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Compost is a valuable, free resource; it is used to increase the granular effect of garden soil. Trimming from your trees, leftover grass from a mown lawn, and old veggies are all worth throwing in the compost heap. Compost is actually decomposed plant material mixed with soil. By increasing this organic matter in the soil, gardens will grow stronger and will more successfully be able to withstand drought conditions. The high organic content will grow wonderful vegetables, fruits, flowers, and lawns. The soil will be better able to hold water and improve the productivity of gardens and flowers.

Composting is fairly easy and cheap and can yield a valuable substance called humus (natural fertilizer) that can be returned to the soil with great results, or used as mulch. Here's how to set up a compost pile.

Compost Bin:
You can go to great lengths and expense, or you can mix your compost on the ground. If you plan on using and producing compost on a regular basis, you may want to consider building a permanent bin. There are many commercial compositors, or you could construct your own. These vary from concrete blocks to chicken wire and wooden planks. Snow fencing makes a good and simple bin.

Location should be in an out-of-the-way place. You will need to be close to water. It could be hidden with vines that flower or annuals. A partial shade is best as full sun may cause too much drying. Four things must be present in order to cause decomposition in a compost pile: nitrogen, water, oxygen, and soil. There are microorganisms in the soil that decompose the plant material.

In order to create just the right mixture for decomposition, a variety of materials should be added:
Leaves
Shredded paper
Hedge clippings
Sawdust
Food scraps from the kitchen
Vegetable scraps
Banana peels
Apple peels and cores
Coffee grounds
Poultry, cow, and horse manures

Start with a layer of plant material and then follow with garden topsoil. A small amount of commercial fertilizer as a top dressing should be added to each layer to provide nitrogen. Do not add animal fats and bones; they do not compost well and will attract animals. Avoid diseased plant material and weeds that have gone to seed.

You will need to keep the pile moist; the decomposing heap should feel somewhat like a damp sponge. Regularly add water to keep the compost soggy. The compost pile will generate heat and will reach a constant temperature of 150 to 170 degrees.

For rapid decomposition, the pile should be turned consistently to supply aeration (oxygen). As you frequently turn the pile, the heat will build; turn from the inside out.

Making compost quicker:
Chop or shred materials.
Turn about once a week, adding some water each time.
Add barnyard manure.
Add more nitrogen by adding nitrogen fertilizer to the pile.

A well-maintained compost heap is ready in about 2-4 months. The finished product will be dark brown and have a smell of earth. The key is to be diligent in your care; turn as required, add moisture, and shred materials if possible.