Improving soil with compost and ground covers is easy, you can make your own compost. In fact, you may be throwing away the materials you need to make this valuable resource. As an alternative, you can purchase compost and soil conditioners in bags or by the truck load from dealers. This can get a little expensive, especially considering compost should be added each year to Improve the soil but it’s worth it.
Composting is simply the act of helping natural materials such as leaves, grass clippings, and vegetable scraps to break down. Composting methods can be grouped into two categories: passive or active. Passive composting methods allow nature to do most of the work, but take a lot longer to get a finished product. In passive composting, raw materials such as leaves, straw, grass clippings, and vegetable scraps are stacked into a free standing pile or placed inside a composting bin and allowed to break down on their own over the course of two to three years. This method produces good compost, just not very quickly.
Active composting can produce ready to use compost in as little as two months, but takes more work on your part. In active composting, raw materials are made into a pile similar to passive composting, but then the pile is turned every week to encourage rapid break down.
To build a compost heap, pile green and brown materials in 3”- 4” thick alternating layers in a free standing pile or inside a compost bin. Examples of brown materials include leaves, straw, newspapers, and wood chips. Green materials include vegetable scraps, grass clippings, plant debris, coffee grinds, and animal manure, but avoid pest waste, which can contain harmful bacteria. A few other things that should not be added to compost piles include meat and bone scraps, dairy products, grease or oil, perennial weed roots like Florida betony or dollarweed, and diseased plants, since the pile may not reach high enough temperatures to kill plant disease organisms.
Make sure to water each layer as you stack it so the finished pile has the moisture content of a damp sponge. Turn the pile every 5 to 7 days until you can no longer recognise any of the original materials because they have all broken down to a crumbly brown soil like consistency that has an earthy smell. This should take two to three months. To mix compost into the improving soil, spread a layer over the surface and then till in 150mm to 200mm deep.
Green manures are cover crops that are seeded directly into empty garden areas, allowed to grow for several weeks until they reach bloom stage, and are then tilled into the soil. Tilling crops into the soil adds nutrients and increases organic matter, and is much like growing compost directly.
N.C. Cooperative Extension