Seasoned composters relish the month of May. While temperatures are still a bit too cold to put heat crops like tomatoes and cucumbers directly into the ground, by now the lawn has put on enough new growth to yield tasty green snacks for your compost pile. In fact, May is so beloved by those bitten by the compost bug that the US Composting Council has officially declared the first week of the month to be International Compost Awareness Week.
With ICAW comes promotions, deals and discounts on compost and compost-making tools at garden stores throughout the country. Be sure pick up a bag of compost (or a truckload) along with your tomato starts as you shop for summer garden essentials. Not sure how much compost you need? For amending a new planting bed, you typically want to incorporate a 1-3” depth into your native soil (closer to 3” for sandy soil and more like 1” for a heavy clay), but if you’re not sure how many bags or yards equals a 1-3” depth for your bed, you can use the Saving Water Partnership’s handy Compost Calculator to make sure you get the right quantity for your space. If you are applying homemade compost, use the same 1-3” depth guidelines for your soil texture. If you have more than you need to use right now you can save it for later use (like wine, compost gets better with age). Or be a good friend or neighbor and share a truck load!
Be sure to amend the entire planting bed and not just the planting hole with compost to ensure healthy root growth. While a compost amendment can provide substantial nutrition, it is not a complete substitute for a well balanced organic fertilizer which you should also consider using depending on your soil and the crops you want to grow. As the season continues you can replenish your compost pile with greens via fresh prunings and with browns from entire annual plants once their life cycle has worn out. Saving leaves each fall also provides a great brown addition to the pile. Be sure to put any overly diseased or pest ridden plant material in your curbside green waste bin so that your compost pile doesn’t get “sick” and your future crops are protected.
In the garden there is no better place to observe a truly cradle to cradle cycle than there is with compost. As you tear into another bag or fork into your pile next May, the organic content bound up in the squash leaf you added to your compost pile will be reintroduced to your soil and to your new plants, beginning the sequence once again.To learn more about composting and soil health, visit our online compost resources and explore our Master Composter / Sustainability Stewards program and see if this unique civic minded volunteer opportunity is for you.