Compost is a nice and efficient way to deal with wastes.Any gardener with a working compost pile knows the charm of this magic circle, taking waste products from the garden and elsewhere and turning them into a product that can be returned to the garden to increase its fertility.
Very few gardeners actually generate enough wastes from their own plots to fertilize the spots, though. Once they get into composting, they like the way it works so well that they start searching for other sources of organic supplies. With a little ingenuity, it's possible to turn up some good ones.
Manure is practically a necessity for compost - it provides nutrients and the heat that sets the microrganisms to work. In rural areas, it's easy to find. Most farms have abundant supplies of animal manures, and most will be glad to let you dig and haul some.
But even city gardners can find alternatives to spending their money on bagged and packaged manure if they're willing to put a little thought and work into it. I can remember a lady from my city childhood who always went out to the street with a shovel after the fruit peddlers came through, and clean up anything the horses might have left behind. This lady was considered a bit crazy by the young people, but the older folks, who know more about gardens, knew she was really crazy like a fox. She's add horse manure to her compost in regular, small amounts, and it would show up again in the bounty of her fertile garden, her bushels of tomatoes and peppers.
Today there are few places where peddlers still ride horse-drawn wagons through the streets, but there are still many sources of free manure. Riding stables usually have lots of manure, and many urban parks have riding stables. Live poultry markets have it too, but chicken manure is very hot. I has to be used sparingly and composted well. Zoos usually have more manure than they know what to do with, and, when a circus comes to town, the animals are glad to help local gardeners fill their needs.
There are some added benefits to shoveling manure from zoos and circuses. Some animals, like elephants, are so big that one dropping goes a long way. Others like lions and tigers, are so ferocious that, even after a season in the compost pile, their manure will keep timid rabbits and groundhogs out of a garden. No smart rabbit is going to come in to nibble lettuce if it thinks there might be a lion waiting.
An, if you want to make lots of compost, you can begin finding other local, and often free, sources of organic materials. Brewery wastes make good compost, and so do the feathers from poultry markets. Seaside gardeners can get fish wastes and seaweed. Barbershops have hair, mills sometimes have natural textile wastes, nut processors have shells. Even supermarkets have huge crates of wilted produce that they throw out daily.
In the summer, the fields are full weeds, which will add nutrients to compost - because many weeds do the work gathering elements and returning them to the soil.
If you make a compost pile each spring, fill it over the summer and into the fall, by the following sping it will be ready to add to the garden, and you can start all over again.
The process is easy - compost all but makes itself. The main ingredients are fairly fresh manure, organic materials unsterlized earth and lime, or ground stone from local quarries, to help keep it sweet.
Layer the ingredients in any type of bin you devise, and keep the pile covered with hay or soil to keep down flies and odors. Turn the pile regularly and add more ingredients as the fullness of summer provides them.
The heat of compost pile should kill most weed seeds and insect eggs, but it's a good idea to keep diseased plant material of it. And meats and bones take too long to break down.
Build your pile in springtime, and it will work through the other seasons. By next spring, the circle will be complete. And your compost, rich, black and full of life, will be ready to add new life to your garden.
When you're planning where to locate you compost heap, take some time to study your garden and assess how well it's served you so far - maybe you want to rotate crops this year (good for soil and for the plants), and set aside an area that can go undisturbed, or that's hard to reach, for pernnials, etc.
Think about how you want the rows to run (if you plant in rows): North-south rows give equal light to all plants; if you use east-west rows, put taller crops on the northern side so they won't shade their shorter neighbors.
And you may want to group plants according to when they mature, so that after the early-maturers are done you can turn the soil and enrich it for the later crops.
But time for planning is running out, so either busy or resign youself to waiting until next year. CAPTION: Picture, GOOD, RICH COMPOST PAYS OFF IN THE SIZE AND QUALITY OF YOUR CROP. By James A. Parcel