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Compost will do wonders for your soil.

Can-do Compost

Maintaining your own stash of "black gold" may be easier than you thought

To landscapers and gardeners, compost is nothing less than "black gold." A generous helping of this decayed organic-matter mixture will do wonders for your soil. And if you have a little out-of-the-way space, you can make your own and always have a supply on hand of this near-magic fertilizer.

To get your compost going, all you really need is some basic organic matter — kitchen waste, mixed leaf and grass waste from the yard, non-twiggy garden waste, and manure if you can get it. (No shortage of that from Claudius at the Victory Garden!). Since compost is the result of natural biodegradation, you should turn the mixture periodically as you continue to add to it. Also make sure it stays moist, because without water there will be no decomposition. There are a few things to avoid adding to compost: meat waste, and dog or cat manure you don't want.

Brief descriptions of the three composting methods Michael demonstrated on the show follow. But, remember, no matter where you store it, composting is a garden basic well worth a little effort. By the end of a year your garden can start reaping the rich benefits of your own stash of "black gold."

Dog Wire Fence
If you have a little space, constructing a simple enclosure out of dog wire is an easy, low-cost solution for containing your compost heap. Available from your local home supply store, dog wire is a plastic-coated wire fencing material — perfect for resisting rust and rot in a compost heap. One person can easily put it together in no time. You'll need a length of dog wire roughly equal to three times whatever diameter you want your enclosure to be (Michael uses about 12 feet of wire on the show). If you have a larger roll of wire than you need, lay the roll on the ground and measure out the right amount — it's not important to be exact. Then use wire cutters to snip through the wire so that you leave all the horizontal pieces protruding. Finally, just form your length of wire fencing into a circle, which it should naturally do, and join the ends by interlacing all the horizontal pieces. Place it where you want and you've got yourself an open-air compost container. Once you partially fill it, the outward pressure of the compost will help the circle hold its shape.

plastic box
This little composting shed is purpose-built and easy to assemble.

Plastic Compost Box
Purpose-built and easy to assemble, there are plastic composting boxes now available that make it easy to maintain your own compost in very limited outdoor space. The unit Michael demonstrated on the show requires no hardware; all its pieces just snap and lock into place to form a little shed. It is designed with holes to keep your compost aerated, which is important, and a side door at the base that lets you access the bottom of the heap, where all the best compost is. The lids are easy to maneuver and help prevent your compost from getting too soggy when it rains.

Michael's compost tumbler has been with him for a long time.

Michael's Tumbler
Perhaps not as easy to come by, but a great idea nonetheless, Michael has long used a rustic-looking elevated metal drum to store his compost in. The drum is mounted on a cranking mechanism, which means you don't have to get in there and turn the compost with a pitchfork or shovel, but because it's a sealed container you do have to be more diligent about adding water, as the moisture will cook away in the sun. When taking compost out, you just roll your wheelbarrow underneath and open the hatch.

Paul tours an industrial organic-waste recycling center to see how black gold is made on a grand scale.

Industrial Composting
Of course, many of us have also purchased our share of ready-made compost. Paul Epsom recently visited an industrial organic-waste recycling center in Boston, where he learned more about the large-scale composting — a practice that pays off both for gardeners and the environment. These centers collect cuttings and debris from gardens and lawns, brought in primarily by landscape contractors (high-nitrogen material is also collected from the zoo and the parks department), recycling the mammoth mountains of mulch material over the course of a year into soil-enriching compost, which the center sorts and screens with heavy equipment, for sale in bulk and retail.

For more information on resources used on the show, visit our Resource Directory

This segment appears in shows #2702 and #2805.

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Published August 31, 2007