One of the best fertilizers has to be compost. It's cheap, easy to create, and makes plants grow like crazy. With compost you can replace most of your fertilizer use! Now why don't more people do it? Maybe because they believe composting is difficult to accomplish, or maybe it sounds complicated, or maybe they just never thought about it. Whatever the reason is composting is a very good way to feed your plants and it keeps green waste from ending up in landfills.
What is compost? Simply put it is the leftovers of organic materials after beneficial bacterias, worms, fungi, and other organisms have had their fill. Those leftovers have nutrients that plants need to grow strong and healthy like nitrogen and carbon.
What can you compost? A whole lot of stuff! Kitchen scraps, egg shells, animal manure (not from dogs and cats), leaves and grass clippings, and virtually anything that was at one time a plant! (Avoid black walnut leaves since they a chemical they emit can actually inhibit plant growth.)
How do you use compost? You can supplement or make potting mixes with compost, spread it over new and existing garden beds, and even make a tea for your plants. To make the tea just put a couple spadefuls of compost in a bucket of water and let it steep overnight. Then either pour it onto the plants you want to treat or strain it and put it into a spray bottle to treat the foliage.
With compost it's a good idea to have a designated spot in your yard where you can let it cook over time. You can do this in all sorts of ways.
Here are a few ideas for compost bins:
- You can create a homemade bin using wooden stakes and chicken wire. Just set the corner stakes in the ground and wrap the wire around the bin and you're done!
- You can set up a bin using old wooden palettes. Just prop three palettes up on their ends and attach the corners together. Then get a brace board for the front and you're bin is about ready. You may want to put a removable chicken wire cover on the front for easy compost access!
- You can use cinder block or retaining wall stones to create a very solid bin in nearly any form that you wish. Just be sure the bottom layer is solid or the top will become unstable.
- You can even (if you want to spend money!) buy a fancy rotating bin from garden suppliers like Gardener's Supply Company! The advantage of turning your compost regularly is an increased air supply for the bacteria that is doing the hard work.
- The cheapest and easiest method (although also the most untidy!) is just to make a dump pile! Just find an area of your yard that you can tolerate a pile of compostable materials and start dumping.
You hear a lot about the proper way to build a compost pile, which if done properly will decompose very quickly, but even without the proper mix of brown and green materials it will decompose if given enough time.
Here are a couple of general guidelines that may help speed along you're compost if you are so inclined!
- Keep it moist but not soggy.
- The smaller the pieces you put in the faster they will decompose.
- Balance the ingredients. A good mix of green and brown materials will optimize the decay.
- Make sure it has enough heat. If doesn't feel warmer than the air around you add some more green materials (nitrogen).
- Turn the compost every now and then to increase air circulation.
For some excellent information on everything you need to know about compost go to Compostguide.com!
Here's quick look at some composters available on the market (from Gardener's Supply).
For more tips on how to garden on a budget visit these other Thrifty Gardening Tips posts!
Thrifty Gardening Tips Part 1: Buying and Saving Discount Discount Plants
Thrifty Gardening Tips Part 1 Follow Up: Buying and Saving Discount Plants
Thrifty Gardening Tips Part 2: The Generosity of Gardeners
Thrifty Gardening Tips Part 3: Save Gas, Only Mow Where You Go
Thrifty Gardening Tips Part 4: Think Small Plants