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Compost: A Garden Lover’s Gold

You’re proud of your garden, and you should be—it took a lot of work to create a plot and get everything planted. 

But if you want to keep your plants growing well, you need to feed them. And the best thing to feed them is compost—what you get when you pile up kitchen scraps and other organic waste matter in a corner of the yard.

Ask Ron Krupp of Burlington, Vermont. Year after year, his garden—filled with tomatoes, chard, kale, lettuce, spinach and radishes—is the envy of his neighbors.

“When I came here the soil was sandy and poor,” says Krupp, author of his self-published The Woodchuck’s Guide to Gardening. “Now everything is lush and green.”

Composting Made Easy

Your compost pile should be made up of so-called browns—materials such as dead leaves, branches and twigs—and greens, which include grass clippings and produce waste.

The Environmental Protection Agency offers a simple way to get started:

  • Pick a dry, shady spot near a water source.
  • Add the brown and green materials as they are collected, chopping or shredding larger pieces. Moisten dry materials as they are added.
  • Once you establish your compost pile, mix grass clippings and green waste into the pile and bury fruit and vegetable waste under 10 inches of compost material. You can cover the pile with a tarp, but this is optional.

That pile may look motionless, but it is actually a menagerie of living microbes working to break down organic matter and produce carbon dioxide, water, heat and humus, the soil-enriching end product.

For indoor composting, there are special bins that you can buy or make yourself. The EPA says compost in these types of bins can be ready in two to five weeks, versus the months for a yard compost pile.

 What You Can (and Can’t) Compost

The waste items you can place in your pile include:

  • Cardboard*
  • Coffee grounds and filters
  • Cotton and wool rags
  • Dryer and vacuum cleaner lint
  • Eggshells
  • Fireplace ashes
  • Grass clippings(not treated with pesticides)*
  • Hair and fur
  • Hay and straw
  • Houseplants
  • Leaves*
  • Nut shells
  • Paper*
  • Sawdust
  • Shredded newspaper*
  • Tea bags
  • Vegetable and fruit peelings and scraps
  • Wood chips
  • Yard trimmings (not treated with pesticides)*

*Check with your local composting or recycling coordinator to see if these organics are accepted by your community curbside or drop-off composting program.

Composting does require some caution. Using black walnut tree leaves or twigs, for instance, or coal or charcoal ash, could release substances that could harm plants, the EPA says. Dairy products, fats and grease, and meat or fish bones and scraps could create odor problems and attract pests. And pet wastes might contain harmful microbes.

The time it takes for compost to be ready depends on the season. In warmer weather compost could be ready in two months, perhaps less. Build a pile in late fall, and it will be ready by late spring.

Some gardeners turn their compost piles inside out after a month so the outside layers can get their chance to cook inside of the pile. You don’t have to turn your compost, but it can help to see if the interior is too dry, in which case you should add some water. If it’s too wet, loosen it up a bit so it can more easily air-dry.

Your compost is ready when it has the earthy smell of a rich, woodsy soil and the ingredients are unrecognizable.


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**These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.