Composting: the Nuts and Bolts

Steve Allgeier
Carroll County Master Gardener Program

Many of you already know this, but one of the easiest and most important improvements that you can make to your gardens is to add organic material to the soil. Ideally, this is done by layering or digging in composted yard waste. Now being from a consumer based economy we tend to rely on store bought composts, spending anywhere from $3.50 - $6.00 for a bag of it. Compost is not only good for the plants but more importantly it is a long lasting food for the often under recognized soil organisms that keep our soils healthy.

It is amazing how far a bag of this stuff does not go once you have worked it into the ground and the variation in quality of the many bagged compost products. My favorite laugh was the bargain bag of "composted cow manure". As one local nursery owner commented, "that stuff has never seen the back side of a cow and it is 90% saw dust".
Good compost should have a relatively moist feel and look dark with a pleasant earthy smell and very few recognizable pieces of organic material. The other thing that many of us forget is that compost doesn't need to be purchased, it is relatively easy to make in your own back yard and something that Carroll County Recycling office is encouraging all of us to do. Many of us habitually rake up our grass clipping and bundle up our fall leaves to be hauled to the local landfill, when in fact this material can be turned into something that you normally buy at the nursery - compost.

Once you understand the basics of composting it is very easy to do and requires no special equipment or college degree. As I tell my kids "compost happens".

Composting is the natural process that helps to transform organic matter such as leaves, grass clippings and other materials into humus, a nutrient rich stable aggregation of microbes and minerals. The process is simple, build a pile no smaller than 3' x 3' x 3' of chopped or shredded yard waste. Add water and turn or mix periodically. In time (1 - 6 months) that pile will be reduced to a much smaller pile of humus or compost. This is truly the very simplified version of the composting process and can be finessed to go much more quickly.

Read other articles by Steve Allgeier