The secret of gardening in most places, but particularly in deserts, is to increase the quantity of organic matter in your soil. Organic matter improves soil as a growing medium for plants. It helps release nitrogen, minerals, and other nutrients for plant use when it decays. A mulch of partially rotted straw, compost, or un-decomposed residue on the soil helps keep the soil surface from crusting, retards water loss from the soil, and keeps weeds from growing.
Compost just happens to be the cheapest, and probably the best way to insure a continuous supply of large quantities organic matter for your garden.
Practically any plant material can be composted for use in the garden. Leaves, old sod, lawn clippings, straw, and plant refuse from the garden or kitchen can be used. Often, leaves can be obtained from neighbors who do not use them, or from street sweepings. It is advantageous to collect dead leaves using a lawn mower, since the blade of the lawn-mower will cut the leaves in smaller fragments that will compost much faster.
The purpose of composting plant refuse or debris is to decay it so that it can be easily worked into the soil, will not be detrimental to plants, and will not be unsightly when used in the garden. Composting material should be kept moist. Supplying it with commercial fertilizer, particularly nitrogen, will make it decay faster and more thoroughly.
Compost is a good source of organic matter for the home garden. A compost pile can be made of leaves, weeds, straw, waste hay, and any waste vegetable matter other than diseased parts of vegetables. Pile these materials together as they accumulate, keeping the light materials, such as leaves, from blowing away by throwing a little soil over the pile.
Each spring, start a new pile. Turn the old one over several times during the year to insure even decay. It will be ready to apply to the garden before spring the second year. Leaf compost can, however, be used as mulch the first spring after the pile is built, or it can be put directly on the garden and turned under the first year.
The usual practice in building a compost pile is to accumulate the organic material in some out-of-the-way place in the garden. It can be built on open ground or in a bin made of cinder blocks, rough boards, or wire fence. The sides of the bin should not be airtight or watertight. A convenient time to make a compost pile is in the fall when leaves are plentiful.
In building the compost pile, spread out a layer of plant refuse about 6 inches deep and add one-half pound or one cupful of fertilizer to each 10 square feet of surface. Then add 1 inch of soil and enough water to moisten but not to soak it. This process is repeated until the pile is 4 to 5 feet high. Make the top of the pile concave to catch rain water, or maybe sprinkler water.
The compost pile will not decay rapidly until the weather warms up in spring and summer. In dry areas, the compost pile will tend to become too dry. This can be corrected by covering the top of the pile, and by watering the pile regularly. If the pile becomes too dry, it may be difficult to re-hydrate it.
Decay can be hastened by forking over the pile so moisture can get to parts that have remained dry. It does improve drastically your compost pile, but can be a strenuous exercise for your back and abdominal muscles.
For a continuing supply of compost, a new pile should be built every year.
Compost can be used as mulch, or worked into flowerbeds and vegetable garden. I am convinced that the results will amaze you sufficiently to make you a believer.
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