffee grounds/tea bags
"Browns" (Carbon sources)
Sawdust (not treated wood)