Capturing Water and Making a Compost Heap
Using Natural Water Sources
Some of us are lucky enough to live by a natural water source such as a stream or a lake that we can use to pump water into the garden or yard. Because it's inexpensive and convenient, a natural source of water can be a gardener's best friend. If your property has a stream running through it, you may be able to use some of the water for your yard. This can save you money and time, but be sure to check with your local county extension service or Department of Natural Resources before pumping water. Some counties and states don't allow pumping, so do some research before investing in a pump.
Making a Compost Pile
Turning kitchen scraps and yard clippings into usable compost is another terrific family project. You may be surprised how many things that you would usually throw in the trash or disposal can actually be turned into compost.
Composting means using recycled or gathered materials, such as leaves and grass clippings, to make a healthy soil-amendment mix. These natural materials break down into their base elements such as nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. These are the same ingredients you buy in bagged fertilizers; compost is their organic counterpart.
Composting accomplishes a lot of things at once: First, it keeps yard debris out of landfills. Second, it speeds up the natural process of decomposition, which will eventually happen anyway. Third, putting decomposed plant waste back into the garden really improves the quality of the soil--and that adds up to bigger and more productive vegetable plants.
Compost needs a certain ratio of brown and green materials in order to work most effectively. Brown things are dry, like paper and fallen leaves, and should make up about 75 percent to 80 percent of your compost; green materials still have moisture in them, like fresh grass and fruit and vegetable peels; these should make up the rest of your compost pile.
What to Compost
You can use bread, hair, fruit and vegetable peels, coffee grinds and shredded paper to enrich your compost. The wider the variety of sources, the more nutrients they will produce.
Utilize Others' Waste
Think about the industries that are around you and look for ways to put their leftovers to use. If you live near a sawmill, ask for sawdust and bark; if you live near the sea, find seaweed or fish meal. You can get coffee grinds from a local coffee shop or extra lawn clippings from your neighbors.
Horse and cow manure are loaded with nutrients and are good ingredients for jump-starting your compost pile. Manure by itself is very strong, but if you volunteer to clean out a friend's stable, you'll get a good mix of manure and cedar shavings that can go right into your pile. The fresher the manure, the more active it'll make your compost pile. Dried manure will have a similar but slower effect.
For a compost to do its work of breaking down all of this stuff into useable elements, it needs to heat up. It takes water and nitrogen to start it cooking; manure has plenty of nitrogen and beneficial bacteria to get the compost pile going. You could use a handful of nitrogen-rich fertilizer and some fresh melon rinds if you don't have access to manure; it'll just take a little longer for things to heat up.
Keep it Moist
The moisture will encourage bacteria growth and let it spread throughout the pile. Water your compost pile every week or two, especially of you haven't had much rain. As the pile heats up, be sure to turn the pile to speed up the composting process.
Keep Plants Happy
This is a real treat for plants. It makes them grow quicker and stronger, and that's a combination that'll prevent pest and disease problems. The healthier the plant, the less likely it is to have fungus, bacteria or viral problems.