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Establishing a compost pile

Fertilize your garden for cheap with a compost pile.

Adding compost to your garden is one of the best ways to improve the structure and fertility of your soil. And the best part is, it doesn't cost a dime. Leaves, grass clippings, kitchen scraps and manure can all be used to create compost. 

Rosie Lerner is an extension horticulturist with Purdue University and says making a compost pile isn’t rocket science. All you need is carbon and nitrogen – which means dead “stuff” and green “stuff.”

"You don’t have to have any kind of equipment or gadgets that measure these things," Lerner says. "Mix up a good proportion of dry, dead, brown, plant material and mix it up with a little bit of green plant material such as dry tree leaves mixed with some grass clippings. Or, as you’re cleaning up your vegetable garden, use plants that you’re pulling out that are still green."

>Many of your kitchen scraps can go on the compost pile. Toss on your banana peels, coffee grounds, and vegetables that the kids leave on their plate.  Just remember, it’s not a garbage dump.  Meat, fats, and oils don’t belong there because they’ll stink and you’ll have all kinds of unwanted critters nosing around in it.

The only living things you want in your compost pile are the busy microbes.  Their job is to cook the pile, sometimes creating temperatures up to 150-degrees.  You can check the heat with a thermometer or simply stick your hand into it.  

"That heating is generally going to occur at its best in the center of the pile," Lerner says. "The top, bottom and outside will not get as warm, so you occasionally want to stir the pile, mix up the contents to bring the outside stuff to the middle, and as the stuff finishes composting in the center, you can pull that out."

When the compost is dry, brown and crumbly, it’s fully cooked and ready to feed your garden.

There are compost tumblers you can use, or simply create a pile in a out-of-the way place flanked on three sides with chicken wire, cement blocks or fenceboard. Give yourself a wide entrance area for dumping and turning. 

Radio interview source: Rosie Lerner, Extension consumer horticulture specialist, Purdue University

Listen here for the radio story

Click on the video below to see for yourself how compost piles work:

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