“Do you compost?” That question elicits a range of responses from, “Oh yes, the compost I get is my ‘gardener’s gold!'” to “Oh no, that is too much work; is smelly; attracts animals.” If you find yourself in the second group, you can easily learn how to avoid composting problems. The University of Illinois Extension Horticulture website along with the Master Gardener helpline volunteers are available to get you started and over any stumbling blocks.
Why consider composting? Practically speaking it is easier and less expensive than bagging yard waste and paying to have it hauled away. There are also certain kitchen scraps that can be incorporated into a compost pile, further reducing your garbage day pick up. Compost improves the soil quality when incorporated into gardens, around trees and shrubs and even container plants. With each addition of this organic matter you can even help break up a clay soil, improving overall soil structure.
Start by visiting the website “Composting in the Home Garden” at http://urbanext.illinois.edu/compost/. It takes you through the entire composting process. Learn the types of bins that can be purchased or made, what you should and shouldn’t compost and how to properly maintain a pile. Important information on troubleshooting and frequently asked questions are also addressed.
Fall is a good time to start a compost pile. As you put your lawn and garden to bed for the winter there will be a lot of materials available from each area to incorporate. Grass clippings, leaves, spent annuals and container plantings with the potting soil mixture are all perfect for your compost mix. Avoid diseased plants and leaves with fungal problems.
Richard Hentschel, University of Illinois Extension Educator in Horticulture, explained, “What homeowners do is called cold composting. The center of the pile and the bottom get very warm because microorganisms in the pile give off heat as they digest organic matter. It is necessary to turn the pile so that the things on the edge will get worked into the middle and start to break down. Cold composting works because of time, not high heat, in breaking down the matter.”
So, why compost? It is an easy way to improve your soil and reduce the need for inorganic fertilizers. Give it a try!
Julie Moore is a Master Gardener volunteer with the University of Illinois Extension in DuPage County.