The Magic of Simple Mulch & Compost

by Ralph Levy, Master Gardener

I am easily entertained. I must be on at least fifty mailing lists for garden catalogs, and new catalogs have started arriving, making for great reading and garden planning. So many plants, but so few that will grow in my garden.

While most parts of the country worry about cold hardiness, here in Southwest Georgia, our concern is finding plants capable of taking our summer heat, high humidity, and lately, drought conditions.

Getting back to mulch and organic composting, both of these help mitigate the effects of harsh summers on our plants. Compost, when added to the soil, enriches and loosens hard clay soil profiles and bulks up sandy, weak soil with moisture holding organic stuff.

Mulch, layered around your plants helps keep their roots cool and sheltered from the scalding sun. Organic mulch, like leaves and pine straw, slows down erosion, and adds valuable nutrients to your soil. (worm castings and mushroom compost are available in our catalog)

If you are lucky enough to have your own sources of mulch on your property, like pine trees and deciduous trees that drop leaves, then it is easy to rake or mow and bag the fallen leaves and spread them around your shrubbery and trees.

If you do not have your own trees to provide enough mulch, you can always purchase bagged shredded bark or baled straw. Personally, I never have enough leaves or pine straw. I just grab the best looking straw my neighbors leave at the curb. It always looks better than the stuff that has been sitting inside a trailer for months.

Mulching dresses up your planting beds, is good for your plants, and great for the environment by reducing landfill needs.

Fast rewind back to those catalogs. They are always offering all kinds of fancy compost systems, some that cost hundreds of dollars. I have been actively composting for over 15 years and never needed an expensive tumbler, super activator, or high tech turner thingy.

If you seriously want to compost, all you need is a spot to build your pile, preferably out of the line of sight from your house. Take those leaves, grass clippings and vegetable scraps and alternate layers of green and brown until the pile is about 4 feet tall and wide.

Spray each layer lightly with a water hose.. Moist is good, soggy is bad. Green plant trimmings compost faster than woody cuttings; small stuff works fastest. Sprinkle some fertilizer over the top, and then just let nature do its thing.

Continue to add your vegetable and fruit scraps by burying them inside the pile. Every 3 or 4 weeks, turn the pile, moving the entire pile so the top is now on the bottom and the bottom is the top. When your compost pile is working, the center heats up and speeds up the decomposition. It is not fast, but the end result will be fantastic soil amendment for your garden.

As the pile breaks down, you will find worms moving into the cooler parts and feasting on the scraps at the bottom of the pile. Worms are good. Once it is going, it is very simple.

If you do not have the time or place for a compost pile, here are a couple of easy ways you can still compost your vegetarian kitchen scraps. If you have a good layer of mulch around your shrubbery, simply pull back your mulch, add the scraps, and cover back with the original mulch. It is an all you can eat buffet for the neighborhood earthworms. Check back in three months and you will wonder where everything went.

Alternately, you can dig a shallow hole in your garden to bury the scraps. It takes a little longer to break down, but if you wait about six months and check back, you will find lots of earthworms and very little, if any of the original scraps. Other food stuff that makes great composting material are egg shells and coffee grounds. If you use paper filters or pods, throw them in, too.

Composting can be easy, it is good for our environment, and great for your garden. View our selection of composters in our catalog

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