There are a lot of ways you can save money in the garden. You can buy small plants, start from seeds or make your own pest spray, but my favorite money-saver is compost. I love composting because it takes materials that might otherwise end up in the trash and turns them into something useful.
Composting is similar to baking in that the right mix of ingredients is needed to produce the desired results. A compost pile needs brown (carbon) and green (nitrogen) materials, water, air and microorganisms to turn leaves, yard waste and kitchen scraps into usable organic matter.
The relationship between the brown and green materials is key to a successful compost pile. The nitrogen producing green materials (kitchen scraps, grass clippings) work with microorganisms to break down the carbon producing browns (dead leaves, straw etc). Ideally you want one layer of green for every three layers of brown. If the ratio of green to brown is off, decomposition slows to a crawl and there’s not enough nitrogen to support the microorganisms necessary to complete the composting process. Basically you end up with undercooked compost that, when added to the soil, can make plants spindly and pale.
So what do you do when you have a yard full of dead leaves you want to compost? If you are short on green materials, get yourself some compost starter. A nitrogen based starter will help activate decomposition. Blood meal, alfalfa pellets and chicken manure are good options. Don’t overdo it; a sprinkling of starter every now and again is all you need. Too much nitrogen and your microbes will start producing ammonia.
You can also apply a compost inoculant to speed up the process. These accelerants add beneficial bacteria, microbes and fungi, the microorganisms that do all the work in a compost pile. You can find them at garden centers and home improvement stores. As with the activators, a little goes a long way. Sprinkle some of the product over your leaves and add water to bring the microbes to life.
Good to Know: Jobe’s Compost Starter
One year I used undercooked compost in all my raised beds with disastrous results. Seeds sprouted, but never took off. It was pitiful. Since then I’ve discovered Jobe’s Compost Starter. It’s an inoculant that we use to add the beneficial microorganism archaea to our compost. Archaea isn’t just fast at breaking down organic matter, it’s downright aggressive. Whenever my compost appears to be lagging, I add a little Jobe’s Compost Starter to increase the microbial activity in the pile. I’m done worrying about using undercooked compost in my beds.