The Joy of Compost
by Margie Lachman
Want to grow vibrantly healthy, tasty vegetables? Mix a shovelful of compost in the planting hole of each plant. This will add humus to retain moisture around roots. But just as importantly, you are putting millions of microorganisms into the soil which will break down nutrients into simpler, more accessible forms that are more readily absorbed and utilized by plants.
This process is a vital part of the method of organic gardening and farming. Using chemical fertilizers destroys the microbiota of the soil and eventually makes it sterile. Plants then have a difficult time utilizing the nutrients needed to grow well and resist disease and insects.
Compost needs to be replenished yearly because it is a living source of life in soil that is used up by plants. Most vegetables are annuals.. They grow quickly, using up nutrients over the growing season. Think of how that little tomato plant—that was six inches tall when you planted it—grows to be several feet tall and gives fruit over two or three months! That feat takes lots of energy.
Compost can be made easily by piling leaves, healthy garden trimmings, scraps of fruit and vegetables from the kitchen, eggs shells, coffee grounds and paper filters, grass clippings (if no weed killer is used!), weeds without seeds—any non-diseased plant material can be used and should be chopped small. The material can be put in a bottomless 3 x 3 foot covered container directly on the ground so that earthworms can enter and help reduce the material and enrich it with their waste droppings (worm castings). Mixing the pile’s upper 20 inches or so with a spade fork every two or three weeks helps aerate the material and breaks it down more quickly.
Making your own utilizes waste that would be discarded, plus you know exactly what is in it. You can also buy it at garden stores but your own is free. You only need to add water to keep it as moist as a wrung-out sponge, and add a sprinkle of garden soil when adding kitchen trimmings. It is ready when it looks like coarse coffee grounds and has no strong odor.
Sift the compost from the bottom of the pile through a piece of hardware cloth over a garden cart or wheelbarrow to remove any large pieces, which can be added back into the top. Compost is the best thing you can do for all your plants, but especially the ones you are going to eat!
Questions? Email me at email@example.com.