NEIGHBORHOOD GARDEN FOR SEPTEMBER 24,
BY GLADYS JEURINK
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 http://ianrhome.unl.edu/search.
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
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.
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!
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.