Now is the time we acquire most of our material for the compost pile, i.e. leaves, frost bitten plants, grass clippings, wood chips, and food scraps. We can return to the soil what we have taken out with our tomatoes, sweet corn, and other foods.  I have always maintained that the best food for a plant is another plant as it should contain everything it needed to grow.  In addition there is the food manufactured by the plants as they stand in the sun.

          The smaller the pieces, the faster they will decompose to the place where they can be digested.  So I have a chipper that puts everything in very small pieces.  This changes the volume down by 4 to 1.  I usually tell everyone that next to the City of Lincoln, I probably have the largest compost pile in town.  The chain link fence that goes all around my yard collects all the leaves blowing around the neighborhood and they go into the compost pile. As the pile builds up I try to dampen it down as the bacteria, fungous, and actinomycetes need water and oxygen to decompose materials.  They are there by the billions and hungry and thirsty.

          The best way to learn to make your own compost is to attend one of the workshops put on by your local County Cooperative Extension office. Before you go, call them to get a NebGuide which gives you instructions on how to build one. The number is 441-7180 or you can go on the internet to In the top box scroll down to extension. In the bottom box type in compost, or the publication number.

          So what does compost do for you? Actually you can change a very poor soil into a crumbly, productive soil by digging in compost as deep as you can.  If your soil is clay and much of your water runs off, with compost it will hang on to the moisture making it available for roots. This in turn makes fertilizer elements available as roots need their food in a water soluble form. The soil is also loosened to make it easier for roots to penetrate.

          My compost is gone by the end of the summer so the fall material starts a new one.  If you need to hurry things up, add high nitrogen fertilizer, manure, coffee grounds, or shovels of soil on top before you water it down.  This will make the pile start “working” immediately, but as winter cold hits almost nothing goes on and you and the pile wait for spring.

          I use so much that a good deal of my accumulation never gets to be compost.  If I need the good stuff early in the spring, I dig what is at the bottom of the pile.  I have been tempted many times to get one of those turning barrels to see if it really finished up in two weeks.

          Comes spring, my plants are so close, I cannot dig compost in anymore.  The plants are up and it rains and I’d like to keep the rain in the soil. So my compost pile is now a mulch pile.  If you have sandy soil, the water and fertilizers run right through, but compost mulch will prevent that.  Also, compost mulch will prevent erosion and not let your soil become crusty. Thus the soil is always ready when you want to work in the garden. Compost mulch also keeps your soil warmer in winter and cooler in summer.  I have a number of plants listed for zones warmer than our zone 5 so after the first hard frost, I put a pile of compost mulch on.  I try to put several inches of compost mulch on after my plants come up and get tall enough so that I don’t bury them or touch the stems as this can rot them.

          Then the mulch disappears. If you are lucky there are worms waiting for lunch just under the surface. They will eat the compost mulch, that is it will pass through and come out as “castings” which is very nutritious for your plants.  During the summer my grass clippings are mixed in with the compost. This speeds up the breaking down process and releases nitrogen to feed my plants.  Most places have to be mulched twice during the season.

          Whenever I need to dig a hole anywhere, I fill it up with compost (mulch) rather than soil.  When planting a plant that has been growing in a container, I dig a bigger hole than needed and fill it with compost. I use compost for many things.

          Many people say they don’t have room for a compost pile. Be creative. This summer George made four small compost bins from woven wire fencing. They are about 3 feet in diameter and 3 feet tall. Two were placed in the middle of a row in the garden. He planted miniature pumpkins for his granddaughter on one side and acorn squash on the other side of the bin. The second has muskmelon on one side and Patty Pan squash on the other. The other two compost bins are at each end of a row. Planted on one side are two swan gourd plants I started from seed and gave to him. At the base of the other bin are three butternut squash plants. The compost bins have fed the plants all summer and the plants have taken over that section of the garden. He also planted potatoes on the ground inside a small bin and then put about 3 inches of compost over the top. As the potato vines grew compost was added. Harvesting was easy. No digging. Just remove the bin and pull the compost away.

          Be creative in making your compost pile. Just make sure you don’t send your waste to the landfill but use it to improve your soil.

          A bonus story: I have a little (20 pound) white dog, mostly Bichon with big floppy ears and thick, partially curly fur. His name is “Snoopy” because that is what he is----snoopy. I also have a Keeshond named “Pepper”. They have a good dog house but when it rains I bring them in.  My Keeshond is afraid of thunder. It was raining and I turned them loose.  Pepper dashed in at once.  Snoopy always has things to check out. Perhaps there was a rabbit under a plant, or someone coming down the walk.  This day he decided to climb the compost pile!

          Next scene-rain, me with a hose, and a compost covered dog.  Luckily I always keep old towels in the garage so eventually we made it into the house.

Copyright 2004