With more than 60 years of local farming experience, Leslie Clayshulte knows a thing or two about making things grow in the Mesilla Valley. From why you should to the pitfalls to avoid, here’s his best advice for composting like an expert.
Four Reasons You Should Compost
Soil quality matters. Ever failed to see a crop succeed, yet watched it thrive in your neighbor’s yard? It probably came down to soil. “The organic matter you put in compost breaks down into nutrients that are beneficial to your plants,” Leslie explains. “And, it improves the soil structure. Whether you’re dealing with heavy clay or light sandy soil, compost material can balance it out.”
Easy on the wallet. Gardening in itself saves you money and trips to the produce market, and when you compost, you might just get more yield from your crop. Plus, you’ll spend less on fertilizers and bagged soils. “It’s truly a natural cycle,” Leslie points out. “You eat off the land and then use the scraps in your compost to keep your garden producing.”
Reduces waste. It’s no secret that composting is one of the greenest activities you can engage in. All that waste that would otherwise go into a landfill is instead put to good use.
Garden pride. One of the reasons gardening is so enjoyable is because you can, literally, see the fruits of your labor. Composting adds one more level to your bragging rights. Not only did you produce that juicy red tomato, you produced the dirt it was grown in.
- Grass Clippings
- Raw Fruits and Vegetables
- Egg Shells
- Shredded Paper and Newspaper
- Coffee Grounds
- Nuts and Shells
- Manure (only from herbivores like rabbits, sheep, and cows)
- Meat, Fish, and Bones
- Cooked Foods
- Cat Litter
Three Steps to Get Started
Location, location, location. “Start your compost pile in a spot that’s out of the way, yet relatively easy to access from your house. Keep in mind that they can attract flies. It’s not something you want in your front yard or where you’ll see it all the time. Composting works quickest in heat, so don’t put it in a spot that’s always in the shade. It also helps to have a hose nearby.”
Variety is key. Start your compost with a nice mix of carbon-rich brown material—leaves, dead garden flowers, shredded newspaper—and nitrogen-rich green material—potato peelings, egg shells, and fruit rinds. (Never add in meat, fish, or dairy as these can attract rodents and maggots.) “Add in a shovel or two of garden soil. Get it moist, but don’t overdo it; it shouldn’t be soggy because you need oxygen mixed in to complete the breakdown process,” Leslie notes.
Keep mixed and moistened. Now the waiting game begins, but your job isn’t done. “Turn your pile regularly to ensure the microorganisms spread and break down the organic matter,” Leslie explains. “If you want to make it even easier on yourself, buy a rotating barrel composter from a garden or hardware store. Keep the mixture moist. If it sticks together like a ball, that’s too much water. It should be moist throughout, but crumbly, not gummy.”
Two Ways to Know it’s Ready
Touch it. Be sure your compost is ready before using it in your garden or it could do more harm than good. “Grab a handful. It should look and feel like crumbly, dark brown soil. If it’s slimy or chunky or you can identify the items in it, it needs more time.”
Smell it. Likewise, your compost mix should have a rich, earthy aroma. If it smells like rotting fruits and veggies, it needs to do some more decomposing.
One Amazing Garden
Once it’s ready, use your mix as a soil amendment by spreading out one to three inches on the soil surface and then tilling it in to a depth of about three to four inches with a hoe, a hand till, or an electric till. You can also use compost as a surface mulch, and allow the nutrients to gradually filter into the soil. Its water retention properties also make it a great potting soil.
Collect Your Kitchen Scraps in Style
These 3 chic compost bins won’t look out of place on your countertop