Natural nutrients for your garden

Your garden relies on nutrients to help flowers, fruits and vegetables to grow. Some gardeners opt for chemical fertilizers, but those who prefer a natural approach appreciate the green option of composting. When everyday kitchen scraps break down, they provide nutrient-rich organic material that improves soil for garden plants. Instead of throwing your vegetable scraps in the garbage, use them to create nutritious food for your garden.

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Composting Basics

Composting is about more than just letting vegetable peelings rot - there's a science to the process. If you're planning on composting your kitchen scraps, follow these helpful tips:

  • Choose a container. You can compost by tossing your kitchen scraps and yard clippings in a pile in an unused corner of your yard, or you can buy a composter. Composters are squat plastic containers that are open on the bottom and have a lockable lid on top. Composters are usually black in color to retain heat and speed up decomposition.
  • Compost needs air. You should aerate your compost once a month by stirring and flipping the mixture with a pitch fork or shovel. Your compost should be somewhat moist. If you find the pile feels dry, give it a gentle spray with the garden hose.
  • Get in the mix. For the composting process to work quickly and provide the proper mix, you'll need a combination of nitrogen-rich and carbon-rich materials in your pile. Be sure to combine straw and dried leaves with your nitrogen-rich materials like kitchen scraps and grass clippings.
  • Certain materials shouldn't be composted. Meat, dairy products and fatty foods shouldn't go in your composter or compost pile, as they decompose slowly and produce a stench that attracts animals.
  • Speed it up. If you're looking to speed up the process without the mess, a compost tumbler is a smart choice. The circular container has a handle that you can use to turn the barrel and aerate the mixture. The air will help the compost break down faster and the enclosed structure means you won't get splattered with any of the mess.

Composting is an affordable and environmentally friendly way of managing your kitchen scraps and feeding your garden at the same time. The composting process can take a year or more before you have useable mulch, but aerating the pile and trying to include more carbon-rich materials than nitrogen-rich materials can speed the decomposition process. Once your compost has turned a dark brown and is crumbly, it's ready for use. You may be able to see small bits of straw, but the rest of the original material should be indistinguishable. Spread your compost an inch or two deep on poor soil or dig it in to new, unplanted flower beds to better the soil.

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