CompostingR. Jeanne Rehwaldt
Every gardener knows that purchasing soil and amendments for your garden can be tough on the pocket book. Why not make amendments from things that you would normally send to the landfill? Composting is a wonderful way to be green and give a present to your garden at the same time.
Composting carries out part of the earth's biological cycle of growth and decay. Plants grow by capturing the sun's energy along with carbon dioxide from the air and nutrients and water from the soil. When plants die, they become raw materials for the composting or decay process. Microorganisms, fungi, insects, worms, mites, and other creatures convert the carbon from dead plants into energy for their own growth, releasing carbon dioxide into the air. Similarly, they recycle the nutrients from the decaying plants into their own bodies and eventually back into the soil. Other plants and microorganisms use the carbon and nutrients released by the composting process, and the cycle begins again.
The material that remains from the decay process is similar to soil organic matter. It holds water and nutrients in the soil, and makes the soil more porous and easier to dig.
Employing slow composting is an easy and convenient way to turn yard wastes into a useful soil amendment. It is often the best method for people who do not have the time to tend a hot compost pile. Simply mix non-woody yard wastes into a pile and let them sit for a year or so. Microorganisms, insects, earthworms, and other decomposers will slowly break down the wastes. A mixture of energy materials and bulking agents provides the best food source and environment for decomposition.
Add fresh wastes to the pile by opening the pile, placing fresh wastes into the center, and covering them. This helps aerate the pile, and also buries the fresh wastes so they do not attract pests.
Fruit and vegetable wastes are particularly appealing to pests, such as flies, rats and raccoons. To avoid pests, bury these wastes within the pile. If you bury the vegetable wastes in the pile, and pests are still a problem, you may need to screen the pile or keep vegetable wastes out.
You also can bury vegetable wastes directly in your garden. Dig a hole or a trench about a foot deep, add a few inches of vegetable wastes, mix them with the soil, and refill the trench with soil. Another way to avoid pests is to compost vegetable wastes in a worm bin.
Slow composting does not produce the heat needed to kill many weed seeds. It is best to pull and compost weeds before they go to seed. If you put seeds in the compost pile, be prepared for more weeding.
If you are interested in becoming a Master Gardener registration for training classes is open. Classes will be held on Fridays beginning September 20, 2013 and continue every other Friday from 9 am – 4 pm through December 20. In November there will be two classes held back to back to allow for the Thanksgiving holiday. Core curriculum is delivered via on line modules and Friday classes are hands on for practice of new skills. Cost is $175 and a commitment to volunteer 60 hours in the year following training. The application can be found on line at http://mason.wsu.edu. Click on Master Gardener and open the application. If you have questions you can contact a Master Gardener on Mondays from noon – 3 pm at 360-427-9670 Ext. 687.