To grow healthy plants, they must have their roots in a healthy medium. Whether you are going to fortify your existing soil, pursue container or raised bed gardens, you need to make sure your plants have the best chance possible to produce healthy food for you!
Soil bacteria and fungi are nature’s recyclers! They work together to break down organic matter in the soil to feed the plants. They also pull nitrogen out of the air, which is what your plants will need for proper growth. They lock up nutrients in their cells that would otherwise get leeched out in the watering process – they are basically living fertilizer containers!
One of the best ways to get good bugs in your soil is to add compost. It literally becomes an ecosystem – it is not a fertilizer. It seeds the soil with diverse life forms that assist the soil in its functioning ability. It also diverts waste from the landfill as well as reduces the use of your garbage disposal. And it is not as complicated or icky as you might think! A well-composted pile heats up fast, decomposes well, kills any insects and weed seeds, does not smell, thus does not attract critters and is easy to maintain. There are only three types of ingredients you need:
- Green matter
- Brown matter
- Sufficient moisture
Green materials are the highest in nitrogen – most of the things from your kitchen. Brown materials consist of twigs from the herbs you have grown, shredded cardboard, used paper towels, corn cobs, dried leaves, etc. and are higher in carbon.
Begin by keeping a small container by your sink – make it handy so you will use it, and small enough so it will hold a day’s worth of kitchen scraps. You will want to empty it nearly every day, depending on how much material you have. Add such items as:
- egg shells
- coffee grounds
- tea leaves and tea bags
- raw fresh fruit and veggie parts –
- cooked veggie leftovers
- paper towels
- dying flowers
There are ingredients to avoid: meats, dairy products, oils, weedy plants that have gone to seed, diseased plants, and dog, cat and human manure. They can be used, but for your purposes, it is much easier to not include them.
Now, you take your container from the kitchen and…….put it in the compost bin or pile! You can make your own or buy one. Make your determination based on how much space you have and how much you are willing to spend. This part of your organic garden can easily be done on the cheap, so do not think you need to spend a lot of money. Make it easy on yourself so you will do it!
Now, scientists get very specific about the balance between nitrogen and carbon – the greens and the browns, but if you stick to one part green and two parts brown, you should be good.
Keeping your compost happy is not that difficult. A hot, cooking pile is a happy pile! Here in Phoenix, a dry compost is more an issue than a wet one, so you will have to water it. Keep it in the shade in the summer, if possible. The temperature needs to be kept around 135 to 140 degrees – no higher. It also needs air, so aerate it to break down the waste. If things are not heating up enough – if it is too dry, add more green. If it is too wet and getting stinky, add more brown. Just remember – relax – nature will prevail!
Your happy compost will be ready when it is dark, soft and sweet-smelling. It will take a while, so get started now!