Tuesday, March 2, 2010

using the 3-R's in the garden

As any good environmentalist or native Californian will tell you, it's always best to reduce, reuse, and recycle. In the garden, that means composting! Compost is a dark soil-like substance derived from decaying plant, animal, and other organic materials. This matter is broken down chemically, through aerobic decomposition, as well as mechanically, by various organisms and micro-organisms (think worms and fungi). Through these processes, waste matter becomes a highly valuable landscape commodity.

My composter, ‘The Earth Machine’, is an 80-gallon bin made from recycled materials and sold by the local government for $45 to encourage backyard composting. Not only do composters provide a valuable resource, they save space in our landfills! For a little over a year now, I’ve been putting weeds, plant clippings, coffee grinds, fruit and vegetable rinds, paper, and soil into mine. The main thing to avoid is anything that contains animal fat and pet waste.

I keep my compost bin next to my trash cans. Ideally, a compost bin/ pile should get at least 5 hours of sun each day. Mine probably does not, which is why it has taken a little longer to yield worthwhile compost. But the whole process takes little effort and there are a variety of compost bins available to fit every space and budget. A lot of people are concerned that the compost pile will smell bad and/ or attract unwanted visitors (i.e. raccoons, opossums). Rest assured, if you put the correct items into your compost bin, you will not have a problem with either nuisance.

I’m looking forward to ‘harvesting’ my compost this season and working it into my planting beds. But it’s important to keep in mind that compost is not a fertilizer. Rather, it improves the soil’s texture and tilth by providing organic matter and humus when incorporated into planting beds. This allows the plant’s roots to more easily take up nutrients and moisture from the soil. Here's to using the 3-R's in the garden, Happy Composting!

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