Volume 13, Issue 42 ~ October 20 - October 26, 2005
The Bay Gardener

By Dr. Frank Gouin

The Right Mix for Compost
Keep at it now and your compost will be ready next spring

Within a week after you build a your compost pile it will start generating heat.

If you’ve built it right, that is.

  1. The first step in building right is to make your pile three feet square or larger to retain heat during the cooler months.
  2. The right way this time of year is to start with a six-inch layer of leaves.
  3. Mix equal amounts of green waste with leaves.

    Grass clippings and green weeds come into short supply about the time deciduous trees are shedding their leaves. To keep the correct half green-half brown ratio, add plants as you pull them from your garden. Chop or grind into small pieces for faster composting. All your vegetable kitchen waste also belongs in your compost.

    As green waste gets scarcer, apply ammonium nitrate or urea fertilizers as you build your pile. Mix with water, which is the fourth step in building good compost.
  4. The secret to composting is keeping it wet. Fill a five-gallon pail two-thirds full of water. Add a shovel of garden soil, one-fourth cup of kitchen detergent and one-half cup of ammonium nitrate or urea fertilizers. Sprinkle several quarts of this mixture over each layer and soak with the garden hose before placing another layer on top.
  5. Turn the pile at one- to two-month intervals to provide oxygen to the micro-organisms. Turning has two other helpful effects. The outside edges of the pile dry out more rapidly than the middle; mixing keeps the whole pile working. Turning also activates the microorganisms that cause the pile to re-heat.

Your compost is ready when you no longer recognize the origin of the waste, temperatures have subsided and the compost has a nice earthy smell. That takes some six months to a year in a bin sitting on the ground. Keep at it now, and your compost will be ready next spring.

Plant redbuds in spring

I have an eastern redbud planted last November. The installer advised me that the flowers would be very sparse the first year, which was correct. The tree is above roof line.

It leafed out sparsely during the spring, and now the leaves are all brownish. I’ve read that “fall color is usually yellow green but can be excellent yellow.” Should I be concerned?

—Lois Tuwiner

A I strongly suspect your redbud is dying. Most legume trees are best transplanted in the spring because legume, like pine, do not generate roots in the fall. From your description, I would say that the tree is living on reserves within the stem. If you dig around the edge of the root ball, you most likely will not find any new roots entering the surrounding soil.

Ask Dr. Gouin your questions at [email protected]. All questions will appear in Bay Weekly. Please include your name and address.

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