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BACKYARD COMPOST

Organic Matter For A Healthy Landscape

Recent weather extremes have many Houston homeowners concerned about keeping their yards healthy. Healthy plants need healthy soil. But what makes a soil healthy?

Increasing organic matter in the soil increases water retention and nutrient availability. Landscape plants and turf grasses grow deeper roots and become drought-tolerant, flood-tolerant, even disease and pest resistant. So, where do you get organic matter?

Visit the forest at the Houston Arboretum and Nature Center and find a carpet of fallen leaves covering the ground. Scrape through this layer with your foot and another layer of gray, less recognizable leaves presents itself. Use a stick to dig deeper and all you see are fragments of even older leaves. This multi-year process of layered decomposition is nature's way of recycling the nutrients stored in the leaves. This type of organic matter is called Leaf Mold Compost.

You can create your own version right at home. It's called Backyard Compost, and it utilizes fast growing bacteria to make finished compost in as little as six weeks. Best of all, the three necessary ingredients can be found in any kitchen and yard.

The GREENS include nitrogen-rich fruit and vegetable scraps like peelings, cores, trimmings and last night's salad devoid of oils and butter. The BROWNS include dead leaves, broken twigs and even shredded newspaper. All contain cellulose, a difficult to digest form of sugar. The BLACK ACTIVATORS are live bacteria found naturally in soil. A shovel of garden soil, bag of cow manure or a bucket of finished compost is all teaming with millions of these microbes.

When combined in a balanced ratio, the GREENS provide the metabolic fuel necessary for bacteria found in the BLACK ACTIVATOR to grow quickly and break down the decay-resistant cellulose of the BROWNS. When completely decomposed, the resulting dark brown-black compost has the look, the feel and the smell of fresh soil.

To learn more about Backyard Composting and to make your own Compost Tumbler, the Houston Arboretum & Nature Center offers two hands-on classes: February 2 and 9. To register for either class, visit www.houstonarboretum.org

Joe is the Adult Programs Director at the Houston Arboretum & Nature Center, 4501 Woodway Drive. jblanton@houstonarboretum.com

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