Compost improves the garden

  • Follow Gardening

Good soil is the foundation for any successful garden. If the soil is not rich in nutrients and does not have good structure, the garden will do poorly, regardless of your best cultural practices.

Unfortunately, most gardens in the Augusta area do not have good soil. There is either too much sand or too much clay. Sandy soils leach out nutrients too rapidly, and clay soils tend to compact and prevent good air movement.

Either situation can be corrected by adding organic matter.

It can be purchased in small quantities at the local nursery or seed store, or you can buy a whole truckload from Bricko Farms in Augusta. Many gardeners, though, would rather make and add their own amendments by composting.

Compost is a black, crumbly, partially decomposed organic residue.

Fall is a good time to start a compost pile because there is an abundance of material to compost.

Most organic material can be used for compost -- grass clippings, dried leaves, hay and small twigs. Most scraps from the table can be used, except animal fat and bones. Avoid weeds and grasses that have developed seed heads.

Start the compost pile where it will be used and where it will not interfere with activities in the yard -- or offend the neighbors. The pile will do best where it is protected from drying winds and where partial sunlight will help heat the composting materials. The more wind and sun to which the pile is exposed, the more water it will need.

The size of the compost pile will vary with the amount of material available, but it should be at least 3 feet wide by 3 feet high to decompose the material properly. The sides of the bin or enclosure should allow free air movement within the pile. One side should be open to permit turning and addition of new material.

Begin by spreading an 8-to 10-inch layer of organic matter over the composting area. On top of this, spread one cup of complete garden fertilizer or some type of nitrogen for each 25 square feet. Next, add a one-inch layer of soil. Continue to alternate these layers as the pile is constructed to a height of about 5 feet. It is not necessary to add lime to a compost pile.

As each layer is completed, it should be watered thoroughly. The pile should be kept damp but not soggy, as wet as a squeezed-out sponge. In hot, dry weather, it may need water as often as every four to five days.

Turn the pile once or twice a month to hasten decomposition. A pile that is not mixed may take three to four times longer to decompose.

The compost is ready when the material turns dark and becomes crumbly. Five to eight months will be required to produce finished compost, depending on the material used and the heat and moisture available during the composting. Experienced composters are able to compost and use their material even quicker.

When applying compost to soils, broadcast and then till or mix. Add as much as necessary to reach the goal of five to 10 percent organic matter.

Sid Mullis is the director of the University of Georgia Extension Service Office for Richmond County. Call him at (706) 821-2349, or send e-mail to smullis@uga.edu.

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