October 3, 2008

“Green” Gardening With a Compost Pile

Consumers have embraced the green lifestyle -- not as a fad, but as a new way of life for their entire family. According to a recent Harris poll on green living, supported by the Nature Conservancy, 53 percent of consumers have taken steps to green their lives. They are bringing their own bags to grocery stores, buying more organic products and planting vegetable gardens all in the name of "going green." Another popular technique is creating a compost pile right in their backyard.

A compost pile creates an environment where plant waste materials decompose quickly and leave behind nutrient-rich organic material that is ideal food for gardens. The long-term benefits of composting are numerous, including improving the overall quality of soil, providing richer nutrients to plants and more efficient water utilization, as well as suppressing plant diseases.

Creating a compost pile can take anywhere from one month to one year depending on the effort level. Troy-Bilt(R), a leading manufacturer of outdoor power equipment, offers a few tips on how to start your own compost pile that benefits you and the environment.

-- Collect discarded plant materials. Grab them from your garden and even dinner scraps, including coffee grounds, eggshells, fruits and vegetables. Just remember not to include meat, egg yolks or diseased plants because these can create odor problems or spread diseases that survive and transfer to new plants.

-- Create a compost space. Place scraps in a three foot by three foot area; try using four posts and chicken wire to create your space. Make sure to position the compost pile in a spot that receives sunlight and shade.

-- Layer debris. Alternately layer shredded leaves, wood chips, vegetative matter and soil until the pile is about three feet tall. The more surface area created by small pieces of leaves and wood, the quicker the plant matter will decompose.

-- Turn the pile. Aerate your compost using a shovel or pitch fork to turn the pile once every two weeks. Increase number of turns and add waste matter from your kitchen at even intervals to speed up decomposition. Once heat radiates from the center of the pile, it becomes a healthy compost and is ready to till into your garden.

"If your compost doesn't seem to be decomposing, adjust the method by adding water to keep it moist," explains Heidi Ketvertis of Troy-Bilt. "Also try adding more or less plant matter or positioning your pile at a new area in your yard."

Compost is ready when the harsh smell has disappeared and now smells earthy with a dark look and is relatively crumbly overall.

Now that you've made the compost, here's how to use it:

-- Mixed with equal amounts of soil and sand, compost makes a nutrient-rich and light potting soil for houseplants and planter boxes.

-- Compost is great for mulching around trees and shrubs and will protect against soil erosion while also saving water.

-- Compost tea can be made to water flowers, vegetables, houseplants and lawns. By combining equal parts of compost and water and letting it sit for a while, you can use the liquid to give your garden or flowers a "quick boost."

Composting is not a perfect science; monitor your methods to discover how compost works in your yard. Follow these simple composting tips and you'll have a greener garden come spring.

SIDEBAR -- Prep your yard and garden for fall and winter

With fall comes extra garden chores, but taking the time to do a little extra cleanup now will save valuable time in the spring. Each year, try to develop a quick checklist of gardening must-dos before the first frost. Here are a few simple and easy tasks from Troy-Bilt:

-- Collect leaves for mulch. Leaving wet and matted leaves in flower beds can suffocate plants, resulting in dead or diseased grasses and foliage. Use a Troy-Bilt electric blower vac to spread leaves over the lawn and chop them up with a lawn mower. Let shredded leaves remain on the lawn to decompose or use as mulch over bulbs.

-- Remove annuals. Discard flowers and vegetables. Break out clippers to cut perennials right above the soil -- this will protect against insects and disease.

-- Protect pots for next year. Make sure to clean and store pots inside the basement or garage to protect against cracking.

-- Weed away. Try to weed all beds now to prevent as many pesky weeds from growing next year.

-- Move plants. Don't like that Japanese maple in the front yard? Now is a great time to move any plants or shrubs because they will have ample time to develop solid roots before going dormant.

 For more information, contact: Michelle Venorsky Marcus Thomas LLC 216-292-4700 x3054 [email protected]

SOURCE: Troy-Bilt