compostI’ve always heard about how great it is to start your own compost pile. My husband and I decided that it would actually be a great learning experience for the whole family. The kids really loved getting involved in this one. Again, one of the many benefits of homeschooling.

What is Compost?

Compost is an organic matter, usually garden debris, that has been allowed or encouraged to decay. To be a successful organic gardener, you will want to take advantage of the benefit of using a compost. It is useful in improving fertility and texture of planting beds and is an important constituent of greenhouse and potting soils. Its nutritive qualities depend on the fertilizers and other nutrient-containing materials added to the compost pile as it decomposes.

The value to the average gardener of a composted supply of humus is hard to beat, and most amateur gardeners today compost in some form. Compost to which nutritive elements have been added is used as rotted manure is used; compost that isn’t enriched is used as humus only. The best-quality garden loam for all purposes includes one-third humus. It makes the soil spongy, airy and light, and retentive of moisture. Sandy soils lacking humus allow rainfall to wash the nutritive ingredients down and out, and a clay soil without humus will bake so hard it is almost impervious to water and to the rootlets trying to work their way toward food and moisture.

Anything organic left to the elements will compost (decompose). Leaves, grass clippings, plant tops, straw, old hay, and sod are some of the materials you can use to make compost. Many gardeners have made it a practice to add humus in the form of raw organic materials – weeds, for instance – to the soil without composting them, by digging them into borders and around plantings. One of the best ways of doing this is with a rototiller. For most people, renting one is the best option.

The practice does add humus to the soil, raw organic matter causes soil bacteria to speed up their activities. This robs the soil of nitrogen and often causes the leaves of the growing plants around to yellow. It is better for the plants to remove weeds to the compost heap and return them to the soil when they have become compost. Leaf mold and peat moss are two forms of organic matter that can be added to the soil without composting, as they are already composted. If you plan on doing some landscape improvements to your yard, don’t just think about the great new retaining wall ideas you just saw in Better Homes and Gardens, focus on the basics first. Every home owner should have a good size compost pile in their backyard.

How to Build Your First Compost Pile

There are several methods to build a compost pile. A simple leaf pile, or a series of them located at convenient points around the garden may be encased in 15 ft. or so of snow fencing wired into a circle. In time, about two years or more depending on your weather, the leaves will turn into compost without any effort on your part. Miscellaneous leaves composted provide an excellent source of supplemental potting humus, but little in the way of nutrients. Beech and oak leaves are acid, and after composting are excellent additional humus to place around acid-loving broad-leaved evergreens.