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Northeast Gardening: Cooking Up Compost

Brought to you by Lowe's Creative Ideas

Get some simple tips on how to add the ingredients you need to create moist, rich, fertile compost for your yard or garden.

compost mix

When I moved into my home as a new gardener almost 20 years ago, a neighbor versed in the ways of the soil surveyed my yard and snorted. "Where's the compost pile?" she asked. "You can't call yourself a gardener if you don't compost."

She was right. Compost is the basis of all good gardens. It nourishes the earth and creates oxygen-rich space for roots to grow. It improves drainage by loosening clay soil and helps sandy soil retain moisture. Adding compost is the best thing you can do for your soil, and if your soil isn't happening, neither is your garden.

Now is the perfect time to start. Here's the dirt on how to compost:

When I turn potato peels and orange rinds into brown gold, I feel like Rumpelstiltskin. You can too. It isn't complicated or costly to have a compost pile. You can use a store-bought bin or make one out of scrap lumber, snow fencing, heavy mesh wire, cinder blocks or railroad ties. Or you can even build your compost pile on open ground, or in trenches right in the garden. Just make sure you pick a sunny, easy-to-reach site.

Making compost is like cooking. You can tweak the recipe. A little of this, a little of that. A layer of brown stuff, a layer of green stuff. The brown is carbon-packed material such as dry shredded leaves, corn stalks and dirt. The green is nitrogen-rich material, like raw vegetable scraps - I keep a plastic container for them in the kitchen.

Start with the brown, and alternate layers like you're making lasagna.

DO put in: Coffee grounds, eggshells, crumpled paper, aged manure, banana peels, vegetable waste, wood ash, smashed corncobs, cut-up broccoli stalks, straw, sawdust.

DON'T put in: Pet poop, dirty diapers, dairy products, fish and meat scraps, fats and oils, laminated cardboard, shiny paper such as magazines, diseased plants, black-spotted foliage, chemically treated lawn clippings.

dirt in hands

Add a little water. Moisture matters. If your pile is too soggy, it'll stink. If it's too dry, it won't decompose.

Stir occasionally with a pitchfork or aerator. It'll fluff up the compost and make it easier for microbes to do their thing.

When your compost turns almost black, sift it and spread it in the garden for strong, healthy plants.

What are your composting tips?

See more Northeast Gardening Articles.