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Over the Garden Fence

Where gardeners come to find out what's happening out in the yard.

Composting is Great, but Those Seeds

Posted by Richard Hentschel -

Down the Garden Path

Richard Hentschel, Extension Educator

July 12, 2013

Composting yard waste is a great way to recycle plant parts from our yard and reuse them in the home landscape. It is surprising how quickly the compost bin can fill up as you move from bed to bed in the landscape. Once you get started and see all that wonderful organic matter that can be used in the beds, just about anything green and brown ends up in the compost bin. Putting everything into the compost bin is where gardeners can get into trouble in the coming season. If you ever wondered how that squash or tomato plant ends up across the yard, those plants or more likely the seeds of those plants were in your compost bin.

For most gardeners, composting is a passive process, letting Mother Nature take care of things and a few months later giving us the organic matter back in a form we can use in all the beds. That passive process is called "cold composting" versus what a commercial uses called "hot composting" Both methods give great results, yet cold composting does little to manage seeds in the compost bin. In cold composting, we rely on freezing and thawing, the gradual breakdown of plant parts by naturally occurring degradation organisms in the soil and if we remember, watering the compost bin during the summer. Hot composting involves actively managing the composting process, turning the material, maintaining the right amount of moisture, promoting the rapid growth of the degradation organisms and maintaining the heat in the compost. Too cold and rapid breakdown slows, too hot and the natural flora is killed. Commercial composting takes weeks not months. It is the heat that manages the seeds within the composting material. Without the heat to kill the seeds in the typical home composting, those seeds survive to sprout another day.

When you are adding your yard waste to the compost bin, think about the different plant parts you are contributing. Grass clippings are a good source of nitrogen and water and unless you don't mow all summer, any grass seed is immature and will not germinate next year. The same cannot be said for the weed seeds. Weeds themselves are good candidates, yet not the seed heads or even recently flowered weed seeds. When pulling weeds, don't bother to knock all the soil off the roots, which is where the flora come from to begin the degradation into compost. Think about those self-sowing perennials and be sure to dispose of those seed heads elsewhere. Seeds of weeds and desirable flowers can last from just a year or two to more than an dozen years in the soil and still germinate. Now that expression" One year's sowing means seven years hoeing" begins to make sense.

There is no secret to composting, just some general rules to get started. So the bin does not dry out too quickly, locate in a semi shady area and remember to water the bin when you water the garden when it is hot and dry outside. Leave the soil on the roots or add some garden soil to the bin while you are building it. If you add a lot of greens or browns, mix it with what is already there. If everything works the way it should the material in the bin will drop quickly and you can continue to add fresh material at the top.

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