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Preparing the Compost

for Fall Use


A compost pile has the general characteristics of a large, varied, damp sandwich. The layers are made from green material such as kitchen scraps, brown material such as dried grass clippings or pulled weeds , limestone to "sweeten" the mix and fertilizer to help break down the organic material. These layers are mixed together, to form more of a stew, and result in a usable organic amendment in 3 months or less.

In order to have a usable compost in time for fall top-dressing, now is the time to take a look and make sure your compost has all the components it needs.

My compost pile is a very busy place throughout the spring and summer. I have a large, double-sided, homemade composter, for which I will be forever grateful to my father! I have used a lot of compost during the spring planting, so most of my efforts are in rebuilding a new pile for fall use. The layers are formed more by accident than intent.

I start the pile by adding leaves and debris from the spring clean-up. I like to add small twigs and raspberry canes which I have cut up into short pieces. These won't have broken down completely by the fall but the added bulk makes the compost an ideal airy mulch for protecting roses and other tender perennials. Kitchen scraps are added at the end of each day and buried slightly in the pile so that flies and animals aren't attracted. I produce wheelbarrows full of weeds every trip around the garden and these are thrown onto the pile about once a week. I have a garden fork nearby at all times and prod the pile every so often in order to compress the layers a little bit. The fork is also always handy in case I, or hopefully somebody else, will be inclined to turn the pile. About once a month I will add limestone by sprinkling it over the entire surface of the pile. If I have some extra fertilizer kicking around, I will add that also.

This formula may sound a lot like a favourite recipe you will get from your mother who knows exactly what she is doing and doesn't need to bother with mundane things like measuring. Exact measurements are not the important thing when making compost but attention must be paid to proportions of green and brown materials. Kitchen scraps alone will be slow to break down and will tend to smell because there is too much moisture and not enough carbon and air for the desirable bacterial activity. The addition of brown material such as leaves, grass clippings, weeds or soil will help to even up the proportions.

If the proportions are right and you are still having a difficult time getting the compost pile working, you can add the bacteria and micro-organisms necessary for organic decomposition. You can purchase a product called "Compost Aid" or "Compost Accelerator" from your local garden centre. This is a mixture of bacteria to break down organic matter, gypsum to control odour and fertilizer to feed the micro-organisms. Along with this, add a few shovels full of good top soil. Alternatively, if you know someone with an active compost pile, can ask for a bucket full of their compost and this should contain the micro-organisms and worms you need. Make sure the compost is moist but not too wet and mix all the ingredients together.

Turning the compost pile is the best way to accelerate decomposition. Turning will add air to the mix, stabilize the temperature throughout the pile and even out the proportions of added materials. The turning will also show you the look and texture of the compost and indicate what is needed. If the compost smells, then add brown material along with limestone or gypsum and turn the compost more often. If the mix is dry and inactive then add water, more green material and nitrogen fertilizer.

Composters come in many sizes and shapes. There are very good ones available at your local garden centre made of sturdy black recycled plastic. These are an ideal size for many gardens and are easy to work with. Material is added to the top and the finished compost is taken out of the bottom. Turn the pile once a week, if you can, and you will have a steady supply of rich compost.

The more compost you have for the fall, the better for your garden. I like to surround my plants with a thick layer of compost to protect their roots and improve the soil when I dig it in next spring.


Daisy Moore, 1998.



Other summer garden tips:

(click on the tip you want to read)


Extreme Conditions
Growing Roses
Summer Lawn Care
Propogation by Cuttings
Sources of Native Plants
Making Sense of Fertilizer Labels
Annual/Perennial Combinations
Climbing Plants
The Dry Garden
Ornamental Grasses
Chooosing A Good Gardening Book
Companion Planting
Preparing the Compost for Fall Use
Getting the Most out of your Vegetable Garden
Repairing Lawns From Summer Stress
All About Grubs
All About Onions
Useful Herbs for the Home Garden
Screens and Hedges




Home  |  Garden designs  |  Naturalized gardening  |  Help with your garden  |  Garden Tips Spring  Summer  Fall  | Contact Daisy


Daisy Moore 2005