How to Make a Compost Pile

compost wall

compost wall

The arrival of spring focuses the thoughts and the emotions of the gardener on emergence, rebirth and new growth. Even without the aid of flowers, it is possible to know that spring has arrived through the distinctive coloration of freshly emerged foliage on certain plants. Most obvious is the deep red color found in the young leaves of roses. But red is also seen in the new foliage of certain trees such as avocado, pomegranate, and camphor, to say nothing of red-tipped photinia, whose new leaves emerge bright red from now until the fall.
Of course, none of this new life would be possible without death. Death to a gardener is almost indistinguishable from life because of the intimate connection between them. The more a gardener focuses on creating the proper compost – a mixture of dead leaves, rotted manure and other posthumous humus-making parts of plants and animals – the more life will be given to roses, avocado trees and photinia shrubs.
Anything you pull out of your flower or vegetable beds at this time of year can be turned into compost. Worn-out tomato plants, pansies past their prime, peaked perennials and those thousands of weeds that sprang up in recent weeks are all worthy candidates for the compost pile.
Actually, anything of plant or animal origin can be composted, excluding meat, fish, fats and dairy products, which attract rodents. It is also not advisable to use cat or dog droppings as they may carry diseases. Mix different materials together to make sure air can circulate through the heap. Grass clippings should not be put on in thick layers since they tend to form an airless, anaerobic mass and turn to slime. Roots of perennial weeds such as nutgrass and Bermuda grass should not be added to the heap as they will retain their viability and root themselves wherever the compost is spread in the garden.
Weeds should be added to the compost pile before they flower. Otherwise, the heap is likely to be full of weed seeds. Diseased plant parts should also not be added to the pile.
As decomposition progresses, the pile starts to heat up; the hotter it gets, the faster the compost breaks down. In spring and summer, it may take three months to rot. To speed up the process, add some blood meal to the pile. Decomposition is also accelerated by turning the pile every few days. For even faster finished compost, cut all plant stems into small pieces.
Water is an essential ingredient of all compost piles. During warm weather, the pile can dry out quickly, and weekly or bi-weekly watering may be necessary.
For gardeners without gardens, it is still possible to make compost for containers and flower boxes. You can do this on your patio or balcony using two or three buckets with drainage holes. One bucket can be left to rot while the others are being filled. Water the composting bucket once a week and, after two months or so, turn it upside down into another bucket where it can be left to rot for another few weeks.
Finished compost is brown, crumbly, and sweet-smelling. The different materials it contains are no longer distinguishable. Yet even before compost is completely finished it can be used as mulch. Fruit trees, in particular, benefit from a rough mulch made of unfinished compost.
If you have created a nice pile of compost and do not yet know what exactly you want to do with it, consider planting seeds directly in it. Tomatoes, cucumbers, pumpkins, melons, potatoes, cabbages and lettuces will thrive in a compost pile with a sunny exposure. Flowers such as dahlias, chrysanthemums, sunflowers and gladioli will also grow healthily in such a pile of finished compost.
Spring is the time of year to do any garden chore that strikes your fancy. Planting, pruning, and fertilization are all appropriate activities. The idea is not to be overwhelmed with trying to do everything at once or to be so ambitious that you are discouraged almost as soon as you start. In gardening, thinking small is the key to success. The most memorable flower beds are seldom larger than 100 square feet, and you can create plenty of beauty in a planter less than half that size.
One of the most popular garden additions in recent years has been the water pond. Again, think small. You can create the desired effect in a sealed whiskey barrel or an old bathtub. Water lilies (Nymphaea species) are the easiest plants to grow and bear flowers in white, yellow, pink and red; they go dormant in winter. A more tropical water lily is the sacred lotus (Nelumbo nucifera), which blooms in pink and blue. This lotus is not only recommended for its flowers but equally, if not more so, for its seed capsules. These capsules look like truncated microphones and, upon drying, last for years in everlasting vase arrangements.

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