YOUR HOMETOWN GARDENER

Paul and Nila Dowlearn-Owners of Wichita Valley Nursery. Paul’s recent books, “The Lazy Man’s Garden” and “Touch the Earth” are available at the Nursery, 5314 S.W. Pkwy, Wichita Fall, Texas.

Compost: The true miracle fertilizer, soil enhancer, stabilizer, and sustainer of Life itself. The Circle of Life begins and ends with death. From death comes New Life.

I have in my possession a paper written by one Robert Petitt (PhD Tx. A&M retired). In a nutshell the paper says that cutting edge agriculture would soon lose its infatuation with chemicals and turn back to living soils. He then went on to explain what he understood (this was more than 20 years ago) about the humic acid complex. It is very complex to be sure. We still don’t fully understand it. Dr. Petitt wrote this paper after he retired. Had he taught such things during his tenure as a professor he would have put his career in jeopardy. He was, however, prophetic as this very thing is happening in modern agriculture.

All living things will die and as they do they return all the elements, minerals, and nutrients to the soil through the process of decay. Compost is the best way to speed the process along to enhance large areas of soil in the most expedient manner. The secret is in getting a good mix of green stuff (fresh material like green leaves and manure) and brown stuff (totally dead) then keeping the mixture turned periodically to introduce oxygen. The oxygen is key to keeping the reproduction of decomposing bacteria at a high level of activity. This actually creates heat (energy). We call this aerobic (with oxygen) decomposition.

The methane process I talked about last week is an example of anaerobic (low or no oxygen). Anaerobic does smell bad so it needs to be contained. Aerobic is better out in the open and if turned often enough does not smell bad. If it does smell bad it needs more green stuff. On the other hand, if your compost smells of ammonia you fix that with more brown stuff.

The temperature inside the pile needs to hit 150 degrees (f). At this magic number all human disease pathogens will be destroyed. Exactly why they tell us to make certain the inside of that turkey, ham, burger, etc., stays 150 degrees plus for a while before you eat. This will kill salmonella, ecoli, and anything else including viruses that could make us sick. Read this twice and let it sink in.

There is no need to fear throwing rotten stuff into the compost pile. Nature will make it useful once again. There is some malarkey being passed around out there about things that should not ever be composted like meat and dairy products. Pure baloney… Anything that is derived from a living source or a by-product from living source (manure, leaves, wood, etc.) can be composted.

My old buddy Fred Hall (Tx. A&M Extension Agent) told me he once composted and entire cow. Meat, fat, milk, and all. My personal best was I composted an entire bison head in about six months and delivered a clean skull to River Bend Nature Center. When I stated, “every living thing,” I really do mean everything. That would include the dead bodies of the microorganisms that do the work of decomposing.

One more miracle before I must close… Well-made compost is pretty close to ph neutral running somewhere between 6.5 and 7 (neutral ph). At neutral ph all chemicals are readily available to plants. As we rise or get lower on the ph scale certain elements get what we call “locked up” or combined so they cannot dissolve easily. For example, iron will combine with calcium in our typical high ph alkaline (basic, if you prefer) soils. So, it is iron that produces our red colored soil around here. Instead of buying iron products, just add compost to adjust the ph.

Compost feeds all plants worldwide. For sure, organic matter mixed with minerals from local stone creates all soils. This is how Mother Nature feeds the Plant Kingdom. It cannot be improved upon. Yes, you can add a mixture of NPK fertilizer and force plants to grow faster, but only at a high cost both to the environment, consumers, and the pocketbook.

Compost is the main ingredient in every potting soil you ever bought. It is that black stuff. What we call peat moss is really just very old compost. Thousands of years of anaerobic decomposition in peat bogs. We no longer use it or sell it.

What we do use is fresh compost. That is all that is needed. No doubt some folks wonder about that unsightly pile of chipped wood and bagged leaves in our parking lot. Sure, there are times we could use that extra space for parking, but to us that “trash pile” is pure gold. We always encourage our friends in the lawn industry to bring us their clippings. We invite you to come out and see the huge worms and other life forms that are abundant in the plants we sell and in the mulch beds we make.

Folks most often believe that their particular soil is poor and lacking in the nutrition it takes to grow plants. Whether you think it too much red clay, too sandy, “hard as a rock,” or even solid rock, compost can fix it. ‘Nuff said… Ya’ll come see us

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