Compost basics

Compost improves soil texture, fertility, and ability to hold water and air. Here's how to make it.

Recipe for homemade compost

Compost improves soil texture, fertility, and ability to hold water and air. Here's how to make it.

INGREDIENTS. Include grass clippings, dead leaves, and vegetable kitchen waste. Don't add diseased plants, plant parts that contain thorns, weed seedheads, or meat, fat, or bones from the kitchen. Chop or shred everything to speed decomposition. I run my lawn mower over fallen leaves.

ALTERNATE LAYERS OF BROWN AND GREEN MATTER. Put down a 3-inch layer of brown matter, such as shredded dead leaves, which contain plenty of carbon. Cover it with an equal layer of green matter, like grass clippings, which contain a lot of nitrogen.

If you're short on green matter, sprinkle the brown matter with high-nitrogen fertilizer (such as lawn fertilizer). To speed up decomposition in a new pile, add a few shovelfuls of old compost, which already contains bacteria and fungi.

KEEP THE PILE MOIST AND AERATED. Sprinkle the pile with water to keep it about as damp as a wrung-out sponge. Use a spading fork or pitchfork to thoroughly mix the ingredients and aerate the pile. When the compost is ready, its texture will be like that of fine soil.

Worm Composting

For gardeners with no room for a traditional compost pile or bin, worm composting is a solution. Red worms live in a covered wooden box filled with shredded newspaper. You feed them kitchen scraps, and every few weeks they repay you with a box of rich, fine compost. Worms and supplies are available at many garden supply centers.