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The Magic Ingredient

April 06, 1986|Mary Ellen Guffey

Compost, the caviar of soil amendments, is not for sale, so if you want to enrich your garden with it, you have to make it yourself. Here's how to do it the way I happen to.

In a three-sided, bottomless wooden enclosure, about four by five by four feet, alternate six-inch layers of vegetative material--chopped garden refuse, grass clippings or leaves--with a one-inch layer of packaged steer manure, sprinkling each layer generously with water. Use only soft-stemmed plants (no woody branches), and clip stems to a length of 6 to 10 inches. Avoid using weeds that have gone to seed, diseased or infected plants and kitchen scraps. If manure is not handy, use garden soil and several handfuls of all-purpose granulated fertilizer. Keep the compost covered with a plastic tarpaulin.

If you are loyal about adding layers, the compost pile will soon be about as tall as it is wide, and it will be time to start another one. Every few weeks, turn and remoisten the contents; without moisture, composting takes a long time. In warm weather, compost is ready in about three months.

The finest compost I ever produced was the result of a gasoline-powered shredder. When I could keep its engine running and its blades untangled, it turned out a finely chopped material that, once moistened and layered with a little soil or dried manure, transformed itself into rich, crumbly humus in only four weeks. I no longer have the luxury, nor the frustration, of my power shredder. My compost now takes a little more time and labor to produce, but the results are still worth the effort.

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