Many people like to spread mulch on top of the soil in their gardens. It helps maintain a fairly steady temperature and moisture level, and usually assists in blocking out some weeds. I strongly recommend it for the soil surrounding trees, bushes and shrubs, but there is something I much prefer for my garden: compost.
I realize it can smell bad, but it can be a miracle worker when it’s mixed into the first several inches of your garden’s top soil. I like the fact that it is NOT made up of harmful chemicals, which I believe are unhealthy for children, grandchildren and pets that might be playing in the area. Not to mention the fact that chemicals pollute groundwater.
Compost – a combination of greens that provide nitrogen and browns that provide carbon, will add important nutrients your plants need, help retain enough water and be a positive influence on the soil’s drainage.
You can keep it in good condition by monitoring the water, air and temperature that interacts with it. Just designate an area for your compost pile and start piling it up.
Greens vs. Browns
For your greens, you can include lawn clippings, plant prunings, houseplants, fruit peels, vegetable scraps, feathers or hair, bone meal, coffee grounds, hay or alfalfa meal, and others.
Your browns can consist of chipped wood, shredded paper, coffee filters, dry leaves, newspaper, sawdust, pine needles, cardboard egg cartons, aged hay or straw, and more. Try to have approximately twice as many greens as browns.
Occasional rains should keep it damp enough, but if you get a lot of rain, cover the pile with a tarp. And if you get very little rain, you’re going to have to water it regularly.
The best way to monitor the moisture level is by grabbing a handful and squeezing. If a few drops of water come out, great. If more than that, it’s too wet; if less, it’s too dry.
It’s very important that air circulate in your compost pile. Place large sticks at the bottom of the pile in order to ensure an airflow from below, then add a brown layer followed by a green layer followed by a brown layer and so forth.
They’ll get mixed up when you use a pitchfork to regularly turn the compost and create air pockets where things have become clogged, but in the meantime it’s a good way to ensure that you’re getting enough of both.
A composting thermometer will be helpful in keeping the temperature of your pile where it should be. It should have a stem of about two feet in length to reach well into the pile. It the temperature is between 80 and 100 degrees, your pile needs a pitchfork.
If it’s between 100 to 130 degrees, your material is being broken down pretty well. If it’s between 130 and 160 degrees, your pile is performing admirably and is even killing the seeds that could eventually produce weeds in your garden.
Break It Down
Make sure the items in your compost pile are being broken down completely before you add them to your soil. If compost has not been broken down all the way when it enters the soil, it will steal the available nitrogen from your plants to break itself down. Without some of that much-needed nitrogen, your plants will not prosper as they should.