Stella Otto: The Backyard Fruit Gardener

Today's Tip: Mow vegetation short around the base of fruit trees and bushes to reduce winter habitat for rodents.

Creating Compost

Pop Quiz: What can pro­vide nutri­ents for your berry bushes, enhance soil mois­ture hold­ing capac­ity and, over time, improve the struc­ture of the soil in your fruit garden?

Bingo —- organic matter!

Organic mat­ter is the foun­da­tion and back­bone for a strong healthy fruit gar­den. Yet many forms of organic mat­ter in their native state are not imme­di­ately suit­able for use. Com­post­ing, nature’s  ulti­mate recy­cling process, is what con­verts organic mat­ter into it’s use­ful form. Many peo­ple view this process as mys­te­ri­ous, com­pli­cated, con­fus­ing to down­right over­whelm­ing. For­tu­nately, it need not be.  Cre­at­ing com­post is some­thing every gar­dener can do. In the next few weeks, you can enjoy a series of posts on com­post. I’ll break the infor­ma­tion down into sim­ple prin­ci­ples to help you under­stand the com­post process and learn what you can do to cre­ate “black gold” to enrich your garden.

For the com­post­ing process to work effi­ciently, 4 essen­tial ingre­di­ents are needed:

  1.  A nitro­gen source to sup­port growth of microor­gan­isms that will oxi­dize or chem­i­cally break­down the car­bon material,
  2. A car­bon source to fuel the oxi­da­tion process that cre­ates heat within the com­post pile,
  3. Water, in an appro­pri­ate amount, to main­tain the car­bon break­down process, and
  4. Oxy­gen, a nec­es­sary ele­ment for the oxi­diza­tion process to occur

One might argue that time is a fifth essen­tial ingre­di­ent. How lit­tle or how much time you spend tend­ing to your com­post will have an effect on how quickly organic mat­ter breaks down to usable com­post. You can take the “dump it in a heap and let nature have at it” approach. This will take more time — 6 to 12 months or more depend­ing on the par­ti­cle size and orig­i­nal organic mate­r­ial — for com­post to be gen­er­ated. For faster com­post, pay­ing atten­tion to what mate­r­ial you start with, keep­ing the pile suf­fi­ciently moist to encour­age micro­bial action, and turn­ing the pile to pro­vide aer­a­tion will all speed the cre­ation of high qual­ity com­post. It is often con­fus­ing to novice gar­den­ers that there is no for­mula or “one right way” to make com­post. The real­ity is, in nature com­post will hap­pen; even if you, the gar­dener, do noth­ing. If you would like to take advan­tage of all that com­post can do for your gar­den, you can help the process along. Now is the per­fect time to start com­post­ing if you don’t already do so. Upcom­ing posts will walk you through the “how-to and why.”

For more info see —

Com­post — Where to Begin
Con­tain­ing Your Com­post
Recipe for a Com­post Pile
Fac­tors that Affect the Com­post­ing Process
Com­post No-nos: What not to put in your com­post pile

Com­ing —

Com­post Conun­drums — Trou­bleshoot­ing your com­post pile
Com­post Myths