Com­post for tip-top gar­den


No one would ar­gue that gar­den­ing in New Mex­ico is chal­leng­ing. Many peo­ple are de­terred by our cli­mate, soil, wind, lack of wa­ter, al­ti­tude, and short grow­ing sea­son. Com­post­ing can’t fix all of th­ese prob­lems, but it can sig­nif­i­cantly re­duce wa­ter con­sump­tion in your gar­den and is the num­ber-one best way to im­prove your soil. Ad­di­tion­ally, com­post­ing at home is a great way to re­cy­cle food scraps and yard waste.

High in clay and/or sand, our soils have very lit­tle organic mat­ter. This is where com­post comes in: it’s de­com­posed organic ma­te­rial pro­duced by the work of mil­lions of micro­organ­isms, which con­tinue to live in the soil to which it is added. The organic mat­ter helps soil hold on to wa­ter, and the micro­organ­isms as­sist plant roots in get­ting the min­er­als and other nu­tri­ents they need to flour­ish. As a re­sult, you need to wa­ter your plants less of­ten, and you don’t need to add com­mer­cial fer­til­iz­ers.

So how do youmake some of this “black gold” for your gar­den? There are many dif­fer­ent meth­ods of com­post­ing. The more com­mon types in­clude tra­di­tional “hot” com­post­ing, pas­sive com­post­ing, ver­mi­com­post­ing (with worms), and bokashi com­post­ing (a Ja­panese tech­nique). Which method you choose depends on many fac­tors: how much com­post you need, how much space and raw ma­te­rial you have, how much ef­fort you want to ex­pend, and how much time you have be­fore the com­post is needed.

Each method re­quires its own set of ma­te­ri­als to get started. For ex­am­ple, for both hot and pas­sive com­post­ing, you need “brown” and “green” raw ma­te­ri­als. “Browns” are car­bon-based organic ma­te­ri­als like dry leaves, straw, and shred­ded pa­per or card­board; and “greens” are ni­tro­gen-based ma­te­ri­als like kitchen waste, cof­fee grounds, green yard waste, spent grain from beer­mak­ing, and an­i­mal ma­nure. If you layer the­se­ma­te­ri­als in the right pro­por­tions and keep the mix­ture moist…“com­post hap­pens.” For ver­mi­com­post­ing you need red worms, a place for them to live, and food (kitchen waste) to feed them. Bokashi com­post­ing re­quires an air-tight con­tainer, spe­cial bokashi starter, and food wastes.

An amaz­ing 26 per­cent of what goes into land­fills comes from kitchen and gar­den waste. Some peo­ple are at­tracted to com­post­ing pri­mar­ily as a way to re­cy­cle th­ese ma­te­ri­als so they don’t go into the land­fill. SCAT (the Santa Fe Mas­ter Gar­dener As­so­ci­a­tion Com­post Ac­tion Team) has main­tained a com­post demon­stra­tion site for the last three-plus years; we es­ti­mate that we have re­cy­cled at least 13,000 pounds of garbage.

SCAT is pas­sion­ate about shar­ing the ba­sics and the par­tic­u­lars of com­post­ing with the pub­lic. In ad­di­tion to be­ing avail­able to give talks and set­ting up in­for­ma­tion ta­bles at events, we have reg­u­larly sched­uled hands-on clin­ics at our com­post demon­stra­tion site at the Santa Fe County Ex­ten­sion of­fice. Come join us at one of our clin­ics; the re­main­ing dates for 2018 are July 21, Aug. 18, Sept. 15, and Oct. 20, from9 to 11 a.m. each Satur­day.

Ad­di­tion­ally, SCAT is of­fer­ing three sem­i­nars this sum­mer and fall: Trou­bleshoot­ing Your Com­post (July 7), RaisedBed Gar­den­ing (Au­gust 25), and Im­prov­ing Your Soil (Oc­to­ber 27). Visit www. for more in­for­ma­tion.

Diane Pratt has been a Mas­ter Gar­dener since 2014 and has worked with SCAT since 2015. She co­or­di­nates the com­post demon­stra­tion site at the Santa Fe County Ex­ten­sion of­fice, 3229 Rodeo Road.

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