5 things com­post­ing will do for your gar­den

The Denver Post - - LIFE&CULTURE - By Lee Re­ich

Com­post is usu­ally taken to mean a pile of or­ganic ma­te­rial — stuff that is or was liv­ing — de­lib­er­ately as­sem­bled for rel­a­tively fast de­com­po­si­tion.

The fin­ished prod­uct is a witches’ brew of par­tially de­com­posed vegetable and an­i­mal mat­ter, teem­ing with liv­ing bac­te­ria, fungi and an­i­mals. It’s a key in­gre­di­ent to a good gar­den.

Weed your gar­den

Com­post will “weed” your gar­den when ap­plied as a mulch. Weeds have a hard time fight­ing their way to the light through a 1- or 2-inch blan­ket of com­post laid over the soil. A well-made com­post pile will get hot­ter than 140 de­grees F, which is hot enough to kill most weed seeds (and most dis­ease or­gan­isms) that might find their way into the pile as old plants, pulled weeds and other or­ganic ma­te­ri­als are added.

Of course, a weed is just a plant in the wrong place, and one wel­come weed that the com­post mulch brings to my gar­den is tomato. Tomato seeds re­sist the tem­per­a­ture of com­post­ing. Tomato plants are easy to weed out; some gar­den­ers leave some to grow on and fruit.

Feed your gar­den

Com­post is rich in nu­tri­ents that will fer­til­ize your gar­den.

The 10-10-10 on a bag of com­mer­cial fer­til­izer means the bag con­tains 10 per­cent ni­tro­gen, 10 per­cent phos­phate and 10 per­cent potash. These three nu­tri­ents are what plants need in great­est quan­ti­ties, but they’re not the only nu­tri­ents needed.

What about more than a dozen other el­e­ments es­sen­tial for plant nu­tri­tion? Corn stalks from last year’s gar­den, this­tles that once poked their spiny heads up in mead­ows, and rinds from or­anges eaten last win­ter rot to­gether to form com­post that pro­vides a smor­gas­bord of es­sen­tial nu­tri­ents.

Wa­ter your gar­den

Com­post will not lit­er­ally wa­ter your gar­den, but it will help your gar­den be­come more wa­ter-ef­fi­cient. Wa­ter fall­ing on the sur­face of a com­post-en­riched clay soil will be ab­sorbed like a sponge, rather than goug­ing out rivulets as it runs across the soil sur­face.

Roots need to “breathe,” so they can’t do their job in sod­den clay soils. Un­der those con­di­tions, they can’t even take up wa­ter, so they wilt, just as they do from drought. Add some com­post to such a soil, and the soil be­comes bet­ter aer­ated so roots can func­tion.

At the other end of the spec­trum are sandy soils, into which wa­ter per­co­lates eas­ily but then just keeps go­ing and runs out of reach of plants. Com­post will act like a sponge to hold wa­ter in a sandy soil.

“Garbage” man­age­ment

Com­post will not take out your garbage, but it will take care of it. Wa­ter­melon rinds, corn cobs, old broc­coli, old pizza — they all make smelly garbage but great com­post. Bagged in plas­tic, garbage be­comes a vile-smelling slime. Ground into your garbage dis­posal, it taxes sep­tic sys­tems and sewage plants. In­stead, why not turn garbage into com­post?

Com­post, like bread, is best home-made. Mak­ing it en­tails sci­ence and art — if you want it to get hot and fin­ish “cook­ing” quickly. Not to worry, though: Any pile of or­ganic ma­te­rial will even­tu­ally turn to com­post.

The one thing you can do to im­prove your com­post­ing, and it’s easy, is to make your com­post in a bin. A bin might be home­made — from lum­ber or cin­der blocks, for in­stance — or bought. It fends off scav­engers, holds in heat and mois­ture, and makes the pile look like a com­post pile rather than a garbage pile.

Gath­er­ing com­post ma­te­ri­als to­gether in a bin speeds the com­post­ing process and keeps ev­ery­thing tidy. Lee Re­ich, The As­so­ci­ated Press

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