As I mentioned in my previous post, my organic garden makes organic vegetables to help me further along my path toward a healthy and holistic life. In order to do so, my garden has to be healthy and full of nutrient dense soil. A great way to keep your garden healthy is by enriching it with compost. So, grab those leaves now and let’s get started!
Starting a Compost Pile
Now that the leaves are falling as we head into another season it is the perfect time to start a compost pile. For those of us who live where there are distinct seasons, Autumn leaves are probably the most valuable single ingredient in creating compost. Either alone as rotted leaf mold or as the main ingredient of the compost pile, the leaves of October and November are the lifeblood of an organic garden.
Compost is plant and other natural debris that has been converted into decayed matter by a whole web of organisms that occur naturally in soil and range from sowbugs and earthworms to tiny arthropods to microbes. It is an excellent source of organic matter and nutrients. Compost improves your soil structure and its makes it able to hold more nutrients and moisture. Compost is also rich in beneficial fungi and bacteria that help plants to grow and stay healthy. A compost pile may be made of leaves, weeds, hay, manure, waste vegetable matter, coffee grounds or pretty much any vegetable matter. Again, don’t add meat, bones or fat as they will draw rodents.
Compost needs four elements to work: carbon, nitrogen, air and water. Carbon , the “browns”, can be fallen leaves, straw, dried plant waste and shredded paper. Common sources of nitrogen, the “greens,” are grass clippings, fresh garden waste, kitchen scraps and coffee grounds. The pile will start decomposing best if you have a mixture of browns and greens and the key is to put in more brown stuff than green stuff.
Step by Step
Pile the vegetable matter in layers: First an 8-inch layer of vegetable matter, then a 4-inch layer of manure (if you can get it), then a thin layer of soil (you don’t need a commercial “activator”, if you add the soil. It has beneficial microbes to start the pile decomposing), then repeat the layers.
The pile needs to be quite large and built all at once before it will begin composting; 5 feet in diameter and 3 to 5 feet in height will be very good. (Smaller piles and piles built bit by bit decompose and produce good compost, but they don’t get hot enough while decomposing to kill pathogens and weed seeds). As you make the layers, water them. The pile should be kept moist but not wet.
Turn the pile with a garden fork tool 10 days after you start it (this adds the air element to the recipe) and again two or three weeks later.
Over the winter the compost will stop decomposition, but will restart when temperatures warm up in the Spring. In Southern areas the compost will be ready much sooner. The compost is finished when it looks dark and decomposed and smells earthy.
Good compost can be made in 6 months, but it may take a year. I take a year to make mine using the leaves and plant materials from each Fall to start a new pile and adding last years pile to the garden after I clean up the garden for Winter. I add a 1 inch (or more) layer of compost to the top 6 inches of my garden soil with a garden fork. Then I have dark healthy garden soil to work with each Spring and my garden is strong, healthy and productive. Plus I know what those garden vegetables are made of, no chemicals or pesticides or any other toxins that I don’t want to eat.