PINE BLUFF, AR--Got leaves?

Make compost, advises Dr. John Meister, associate professor of agriculture at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff (UAPB) and director of the UAPB/City of Lonoke compost project in Lonoke.

"Compost improves the soil by adding organic matter, attracts earthworms which aerate the soil and improve drainage; and returns plant nutrients and essential trace elements to the soil," said Meister.

Composting, the biological decomposition of organic matter, is nature's way of recycling said Dr. Meister.

Most folks have the necessary compost ingredients at hand--grass clippings, leaves, brush, branches, pine cones, food wastes, eggshells and vegetable peelings.

"The simplest method is the heap or pile method," Meister said. "A heap or pile should be five feet wide by three feet high and ideally, plan on two heaps."

Materials can be added as they become available or stockpiled until enough is available for a heap. When one heap is large enough, it should be allowed to decompose undisturbed. Additional waste can be added to the second heap.

The heap needs to be turned regularly.

"As you plan to turn the heap, you can add kitchen waste to the heap," Meister said. Be careful to be sure the scraps are incorporated into the heap, or they will attract pests."

Dr. Meister advises to layer the heap and water each layer as it is added to the heap. Then, scoop out a basin on top to catch rainwater. Following are the steps in heap composting.

Place coarse materials (branches, brush, pinecones) at the bottom of the heap.

Layer organic wastes (leaves, grass clippings) eight to 10 inches deep. Water this until moist but not soggy.

Add one inch of soil or old compost to insure that the pile is inoculated with decomposing microbes.

Place a nitrogen source on top of the soil. A couple of inches of livestock manure, or nitrogen fertilizer (such as urea, ammonium nitrate or ammonium sulfate) at the rate of 1/3 cup per 10 sq feet of surface area will do. Do not use a fertilizer that contains an herbicide or pesticide. Green grass clippings or blood meal will also suffice for a nitrogen source.

Repeat the process--coarse material, eight to 10 inches organic waste, one-inch soil and nitrogen source.

Cover the heap with a layer of yard waste, mulch, sod or soil to prevent moisture loss and reduce pest problems.

"Research shows that there is no advantage to purchasing a compost starter or inoculum," said Meister.

Then, in the spring, apply 1 to 2 inches of finished compost evenly over your garden area. One 30-gallon garbage can equals four cubic feet of compost. Four garbage cans should cover a 10 ft x 20 ft garden area, Meister said.

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