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It’s often said that compost is “black gold” when added to your lawn or garden. A natural alternative to chemical fertilizers, compost restores vitality to depleted soil and can even repair soils that have been destroyed by pesticides. Microscopic organisms in compost help aerate  soil, break down organic material for plant use and ward off disease. Compost increases the amount of moisture the soil retains, so you need to water less, and it helps prevent erosion.

RELATED: Compost Cookery: How To Get A Gardener’s ‘Black Gold’

In a nutshell, compost makes your plants stronger, healthier and more prolific. It’s also free, easy to make and great for the environment. Purchasing compost may be the best option for some, but the trend even among urban gardeners is to make your own. Doing so has one big advantage: You know exactly what ingredients have been used to make the final product. Here are some ways to kick-start your compost. 

  1. Shredding or mulching bigger articles like leaves beforehand speeds up the composting process. Shredding increases the surface area that the microbes have to work on and provides a more even distribution of air and moisture among the materials. You can run your lawnmower over the material or even dunk your weed eater in the compost bin.
  2. Water your compost pile. Make sure it is moist but not soggy.
  3. Turn the pile often, but no more than every two weeks. In general, the more you turn the pile, the faster you will have finished compost.
  4. Kick-start the process by adding “activators.” Common compost activator materials are comfrey leaves, grass clippings, young weeds, alfalfa meal and well-rotted chicken manure. You can also buy commercial compost starts, which contain billions of microbes cultured to speed up decomposition.
  5. Add garden soil to your compost. A layer of soil will help to mask any odors, and microorganisms in the soil will accelerate the composting process.
  6. Start your compost pile on bare earth so worms can make their way in and aerate the pile.
  7. Although it might be more aesthetically pleasing to hide a bin in the shade, full sunlight speeds up the composting process, especially in winter.
  8. Some items take longer to compost than others. If time is of the essence, avoid items like peach pits, thick stems and branches, evergreen and magnolia tree leaves, and root masses.
  9. The composting process speeds up when the materials are well mixed. Add only a few handfuls of leaves at a time so they don’t mat together into a soggy mass and slow down the process.

RELATED: 12 Items To Keep Out Of Your Compost Bin

This article originally published in THE NEW PIONEER® Spring 2015 issue. Print and Digital Subscriptions to THE NEW PIONEER magazine are available here.

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