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Compost and Fertile Soil Building


cropped fertile soil 

Building fertile soil to grow healthy, productive plants is a gardener’s ultimate goal. You can improve the appearance and nutritional value of your garden soil by adding amendments such as fall leaves and fresh grass clippings, by composting yard and kitchen waste, and by using castings from earth worms (called vermicompost).

The fertility of your soil also can be affected by how often you till the soil and the kinds of mulches you use.

One of the simplest methods of adding nutritious material to your garden beds is by incorporating well composted vegetation onto and into the soil. Composting mimics and intensifies nature’s recycling plan.

A compost pile starts out as a diverse pile of kitchen and garden “waste,” and matures into what soil scientists call biologically active organic matter: a dark, crumbly soil amendment that’s rich with beneficial fungi, bacteria and earthworms, as well as the enzymes and acids these life-forms release as they multiply.


Compost Made Easy
by Barbara Pleasant, October/November 2006
These 10 facts about composting will help you turn food and yard waste into garden gold.

Compost Tumblers
by Brook Elliott, April/May 2003
Mother tests several compost tumblers and shares results, including tumbler styles, feature pros and cons, operating factors, test results.

Make Your Own Potting Soil
by Barbara Pleasant, December 2008/January 2009
Nutritious potting soil will give your seedlings and house plants a good place to grow. You can buy potting soil or make your own. Combine a bit of dirt, some well aged compost and a handful of sand for good drainage to form an inexpensive and handy planting medium for your new garden seedlings or old-friend house plants.

Leaves for Chicken Bedding and Compost
by Kellie Gardner, August/September 2008

Use dry leaves for bedding in your chicken coop.

Reusing Tea and Coffee Grounds for Compost
by Clare Hafferman, June/July 2008
You can put used coffee grounds and tea bags into your compost pile.

Secure Compost Bin
by Michelle Higgins, October/November 2005
Transform metal garbage cans into functional compost bins.

Make Easy Compost Tea
by Ed Bowser, Sr., April/May 2007
A barrel of manure and some water combine to provide great nutrients to garden plants.

Is it OK to compost or not?
by Barbara Pleasant, May 2008
Compost expert Barbara Pleasant calls on people everywhere to take responsibility for their yard and kitchen waste.

Recycle Your Leaves
by Cheryl Long, November/December 2005
Here are four ways to recycle this valuable resource on your yard and in your garden

Watch Out for Killer Compost
by Cheryl Long and Barbara Pleasant, October/November 2008
Home food gardens are falling victim to a persistent pesticide found in some forms of compost.

Ask Our Experts: I have read about using newspaper as mulch, but what about using office paper for mulch or composting? Many people use shredded non-glossy paper in mulch or compost, where it typically degrades in a single season. Since paper is a wood product, you should regard it as a high-carbon soil additive, similar to sawdust. When using it to make compost…
Read the full answer. 

Ask Our Experts: Can I use horse manure and straw bedding to make compost? Yes! In fact, it makes great compost, according to the Maryland Cooperative Extension Office
Read the full answer. 

Ask Our Experts: Can you compost black walnut hulls? The mention of black walnut trees makes many gardeners groan, because all of the plants parts, from leaf to root tip, contain a substance called juglone that causes severe stunting...
Read the full answer.

Fertile Soil Building


better soil 

Worms! Soil Building Workhorses
by Barbara Pleasant, June/July 2008
Use the free services of resident earthworms to make one of nature’s most potent fertilizers.

Build Better Soil With Free Organic Fertilizer
by Cheryl Long and Barbara Pleasant, April/May 2008
Avoid expensive fertilizers — here are your best organic options, including two that you won’t even have to pay for!

8 Strategies for Better Garden Soil
by Harvey Ussery, June/July 2007
Use these natural methods to build healthier garden soil.

Building Fertile Soil
by Doreen G. Howard, June/July 2003
Use these low-till, low-work methods to enhance the soil in your garden. Includes information on mycorrhizal fungi.

Build Permanent Beds and Paths
by Cheryl Long, April/May 2007
Permanent beds make gardening easier and soil healthier. Includes annually adding compost, building new beds and soil testing.

A Better Way to Fertilize Your Garden - Homemade Organic Fertilizer
by Steve Solomon, June/July 2006
Your crops will thrive with this organic soil-building plan.

Beginner's Guide to Fertile Soil and Raised Garden Beds
by Alison Rogers, May 2007
When you build permanent garden beds and paths, you protect the soil structure from compaction by foot traffic-an important step in maintaining soil health.

Use Wood Mulch to Build Great Garden Soil
by Barbara Pleasant, October/November 2010
Sawdust and wood chip mulches will conserve water, control weeds and build long-term soil fertility.

Your Garden’s Soil pH Matters
by Barbara Pleasant, April/May 2014
Learn what causes acidic soil and alkaline soil, plus how to apply the results of a soil pH test in your organic garden.

How to Improve Clay Soil
by Vicki Mattern, March 2014
I have heavy clay soil that becomes as hard as a brick when it dries, and my neighbors who also garden have asked me how to improve clay soil. What are the best methods for improving clay soil?

Post a comment below.


5/13/2014 1:01:00 AM
I use to read your blogs in regular basis. I have no words to explain the quality of your contain. I get lots of information which are very useful for all farming sector. I also get benefits by applying your tips. Fertilizer and composts are very common in our farming sector. These plant foods enhance the productivity of plant as well as soil.

Jan Steinman
10/26/2012 6:03:40 PM
I'm with JH Raichyk: human urine is a great fertilizer. And if you heat with wood, wood stove ash is a perfect complement, being high in P and K, whereas urine is primarily N. We saturate water with the soluble stuff from wood ash by using a 20 litre bucket and a drill and paint stirrer. Then we strain it through old sheets, mix with an equal amount of urine, then dilute the result with 8 parts water, giving close to a 1:1:1 N:P:K ratio. Then we send it through our greenhouse watering system, which is valved to switch between fertigation and clear water. The first time we did this, the corn grew a foot overnight!

Tosha Delfeld
9/19/2009 7:21:47 PM
Seriously? Llamas? That's fantastic! How much room do they need? Anyone else know anything about this? Good grief - where does one get llamas? Online? lol

JH Raichyk, PhD
7/18/2009 10:34:19 AM
I'm amazed you haven't seen the research from Finland, reported in Science News as long ago as Oct6/2007 in an article titled "They fertilized with what?" which tells you that your personal best natural fertilizer was human urine, diluted of course. The results -- from the Univ of Kuopio in Finland in preparation for becoming petroleum independent -- reported that"the urine treatment yielded cabbages that were bigger and carried fewer germs than those grown by" the normal soil or by conventional fertilizers. The estimates that I've been using were highly successful for tomatoes and peppers, the Finns did cucumbers and cabbages in 2007. I'm figuring that they were using about 1gallon per 100sq yards of garden space per year but that's strictly based on their statement that "urine collected by one individual over the course of a year could fertilize" a 100sy plot. So why don't you let people know this wonderful idea works? It has so many ramifications for how we in the western world relate to our bodies, to our waste handling and to our healthy home designing.

Steve Steiner_1
7/17/2009 2:35:16 PM
Sure would be nice to see a review of those "overpriced and stunning rip-offs" for those of us who compost but might need a little off-the-shelf help while the soil improves...

7/17/2009 12:42:38 PM
Our two gelded Llamas provide the perfect organic fertilizer for our home gardening. Tidy in their habit, llamas place their waste in one certain spot in their field. Two llamas provide about three bags of droppings a week. Putting the pellets through a shredder will make them more spreadable, but they can be applied directly to the garden without any preparation. The llama waste will not burn the plants, nor does it require a lengthy composting process, it does not even have a strong smell. Llamas are the least expensive of our pets to feed, as they need only field hay, bermuda will make them gain too much weight (the cats' food is more expensive...). The gardener can go into the llama area, fill a wheel barrow, and fertilise even the most delicate of plants in just a few minutes, and in addition, dry llama pellets are very light in weight. Gotta love those llamas. And, oh yes, llamas have a sense of humor (but that is another topic). We have built many productive gardens on our rocky, soil-less Oklahoma land in the ten years we have had the llamas, and are enjoying vegitables and the llamas' good company.

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