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Black Gold - The Benefits of Compost



Searcy, Ark. – 

     As gardens begin to explode with flowers and vegetables, the value of rich, productive soil is easy to appreciate.  Highly organic soil provides plants with many essential minerals, good water holding capacity and adequate drainage.  One of the best sources of organic matter is compost, and one of the best times to think about beginning a compost pile is right now.  I made a visit to Judsonia yesterday to see my buddy, Harold Bridges. We walked and talked, while practicing social distancing, about his vegetable garden and what will become his sweet potato site.  The soil looked black.  He’s been building that garden site for years and had just released a bunch of earthworms to do their thing in the soil.  I believe Harold’s garden soil is best described as “Black Gold”.  Compost yields a rich black soil additive that many gardeners refer to as “Black Gold” because of its value to their plant material. 

     Composting is the biological decomposition of organic matter. Decomposition occurs naturally, but it can be accelerated.  Microorganisms, worms, and insects break organic materials into compost.  Compost contains nutrients that, when returned to the soil, are used by plants.  This is nature’s way of recycling.

     Compost improves the structure of the soil by adding organic matter.  In sandy soil, compost holds moisture and helps to hold soil together.  In heavy clay soil, compost particles bind with clay particles to form larger particles.  Surface water can drain between larger particles.  Surface layers of soil conditioned with compost retain water better, and resist surface crusting and erosion.

     Compost attracts earthworms.  Their tunnels aerate the soil and improve drainage and bring up minerals from the subsoil.  Earthworm activity contributes to good soil structure.  Although compost is considered a soil conditioner rather than a fertilizer, it contains both plant nutrients and essential trace elements such as calcium, potassium and phosphorous.  Some chemical fertilizers release elements so quickly that rain can leach them away before plants derive much benefit.  In compost, most of the nitrogen and phosphorous are held in organic form and slowly released, making them available throughout the growing season.

     Many organic materials are suitable for composting.  Yard trimmings, such as leaves, grass clippings, straw and non-woody plants, can decompose easily.  Composting is the combination of equal amounts of carbon matter (dry grass, chopped leaves, straw) and nitrogen matter (green garden and kitchen waste).

     The methods of composting differ depending on the time that the finished compost is desired, and the materials and space available.  Turning units require regular (weekly or biweekly) maintenance.  If kitchen wastes will be mixed with yard wastes, the turning method is recommended.  However, holding units or compost heaps may work when precautions are taken to minimize pest problems.  Turning the pile frequently helps avoid pest problems.  Yard wastes are generally not susceptible to pest problems - so slower, low maintenance methods are suitable.

     Holding units are used to hold yard and garden wastes until composting is complete.  This is the easiest, but slowest, way to compost.  Material should be added as it is generated; no turning is required.

     Holding units can include circles of wire fencing or hardware cloth, old wooden pallets wired together or wire framed in wood.  Landscape timbers, concrete blocks or rocks provide more permanent holding units. Holding units should be at least 3' x 3' x 3'.  In any case, units should allow for air circulation through sides and back.  Two or three units - one for fresh, one for maturing and a third for finished compost - may be helpful.

     Non-woody materials, such as grass clippings, crop wastes, weeds and leaves, will compost in holding units but can take six months to two years.  The process can be hastened by chopping or shredding wastes, mixing high nitrogen and high carbon materials, maintaining proper moisture and turning. 

     Since yard and garden waste can be added continuously, the stage of decomposition varies from the top to the bottom of the compost pile.  Generally the more finished compost will be found near the bottom of the pile and partially decomposed material near the top.  Removing the compost and then forking it back into the holding unit after three or four months will speed the rate of composting.

 

      Once the compost at the bottom is finished, it can be removed and used.  The less-decomposed material can be moved back into the unit until the finished compost is uncovered.

            Take advantage of gardening information available online at https://www.uaex.edu/yard-garden/default.aspx. The University of Arkansas System, Division of Agriculture is an equal opportunity/equal access/affirmative action institution.  For additional information or fact sheets on building compost bins, you can contact your local county extension service.  You can also follow Sherri Sanders on Facebook @UAEX.WhiteCountyAgriculture .

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By Sherri Sanders
County Extension Agent - Agriculture
The Cooperative Extension Service
U of A System Division of Agriculture

Media Contact: Sherri Sanders
County Extension Agent - Agriculture
U of A Division of Agriculture
Cooperative Extension Service
2400 Old Searcy Landing Road, Searcy AR 72143
(501) 268-5394
ssanders@uaex.edu

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  • The Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service is an equal opportunity/equal access/affirmative action institution. If you require a reasonable accommodation to participate or need materials in another format, please contact your County Extension office (or other appropriate office) as soon as possible. Dial 711 for Arkansas Relay.

    The Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service offers its programs to all eligible persons regardless of race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.

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