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Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2007 01:57 pm

Compost bin demonstration

In the garden, they call it “black gold”

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PHOTO BY BO RADER/MCT
Untitled Document Three years ago, a friend of mine spent a fall day driving around Springfield, collecting bags of leaves. Sure, it sounds crazy — most homeowners can’t wait to get rid of the leaves that pile up on their yards — but my friend was able to turn these leaves into “black gold.” She put the leaves in a garden area that was mostly clay soil, and a couple of years later she had beautiful workable soil, perfect for a vegetable garden.
Gardeners refer to compost as black gold because it’s a great material for garden soil. Adding compost to clay soil makes it easier to work and plant. Adding compost helps sandy soil hold water. It’s easy to turn yard waste materials into a resource that can be applied to a garden or yard. Composting, a biological process in which organic material decomposes under aerobic (oxygen required) conditions, is becoming more popular with home gardeners. Many enjoy turning leaves, lawn clippings, shredded twigs, and vegetable and food waste into something that can be used to enrich to the land. You can start a compost pile at any time of the year. Compost bins come in many shapes and sizes and may be made of wood (e.g., pallets), hardware cloth, or concrete blocks. Various types of commercial bin systems are available through local garden centers and mail-order catalogs and Web sites. Composting of yard materials benefits the soil in several ways. Nutrients that are removed when trimmings are bagged can be reintroduced to the nutrient cycle, lessening the need for fertilizers. The nutrients present in compost are released into the soil slowly, so they are less likely to leach from the root zone than regular fertilizer is. Soil structure — how individual soil particles combine — is improved by the addition of organic matter. Organic matter, such as that present in compost, helps create a structure that allows good water retention and root penetration.
The University of Illinois Extension Sangamon-Menard Unit is adding a compost demonstration area to the Master Gardener Demonstration Gardens. The unit’s master gardeners invite you to join them as they begin building three compost bins, beginning at 9 a.m., on Saturday, Oct. 13. The program will be held in front of the U of I Extension Building, on the state fairgrounds. One bin will be made of concrete blocks, one will be built from recycled pallets, and the third will be constructed with recycled-plastic boards. A materials list and directions for the various bins will be provided. For more information, go to the University of Illinois Extension “Composting for the Homeowner” Web site, at web.extension.uiuc.edu/homecompost. Those with questions that are not answered by the Web site may call 217-782-4617.
  
Jennifer Fishburn is a horticulture educator with the University of Illinois Extension Sangamon Menard Unit. Contact her at www.extension.uiuc.edu/Sangamon. 
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