by Robert “Skip” RichterCounty Extension Director - Travis CountyTexas AgriLife Extension Service.
Composting is fun!Its also easy.Lets learn abouthow we makecompost and howwe use it to growbeautiful gardens.
Nature recycles leavesand plants.In a forest, leaves fallforming mulch thatprotects the soil.Over time theydecompose into nutrientsthat feed forest plants.TheTheForestForestFloorFloor
You can recycle leaves and otherplant materials at home by setting upa compost bin.Making CompostMaking Compostin a Binin a Bin
First select a spot to set up your bin. It should beout of the way but convenient to reach with plentyof room to work around. Some good places wouldbe near your garden or in a back corner of theyard. It is also a good idea to choose a locationclose to a source of water.Set UpSet Upthe Binthe Bin
Now for the recipe for compost. The micro-organisms that recycle leaves and other plantparts need an even mix of brown stuff andgreen stuff to munch on. They also need airand water to live and work. Put all this togetherand in time you will have compost!Compost RecipeCompost Recipe
Brown stuff is dead, dried plant parts like leavesand pine needles. Brown stuff is high in theelement carbon. Green stuff is fresh, living partslike grass clippings, kitchen vegetable scraps,weeds and other plants. Green stuff is high in theelement nitrogen.FiveFiveContainers ofContainers ofIngredientsIngredients
Dont use meat, milk products because pets andother animals may try to dig them up out of yourcompost bin. Also dont use diseased gardenplants. They can spread disease back into thegarden later when you use the compost.Dont UseDont Use♦Meat ♦ Bones ♦ Cheese♦ Fat ♦ Milk ♦ Oils♦ Pet droppings ♦ Diseased plants
It is easiest to build our compost bin in layers ofingredients. Start with the brown stuff by spreadinga layer of leaves or pine needles about 6 inchesthick.AddAddLeavesLeaves
Here are some sources of carbon along with theircarbon-nitrogen ratio. You can use these numbersto better determine how much brown and greenstuff you should use to make the best mix forcomposting. Some things, such as sawdust, arevery high in carbon compared to their nitrogencontent, while others, such as leaves, are not sohigh.Carbon SourcesCarbon Sources
Then sprinkle a shovelful of soil or compost to addmicroorganisms to the bin.ShovelShovelthetheSoilSoil
Each layer gets a good sprinkling of water to wetthe ingredients. It is important to wet each layer asyou build it. Repeat each of the layers until the binis full and then.....WateringWatering
...TAH DAHHHHH! the microorganisms will go towork breaking down the ingredients into humus. Ifyou want faster compost, you can mix theingredients every few weeks but this isntnecessary.FinishedFinishedBin!Bin!
Now tiny microorganisms (that you cannot seewithout a microscope) go to work breaking downthe organic matter into compost. Later, as thecompost cools down, you may see largerorganisms such as millipedes, sowbugs,earthworms and others. Compost is teeming withliving things!Compost “Critters”Compost “Critters”
This is compost, the dark, earthy-smelling stuff isrich in nutrients. Plants love it! Lets talk about howto use compost to help plants grow.HandfulHandfulofofCompostCompost
You can use compost as a mulch around gardenplants, like this rose bush. Mulch protects the soiland shades out weed seeds. Nutrients are washedout into the soil with each rain to feed the roots ofplants.UseUseCompostCompostas Mulchas Mulch
Compost is great for mixing into the soil when youare planting a new plant like this flower! It helps asandy soil hold moisture and nutrients better andimproves clay soils too.Mix IntoMix IntoPlantingPlantingHoleHole
Compost mixed with some sand makes a superpotting soil for growing plants in containers.UseUseCompostCompostin Pottingin PottingSoilSoil
Another way to compost in the garden is by trenchcomposting.Trench CompostingTrench Composting
Start by placing leavesin the trenches betweenraised beds, or in thepathways through yourgarden.DumpingDumpingLeavesLeavesIn TrenchIn Trench
By the end of the gardeningseason these leaves will bemostly decomposed andcan be scooped up andplaced around gardenplants as an excellentmulch. Or, you can mixthem into the planting bedsto improve the soil.ShovelingShovelingCompostCompostfrom Trenchfrom Trench
Another way to compost in the garden is by makingcompost pockets. They are easy and fun.Compost “Pockets”Compost “Pockets”
Start by digging a holeabout 18" deep. Placefruit, vegetable scrapsand coffee grounds fromthe kitchen in the hole.Dont use meat, fat, milkor eggs because pets orwild critters will try to digthem up for lunch!
Next, cover the scrapswith soil to bury them andfill the hole. Now you canmake more compostpockets in otherlocations!CoveringCoveringWith SoilWith Soil
After about a month or two you can plant a floweror maybe a tomato plant on the spot where youmake the compost pocket. Then stand back andwatch it grow!
The EndThe Endby Robert “Skip” RichterCounty Extension Director - Travis CountyTexas AgriLife Extension Service.