When I first started gardening, I was buying bagged dirt from the local home improvement stores to plant in. I didn't give much thought to how long the dirt had been sitting in the plastic bags, where it came from, or what was in it. While I'm no soil expert or science guy, I can't imagine that microbes and necessary bacteria can live indefinitely inside a sealed plastic bag, sitting on a pallet under the hot Texas sun. Eventually , i started doing my own research and found that everyone was spouting about the greatness of Compost and that you should be amending your garden with it.
What is Compost?
Compost is often referred to as Black Gold in gardening circles.
Essentially, it is broken down organic matter that is very nutrient dense and provides much needed fuel for your plants. You can use it as a potting soil, you can add it to the base of your vegetable transplants, you can work it into your existing soil to help amend it. Clay soils really benefit from compost as it will help break down the clay into a workable soil you can grow in.
Compost comes from a wide variety of materials that are readily available to the home gardener.
The materials can be broken down into 2 basic elements: Carbon(Browns) and Nitrogen(Greens).
Greens might include: Fruit and Vegetable scraps, plant scraps, grass clippings, coffee grounds, tea leaves, twigs,shredded newspaper, cardboard, etc.
Browns might include: Leaves, twigs, shredded newspaper or cardboard, sawdust, hay, straw, etc..
It is the mixture of these two in the pile that allows the process to star working. Bacteria start to breakdown the material and the temperature starts to "Cook" the pile. Other organisms move into the picture and continue to help the process along.
How to start
First, you will need a place to have a compost pile. There are several items available to you on the market such as towers, barrels, and bins, but you don't have to get that fancy. You could have an open pile if you desired, though i would recommend having some kind of sides on it. You can easily make a compost bin out of chicken wire. It is relatively easy to unroll and set up.
Ideally, a 3'x'3'x3' minimum gives enough space to create a good working pile.
The common school of thought is to use the lasagna method. In alternate layers, add the greens and browns. Along the way, you should add some water. Just give it a quick soak. This is usually more than you think. All of that dry brown material has the ability to absorb a lot of water. Once you have the pile layered and watered, the process will begin very quickly. the next day, you should be able to put your hand down into the pile and feel the heat.
Every week, you will want to turn the pile to re-introduce oxygen into the pile. This will keep it cooking.
Once you start the pile, you can continue to add into it. However, you will, at some point, want to stop adding and let it finish off.
Eventually, you will see the material break down and look more like dirt.
What Not to put into your compost pile
Avoid putting any diseased plants or weeds that have gone to seed.
Avoid using colored, glossy newspaper or cardboard.
Don't put human, dog, or cat waste in your pile. Some manure is able to be composted, like cow, horse, chicken, and other grazing animals.
Don't put any meat or bones, as those will definitely attract unwanted pests.
I've done growing experiments in compost and other bagged garden soil, potting soil, or even the fertilizer enhanced bagged soil, and compost produced a larger, greener, and more healthy looking plant.
So, if you're getting serious about gardening, give compost a try. Your plants will thank you.