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May 2021 issue is now available!


Does Compost Just Happen?


Photo Credits:; utia; Woods
By Chris Cooper

Recently I have had the pleasure to speak to many novice gardeners eager to learn as much as they could about gardening in the Mid-South.  As we prepare to put our garden beds to rest, many of the questions from those gardeners have been about composting.

It is safe to say that the organic matter in a compost pile will soon decay.  However, many factors play a part to hasten that decay which will ultimately produce a product that will be beneficial to your garden.

The temperature of the compost pile is critical.  The organisms that cause the organic matter to decay need to be warm.  Their biological activity generates heat, which is high enough to kill weed seeds and disease spores in the compost pile.  If possible, the compost pile needs to reach a temperature of 140 to 160 degrees Fahrenheit.

There is no need to worry if your pile does not reach those temperatures.  It only means that your compost may take a little more time to decay.  Different groups of fungi and bacteria will colonize the compost and continue the process of decaying at a much slower pace.

Now let us talk a bit about moisture.  Before organic materials can be broken down, those decaying organisms need water.  If the materials in your compost pile are dry, add water to moisten them. You want compost materials to be damp but not soggy.  Extremely wet and soggy compost piles will have an unpleasant odor.  The byproducts of wet compost are harmful to plants.

The volume of your pile will decrease as decay progresses.  It is vital to turn the pile to increase oxygen flow.  Once the compost is ready, go ahead and use it in your garden beds or spread it as mulch.  Your plants will thank you! 
I hope this gives you some insight into the art of composting.
Programs in agriculture and natural resources, 4-H youth development, family and consumer sciences, and resource development. University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture, U. S. Department of Agriculture and county governments cooperating. UT Extension provides equal opportunities in programs and employment.

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