Deb Babcock's gardening column appears Thursdays in Steamboat Today.
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Julie Niemi at Spill the Beans Espresso is helping me improve my garden soil by recycling her coffee grounds and used teabags. Each week, I switch out a 5 gallon bucket with her and take home to my compost heap a nice bucket-load of material. Other coffee shops in Steamboat, Oak Creek and Yampa are certain to welcome your offer to cart away their used grounds.
No matter what kind of garden soil you have, one way to make it more hospitable for your plants is to amend it with organic material such as compost. And one wonderful way to create your own compost is to recycle your garbage and garden scraps.
Each one of us disposes of nearly one ton of waste annually. That's a lot of landfill space - unless we recycle kitchen and yard waste into rich, dark compost for personal use.
Just think of the things you bag up for disposal: coffee grounds, grass clippings, leaves, pine needles, table scraps and newspapers. These are all waste items that can be composted for later use in your garden. Composting is an earth-friendly way to dispose of trash. And, it's a smart way to garden.
Plus, from personal experience, I can tell you it's economical, too. A load of compost I had delivered this spring for an extra-large garden project was $63 a yard plus delivery. That's some pretty pricey horseradish I'm growing in my raised vegetable bed!
Adding compost improves the drainage and aeration of your soil. It holds moisture in and releases fertilizer nutrients slowly while increasing the activity of earthworms and other organisms that are beneficial to plant growth.
To make compost, layer small pieces of "green" and "brown" waste material. Green waste is fresh plant materials such as weeds from your yard, fruit and vegetable scraps, green leaves, coffee grounds and tea bags, twigs, etc. Use caution when adding very fine green material such as grass clippings since it can mat and prevent air and water movement through the layers.
Brown wastes are dry, dead materials such as straw, dried weeds, newspapers, wood chips or sawdust. Do not compost wood treated with preservatives or clippings from grass treated with chemicals. Also, don't use meat or dairy products as these could cause odors and attract animals. It's also not recommended to use fresh manure in compost due to concerns about new strains of E. coli and other bacteria that cause human illness.
Mix the pile several times a month to add oxygen and keep the heat uniform throughout the materials. Because our summers here are so dry, you may also need to occasionally sprinkle water on your compost layers. It should be moist but not soggy throughout. If the compost is properly mixed and maintained, a final product may be obtained in one to two months under optimum summer conditions. It should shrink to about half of its original size and have a nice earthy smell.
At the Yampa River Botanic Park, you can see composting in action in several piles of varying ages. At home, I simply toss kitchen and yard waste on a heap on the ground that allows air through. Or, you can place waste materials into a special compost bin available through gardening centers.
Once the wastes have decomposed, use your compost as a soil amendment, a mulch or make compost tea (the liquid from a settled mix of half compost/half water) as a boost for house plants, seedlings and transplants. You'll be doing something good for your garden and for your community.
Deb Babcock is a Master Gardener through the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension office in Routt County. Questions? Call 879-0825 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org