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Do-It-Yourself: Compost for the Garden

A natural way to improve soil and reduce pollution. Transcript of radio broadcast:

This is the VOA Special English Agriculture Report.

Compost is a dark, rich material added to soil to improve it.

Compost is produced when bacteria and fungi break down organic matter, aided by insects, earthworms and other organisms. This natural recycling returns nutrients to the soil. Some experts advise adding five centimeters of compost for every fifteen centimeters of turned soil.

More and more people are making their own compost at home. Composting can reduce the amount of garden and cooking waste that would otherwise go into public landfills.

Monica David from the University of Illinois Extension oversees the master gardeners program in her state. She explains that you can make a compost pile or dig a pit or use a waste container with holes cut in the side.

There are different methods of composting. Some take more work. Others take almost no work but may require waiting up to a year.

Advice about composting can be found from extension services, at garden centers, in books and on the Internet.

For example, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation lists some dos and don'ts of composting on its Web site.

Do add lime, small amounts of wood ashes or crushed eggshells to the compost pile. This will neutralize acids which may form and cause a bad smell.

Do mix grass cuttings with other wastes to loosen them up. And do keep the compost pile damp, especially during dry periods.

Do not use unfinished compost. It will rob plants of nitrogen instead of acting as a fertilizer.

Do not compost weedy plants with lots of seeds. Some seeds will not be killed during the natural heating process in composting.

Do not add meat, fish bones or fatty food wastes to the compost mixture. Protein materials do not readily decompose and they will bring animals.

And, finally, do not add diseased vegetable plants to the pile if the compost will be used on a vegetable garden. Disease organisms may reappear if you do.

Compost differs from mulch but it can be used as mulch. Mulch is placed on top of soil to protect it. Mulch is generally used to a height of about ten centimeters. But finer materials such as compost should only be two and a half to seven and a half centimeters high. Too much mulch can restrict oxygen and water flow.

And that's the VOA Special English Agriculture Report, written by Jerilyn Watson. For composting links, go to I'm Bob Doughty.