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. sfmga.org 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.