Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Compost Is Buried Treasure for Avid Gardeners, Lawn Enthusiasts

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Compost Is Buried Treasure for Avid Gardeners, Lawn Enthusiasts

Article excerpt

Yard waste in. Six months later, black gold out.

Compost. It's the foundation on which great gardens are built.

Compost improves the structure and drainage of clay. It loosens compacted soil. Where soils are sandy, compost helps retain moisture and nutrients, reducing watering and fertilizer needs.

In addition, soil scientists report that compost is able to fight soil-borne plant problems. Certain nematodes (harmful microscopic worms) as well as some disease-causing bacteria and fungi are less troublesome in compost-amended soil.

Lots of gardeners compost their yard clippings. But need often exceeds production. So many of us end up buying organic materials to supplement the compost from back-yard bins.

Peat moss is excellent but expensive. And it acidifies the soil. Sawdust, wood chips, leaves, straw and animal manures are suitable if managed correctly.

The one organic product that has traditionally not been for sale is compost. Compost was either made at home or not available.

That's changing, as state after state bans yard waste from landfills. Clippings once collected as "garbage" are now heading to commercial composting sites instead. Gardeners are a logical consumer of the end product.

The commercial compost I have used is a first-rate soil builder, as good as homemade and more consistent. But it has its idiosyncracies, too. I'm still in the "getting-to-know-you" stage.

Leaves, brush, wood chips and grass clippings make up the bulk of raw materials everywhere. But their qualities, relative amounts and the methods used to mix them vary from one producer and region to the next.

Be careful. Accept only compost that is mature if you plan to use it right away. Young compost is still actively decaying. Instead of enriching the soil, it robs plants of nitrogen.

Middle-aged compost is just right. At this stage, it's stable, odor-free, cool and dry. …

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