One of my best friends currently works on a farm out in California where she is learning about sustainable agriculture. After her first week of work, she called me to tell me about some of the things she’s learned. It was incredibly interesting to hear; especially the ways that the farm fertilizes their produce. Although they utilize several methods, the two techniques that can easily be adapted in your yard are a nutrient rich “stew” to pour around your plants and then traditional composting in a bin.
Okay, so the nutrient rich “stew” is my favorite way to fertilize plants (probably because it’s simple, straightforward, and provides an instant result). In essence, it is a nutrient rich vegetable stock used to water plants. My friend described a giant vat of stewed veggie “tea” on the farm, which is kept aerated so it’s full of microbiology. The easiest way to make it at home is to simmer vegetable scraps in water, cool, and drain. The liquid can then be sprinkled in your garden so that the nutrients are reabsorbed into the soil, thus creating a healthier and faster growing environment. Just remember to cool the liquid before watering your produce…you don’t want to burn the roots of any of your plants!
Now onto traditional composting…. Let me start off with a definition I found online; compost is “a mixture of decaying organic matter, as from leaves and manure, used to improve soil structure and provide nutrients”. It is incredibly simple to start a compost pile at your house, just pile a bunch of lawn clippings and food scraps into a bin, mix around, and before you know it everything will break down into a nutrient rich soil. Great items to use are cardboard, clean paper, dried out egg shells, lawn clippings, leaves, coffee grinds, tea leaves, fruits, vegetables, etc….pretty much anything that comes from the earth! I mainly use lawn clippings, leaves, and fruit/vegetable scraps.
Similar to the stew, composting allows the unused nutrients in decomposing materials to be recycled. When the products break down, the compost material is dark and moist. This appearance/texture is exactly what you want! Mix the compost with some existing soil, and plant your garden a day or two later…or sprinkle compost in an existing garden and watch as your produce grows bigger and healthier in the coming months. It’s kind of like soil on organic steroids; super strong and gets the job done fast!
Basically compost is nature’s fertilizer…and it’s free. Be nice to your wallet – take things you’d normally throw in the trash and make the nutrient strew and/or create a compost bin. In no time, you’ll have your very own organic fertilizer.
**To successfully make compost, here are some general guidelines**
What to do:
1. To make compost, you NEED to have a combination of brown and green materials. Brown materials include leaves, shredded paper, etc. The Green materials include lawn clippings and vegetable scraps. The combination of both brown and green help provide a nice balance of nutrients…and prevents the compost piling from smelling!
2. The compost pile should be hot; the heat is just due to all the organic matter breaking down. But to have a successful compost pile, make sure to keep the pile damp. Basically just spray it will a hose from time to time so that it stays moist.
3. Use a pitchfork or shovel to another tool to turn the pile. Turning the pile allows air to circulate throughout the compost, thus speeding up the process.
4. Feel free to add some earth worms to your compost pile. They will love living in a nutrient rich pile of stuff…and as they dig/eat, they will help to naturally break down the materials.
What NOT to do:
1. Do NOT put meat or pet droppings in your compost pile. These types of products won’t break down at the same speed, will attract animals, and they may contaminate your compost.
2.Do NOT add pesticides, herbicides, or any other chemicals. Since it will be used to help your produce grow, don’t feed your homegrown vegetables with harmful chemicals. Compost is supposed to be ALL NATURAL…so keep it that way