When it’s fall here in East Texas, and the leaves are beginning to drop, it’s a good time to start a compost pile for next year’s garden. Compost is defined as a mixture of soil and partly decayed organic matter that is used to improve the garden or potting soil. Waste materials, such as leaves, grass clippings, table scraps, manure and old plant materials are the basic components of compost.
The best way to compost materials in your yard is to make a compost pile or bin. It should be located in an area receiving plenty of sunlight and air movement. The location should also be well drained and convenient to the garden area. Usually, the small area behind the garage or between the utility room and the neighboring fence is ideal for framing and constructing the compost heap.
The compost area may be a pit or a raised area formed by treated boards, concrete building blocks or fencing supported by stakes. When starting the compost pile, begin with an initial application of one to two inches of soil, followed by a layer of leaves, grass clippings or other waste materials two to six inches thick. This should be followed by one to two inches of manure. If manure is not available, the addition of one to two cupfuls of commercial fertilizer per square yard of surface area scattered over the plant material is satisfactory. This layering process needs to be repeated, and watered well after each layer.
The organic material to be composted will decompose more rapidly if they are shredded first. Leaves can be shredded by running the lawn mower over them and catching them in the grass catcher. While the compost is making, it should be kept moist, but not too wet. The top of the pile should be kept in a dish shape to catch natural rainfall and to help when wetting is necessary.
The decomposition process relies on the available microorganisms, and the length of time before the pile will be ready for use in the garden is dependent on their growth. Warm weather, adequate fertilizer and the correct moisture level are very important. Too little or too much of any of these factors will reduce growth and delay decomposition. The finished compost will not look like any plant material used to make it. When complete, it will look like a dark and rich soil.
The finished compost can be used in many ways; incorporated into the soil if it is beneficial in improving the overall soil physical properties, water holding capacity and nutrient retention. Compost can also be used on the soil surface as a mulch to control weeds and conserve moisture. You can mix you compost with the existing soil or use it for potting plants, hanging baskets or a wide variety of other gardening purposes.