Composting to Improve Your Soil
Composting is as easy as piling up leaves, manure, and hay in an area that will not be disturbed for several months to allow the decay of organic matter to the point that you can add them to your garden. But leaves alone will not make compost. Compost requires the addition of green and brown element. Hay/straw could be thought of as dried brown. Green, such as grass clippings, will bring the right mix to heat the pile and energize it. Think of your compost pile as an engine. It needs fuel. Think of manure, green stuff and the browns, as the fuel for the engine. It needs air to breathe; that would be the turning of the compost pile, and it needs moisture to feed the micro-organisms that break down the brown stuff. Comfrey leaves do an excellent job of heating your compost pile.
Worms lay eggs and poop in the soil. The castings will greatly enrich your garden soil. This is free fertilizer. The worms also act as plows by digging tunnels which allow water and air to reach the deep roots, and pull minerals from deep in the soil to the upper layers. Letting the worms do the work is much better than tilling, which is more destructive than beneficial. It is free labor and free fertilizer.
Other ideas for compost are wood ashes, grass clippings, manures, wood chips, garden waste, kitchen waste, peat moss, and shredded coir. These are just a few of the items you can obtain for your compost bin. For the sake of this discussion let’s just talk about the easiest and least expensive compost ingredients.
Wood stoves will provide you all the ashes your garden can use. Allow the ashes to cool and apply a thin layer on top of your garden soil. When you are ready to plant just work the ashes into your soil. The ashes are quite alkaline, which will go a long way to preventing your garden soil from becoming too acidic. In other words, it helps keep your soil in balance. In the Ozarks our soils tend to be on the acidic side. Adding ashes is but one way to help bring about this balance.
Grass clippings are a great way to amend your compost pile. They heat up instantly and in large amounts, help your pile to break down quicker. There is no such thing in your compost pile as too many grass clippings. The higher the temperatures, the more likely the unwanted grass seeds will be cooked. Grass clippings add lots of nitrogen back into your garden dirt and will do much to break up soil with low amounts of humus. Grass clippings will quickly and easily break up clay dirt. I have only one word of caution here. Watch which grass clippings you get. There are a lot of people out there who spray Roundup indiscriminately. That will do an incredible amount of damage to future plants in your garden. Roundup will stay in your soil for years. Know which lawns receive the least amount of “care.” The houses which have weeds in the ditches are usually the safe ones to snag clippings from. Don’t be too shy to ask.
I use all my shredded leaves as mulch and fill my raised beds throughout my gardening seasons. I rarely use leaves in my compost piles. That being said, they make a wonderful addition to any compost pile. Hot manures, such as horse, pig, cow, or chicken need time for the decomposition process to release the heat from the manure. Goat, sheep, rabbit manure, and worm castings do not need composting and can be applied to your garden dirt immediately. Adding large amounts of manures to your compost pile will greatly speed up the decomposition process. The hotter the compost pile the quicker it breaks down and the faster you can add it to your garden.