University of Illinois Extension

Composting

Gardeners refer to compost as "black gold" because it is a great material for garden soil. Adding compost to clay soil makes them easier to work and plant. The addition of compost to sandy soils improves the water holding capacity, said a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator.

"Three years ago, a friend of mine spent a fall day driving around town collecting bags of leaves

Jennifer Fishburn.

"Sounds crazy when most homeowners can't wait to get rid of the leaves that pile up on their yards, but she turned these leaves into 'black gold.' She put the leaves in a garden area that was mostly clay soil. A couple of years later she had beautiful workable soil perfect for a vegetable garden."

It is easy to turn yard waste materials into a resource that can be reapplied to a garden or yard area.

"Composting, a biological process that decomposes organic material under aerobic (oxygen required) conditions, is becoming more popular to home gardeners," Fishburn said. "Many gardeners enjoy turning composting leaves, lawn clippings, shredded twigs, and vegetable and food waste into something that can be reapplied to the landscape.

"A compost pile can be started any time of the year. Compost bin structures come in many shapes and sizes. A basic hand made compost bin is about three feet by three feet by three feet but can be as large as five feet by five feet by five feet."

Be sure to check with local ordinance on the size and placement of compost bins, she added. This type of a bin can be made out of wood pallets, lumber, hardware cloth and concrete blocks. There are many types of commercial bin systems also available through local garden centers and mail order catalogs.

"Composting yard materials has many landscape benefits," she noted. "Nutrients that otherwise are removed when trimmings are bagged can be placed back into the nutrient cycle, lessening the need for fertilizers.

"When added to the soil, the nutrients present in compost are released slowly, so they are less likely to leach out of the root zone, as compared to regular fertilizer. Soil structure is improved by the addition of organic matter. Structure is how individual soil particles combine. Organic matter such as that present in compost aids in creating a structure that allows good water retention and root penetration."

Before pitching yard waste to the curb, consider making "black gold" in your backyard, she added.

For more information on composting visit the University of Illinois Extension Composting for the Homeowner website (http://web.extension.uiuc.edu/homecompost/).