The weather is finally getting warmer, the sun is out a bit more and you may have put away the snow shovel. It’s spring! That also means it’s time to start prepping your garden for the new growing season. If you were able to keep your compost pile going all winter, or you have some leftover finished compost, that will certainly help nourish your garden. The Northeast Organic Farming Association of Connecticut lists March and April as the best times to get compost down in your garden beds as part of your spring prep. But there are a few pointers to keep in mind. First, there are two main ways to lay down compost. Many people lay it down in the fall and cover it with mulch to keep the moisture in. If you did not do that last fall, you can lay down the compost two weeks before gardening. The University of Illinois recommends just incorporating it into your spring soil prep. Add three to four inches of soil to your garden area and till the upper six inches. You’ll add compost to the soil in vegetable gardens, flower beds and around perennials as you plant them. There is another method for when your compost reserves are sparse. “Side-dressing” is a way of laying compost around plants that need it the most. According to compostguide.com, a website run by a certified master composter, you’ll want to plan to lay down the compost in late spring to early summer with this method so your plants can get the best nutritional results. A different plan is the trench method of adding compost to the garden. In this method, you dig a long hole, essentially, and lay compost down into the hole throughout the summer. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources recommends the trench be two to four feet deep. So while you’re planning your garden in the spring, if you want to use this method, it’s wise to plan where this hole will be and where this year’s garden will stand. At the end of the summer, cover the hole with one to three inches of soil, and plant your garden next spring in the spot where this year’s trench is. That will get different spots of the soil nourished. It’s a beefed-up model of crop rotation for your backyard. If you’re new to composting, here are some pointers from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to keep in mind:
- Patience is key. It’ll take six months to a year for compost to be ready to use. So think about investing in a compost pile now as part of your spring garden prep. Your garden will have plenty of natural, nutritious food come next gardening season.
- Don’t forget the water. If your pile is covered or you are having a dry spell, add moisture. The pile should be damp.
- Keep the compost loose and turn every so often. That will keep air in the system and allow for healthy decomposition. Compacted compost will cut off oxygen to the microorganisms that break compost down.
- Have a balance between wet (green) and dry (brown) compost. Add natural items like grass clippings, leaves, pulled plants, weeds, plant-based food scraps and wood chips. Don’t add meats or fatty foods, animal droppings, seeds or diseased plants. Keep foodstuffs in the center of the pile to detract pests.
- Again, always remember patience. Using compost that is not ready will rob garden plants of nitrogen. You’ll know the compost is ready when it crumbles easily and has a very earthy smell. Take compost of out the middle and bottom of the pile.