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04/01/09 02:13 - ID#48256

compost

So I've been gardening like a crazy thing lately.
Did you know that coffee grounds make fabulous compost?
They're basically potting soil as-is! They are very high in nitrogen, which plants need for lush foliage and good fruit production. (Phosphorus is better for flowering plants to set flowery blooms.)
So even if you're not the sort of person to have a compost heap, you can just dump your coffee grounds into a container and when it gets full, sprinkle the grounds in your garden or on your lawn or around your shrubs. Keep 'em out of the trash! Throw less stuff away. (Just use a thin layer; grounds may clump together and prevent soil respiration unless you spread them out and mix them into the soil. And too thick a layer at once might shock or burn the plant, so keep it light. Try raking them into your lawn! Better than commercial fertilizer. Try it.)

And if you've ever thought about composting, it is so easy. It can easily go wrong, just like any gardening thing. But by "go wrong", I mean, not work, or smell kinda funny.

Those black plastic composters make it basically foolproof. That way, even if it doesn't work, the odor doesn't spread much, and the mess is self-contained. But you can also just set up a circle of chicken wire held up with garden stakes with a big stick in the middle that you wiggle to aerate the pile.

Basically, compost is made up of "brown" matter, and "green" matter. You want approximately four parts of brown matter to one part of green matter. Too much green, and everything will go slimy and smelly. Too much brown, and it will dry out and nothing will change.
"Brown" material is anything rich in carbon. Chopped leaves, dry sticks and stalks, wood chips, sawdust, straw, and even cardboard and paper are good brown materials. Coffee filters count too.
"Green" material is anything rich in nitrogen. Grass clippings are a fantastic source of nitrogen. Weeds you've pulled (though be careful if the weed has gone to seed-- a small compost pile won't get hot enough to kill the seeds). Food scraps-- carrot peelings, squash guts, wilted lettuce, celery ends. And coffee grounds!

When you make your compost pile, just remember to add more brown than green. You can either layer it, in the "lasagna" method-- a big layer of brown with a layer of green on it, then another brown, like a sandwich only repeated until you're out of material. Or you can just mix it all evenly.
Either way, whatever kind of enclosure you've got-- a wooden box, a cardboard box that eventually composts itself, a black plastic one that keeps it tidy so your neighbors don't complain-- all you've got to do is make sure it doesn't dry out (water with a hose until it's as damp as a wrung-out sponge), make sure everything you put into it is in small pieces (run leaves over with a lawnmower, chop sticks up small with a shovel, slice your vegetable castoffs smallish, crush eggshells with your hands), and turn it with a pitchfork or shovel once in a while. The turning is optional if it's well-mixed or properly layered; it just goes faster and is more complete if you turn it.
If it's stinky and slimy, add more brown and mix it in. If it's too dry, water it, but maybe it needs some more green too. When you turn it, try to make what's on the edges go into the middle, since that's where it's hottest and things break down most quickly.

In the summer it'll only take maybe 3 months until what you pull out of the pile basically looks like potting soil. Compost is the perfect planting medium or soil enrichment. It's cheaper than buying topsoil and fertilizer at the garden center. And it means you didn't throw away a whole lot of stuff that would wind up wasted in a landfill-- landfills don't have proper composting conditions so things are basically fossilized there, plus it's all contaminated with chemicals.

If you don't want to compost, give me your leaves and grass clippings. I don't get enough from my tiny yard with no trees-- I had to steal a big garbage bag full of leaves from my parents' house 300 miles away while I was home for Thanksgiving. My soil needs the help!

This year I'm trying something new: I'm setting up a horizontal compost "heap" and gardening straight onto the top of it. Look up "lasagna gardening" in Google and see what you find. That's what I'm doing! Much less back-breaking than cutting sod and chopping out the established weeds in some of my garden beds!!

That may be something you could try if you don't think a compost heap will fly with the neighbors-- they'll never know you're composting! Just get some kind of edging for the bed so they can't see the layers at the edges, and they'll never know you didn't have tons of expensive soil trucked in.
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