Looking for a low-cost way to enrich the soil in your garden? Consider composting.
Suzanne Hirrel, waste management specialist with the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service, says composting is a great way to turn simple household waste into a valuable, soil-enriching amendment.
"Compost improves soil structure and allows us to grow healthier plants, because it increases the soil's capacity to hold water, and it allows plants to use fertilizer more efficiently," she says
Few tools are required to make compost, though a bin or contained area is necessary for best results.
Hirrel says a compost bin should be about a cubic yard in size. It can be made of everyday materials, or you can buy prefabricated bins.
The process of composting is uncomplicated, and the elements that create compost are organic byproducts from common household items.
"You need to adapt a formula of two-thirds carbon ("brown") matter--such as leaves, straw, and shredded paper--and one-third nitrogen ("green") matter such as grass clippings, inedible vegetable and fruit waste like skins or rinds, or certain manure," she says.
"Egg shells and coffee grounds are both excellent to add to a compost pile as well," Hirrel notes.
"By adding these products to the pile, and turning it weekly with a pitchfork, you can have workable compost in as little as two months," says Hirrel. "When the pile is an indiscernible mass of brown matter that no longer resembles any original additives, you're ready!"
There are a few products to avoid adding to a compost pile.
"You should avoid using dairy products, diseased plants and weeds that produce seeds," she said.
A gardener can till compost into a garden before planting. Add it to the top 6 inches of existing beds. A lightly screened layer of compost can be added to lawns and other turf to help enrich the growing conditions.
"Compost is also available for purchase at many garden supply centers, but I advocate making your own from common household byproducts because you know exactly what went into the compost, and it's much more earth-friendly," Hirrel says.
For more information about composting, contact your county Extension agent. The Cooperative Extension service is part of the U of A Division of Agriculture.