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  Welcome to the College of Composting Knowledge!

This Week's short course: Rotting 101; where the idea of composting came from, how it works, and two quick ways to get started:
Well, even you diehards out there must realize that summer really is over. Sorry--but denial is just going to make you late for Christmas! And speaking of the upcoming holidays, I want to give you three gifts: Free fertilizer, free soil improver, and free plant disease preventer! And I can fit all three inside one package, because they're what you receive when you apply compost to your lawn and garden. An inch a year of compost feeds every single one of your outdoor--and indoor--plants better than any fertilizer. Compost actually improves your soil structure--even when you just spread it on top of your lawn. And compost fights plant diseases--even the dreaded black spot on your roses--better than any chemical fungicide. Gifts that keep on giving!

Now, let's be honest--I know that a lot of you out there cringe a little bit when the subject of composting comes up. After all, if you've been gardening out of boxes and bottles with big warning labels on them all your life, turning to a mixture of leaves and last night's leftovers probably seems a little strange. But composting is simply an imitation of how Nature feeds Herself: Nobody spread chemical fertilizers on the Great Plains, the biggest, most beautiful lawn of them all. No one had to spray fungicides on America's vast fields of wildflowers to protect them from disease. And the magnificent forests of this nation grew tall without anyone applying pesticides to those trees.

That's right--if you think that plants need chemicals to survive, just look around! The woods, plains and wildflowers sustain themselves without any man-made materials. The roots of trees reach deep down into the earth, pulling up minerals and nutrients from far deeper than most plants can reach; they use some of this food, but much remains in their leaves, which feed the plants on the ground when they fall. Summer weeds, grasses and wildflowers killed by frost return their nutrients to the soil. And of course, deer, birds, squirrels and other animals make daily 'contributions', and then release a huge store of nutrients when they die The greatest gardens the world has ever seen have been nurtured for untold centuries by the seemingly impossible--a perpetual motion machine that uses plants to power future plants; a surprisingly simple process we can easily imitate when we make compost.

Simply put, nothing improves the health of a garden better than adding organic matter to your soil; and composting the natural materials that collect in your household allows you to do just that without making a single trip or having anything delivered. And right now is the perfect time to start, because you need Fall leaves to make it all happen. Start by shredding up some of those leaves. You can use a leaf blower set on reverse, a lawnmower, a string trimmer in a leaf-filled trashcan, or just rake them into a big pile and warn the kids not to jump up and down on them for three hours. Then combine those shredded leaves with an equal amount of 'wet greens'--like all of your kitchen waste that that doesn't contain animal products; that way you'll be recycling as well. And the result of this marriage of seeming trash will be rich black treasure next Spring.

One of the easiest ways to make compost is with your lawn mower. Now, disregard this if you just cut the grass or if you cut it real low (I'll yell at you about THAT next year!); you don't want your lawn to go into winter with a crew cut! But if you can make a pass and still have two inches of green growth left on top, give it a mow when its covered with leaves, collecting that perfect combination of well-shredded brown and green material as you go. Then just empty your bags into a big wire bin or similar structure; it'll start cooking down into rich, black super soil right away; you may even see steam rising the next morning. By the time Spring arrives, it'll be ready. Now, if you use herbicides on your lawn, just make sure that compost goes back on the lawn--it could harm other plants.

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