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Larry Sagers Horticultural Specialist Utah State University Extension Service Thanksgiving Point Office © All Rights Reserved

Composting is the natural process that breaks down all kinds of organic materials into rich soil-like material. Finished compost is an excellent soil amendment that improves soil structure as it binds sand, silt and clay particles together.

Compost also adds some nutrients although these are mostly tied up in the organic matter so they are available very slowly. Organic materials of all kinds will break down eventually, under the proper environmental conditions. The process speeds up dramatically with proper management of the organic materials and composting environment.

All compost requires certain basic ingredients. These include organic matter, microorganisms, and the right balance of carbon, nitrogen, water, and oxygen. Each component is essential to create the desired product.

Organic matter is the raw material from which all compost is created. Successful composting requires abundant raw material because the composting process drastically reduces the volume of material as it goes through the process.

Suitable materials for composting include corn stalks and other garden plants, grass clippings, pruning waste and tree leaves. The last component is the most important this time of year because they are an ideal soil improvement product. They are readily available, the price is right (free), and they have no weed seeds. Nevertheless, understanding more about composting will help create this magic black gold more successfully.

I prefer the sheet composting method for leaves. They do not require hot composting because they usually have no pathogens from diseases that have killed the plants and no weed seeds. They are easily tilled into the garden this fall and will easily decompose by next spring. Add some nitrogen fertilizer to enhance the process and magical compost starts forming immediately.

The smaller the particle size, the faster the organic materials will decompose. Shredding leaves greatly reduces the volume but most gardeners do not have access to these machines. Fortunately, leaves are easily shredded by running over them with a rotary power mower.

Spend some time picking up the leaves and adding them to your garden soil. Additional compost to improve soil is available from many commercial sources and from the Solid Waste Disposal Facility. Whatever the source, organic material will be the best addition to ever make to garden soil.

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