Composting Tips For A Better Garden

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Several years back, a colleague and I were discussing our summer gardens. My colleague mentioned that she used quite a bit of her husband’s favorite compost, which accounted for her fantastic yield. The moment she told me that she had zucchini the size of small baseball bats, I knew that it was time for me to create a compost heap of my own.

For the past few years, I’d noticed that something was clearly amiss about our garden. In years past, we had quite a harvest of tomatoes, peppers and wonderful cucumbers. However, the past two years yielded very little in the way of vegetables. Upon the suggestion of both my colleague and my horticulturist-major nephew, I decided to build a compost heap.

The first bin we built was made out of simple pine boards, with a sturdy cover to keep out wildlife. We added various kitchen items, such as coffee grounds, potato peels and vegetable waste. It was an unsuccessful endeavor, due to our impatience and inexperience with composting. We also attracted a few undesirable members of local wildlife, so the entire bin was disassembled and tossed.

By the end of that summer, I decided to try again, this time using a large spackle bucket as my collection bin. I placed a rather large square paver over the top, to prevent mice from getting inside. Every day, I added coffee, fruit peels, potato skins, and egg shells to the bucket. Every three weeks, like clockwork, I turned the entire heap, which began to take on the odor of stale tobacco. I found a few earthworms and placed them inside, then poked holes into the bucket lid so they could breathe. By Halloween, the bucket was filled to the brim. I turned it once more and promptly forgot about it.

When we began to plant vegetables this year, my husband reminded me of the compost bin that resided in the garage since last year. I didn’t think anything had happened to the bin yet, since we had such poor luck in the past with compost.

Much to my surprise, the kitchen scraps and coffee had decomposed to a little less than half the capacity of the bucket. I reached in and extracted a soft clump of what gardeners refer to as “black gold”. Excitedly, I dragged the compost heap out to my whiskey barrels that patiently awaited planting.

This year, I have the largest yield of basil that I have had in years. My heirloom tomato plant looks like a tree. I haven’t had this many jalapeno peppers in years, and my bell peppers rival the fruit found in Best Market. I also have enough tomatoes to make several pots of tomato sauce for Sunday dinners. And it’s all because of that “black gold”!

Composting is a great way to recycle, and it’s an excellent additive to any garden. It’s an inexpensive type of mulch that improves the fertility of your soil and helps to stimulate healthy root development in your plants. Believe it or not, composting your kitchen waste means up to 30 percent less waste in your garbage can and a reduction of garbage in local landfills. It also helps to keep moisture in the soil. Crushed egg shells, fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, leaves, grass clippings and even dryer lint can add nitrogen and carbon to soil that might otherwise be depleted. Water occasionally, because good compost sets up with heat and moisture. Turning the compost every three weeks or so helps to add oxygen, which is necessary for composting to occur. It takes about six months to break down fruit and veggie peels, and up to three years to break down egg shells. Be patient, because composting takes time. If you’re a backyard gardener who longs for a better crop, give composting a whirl. You’ll be glad you did!

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