Tip #3: Compost and leaf mold | Growing Smart

Editor’s Note: This is a continuation of a series of articles on low-cost gardening. See Tip#1 on planning; Tip #2 on Soil.







Jane Mack


No grocery store has the variety of fruits and vegetables available that you can grow in your own yard. If you start from seed or gather starts from friends, you’ll have a greater variety, lots of colors and textures, and some unique tastes that will elevate your mealtime!

As noted in this series of articles, gardening can also be a shocking money drain. If you’ve got the budget, you can afford the time-saving products and devices within your means. If you don’t have the budget, don’t give up! There are a lot of ways to garden with very low or no expenditure of funds.

A lot of what I’m sharing here is information I’ve gleaned from obsessively watching YouTube videos, reading lots of articles and plant studies, and my own successes and failures. I am not an expert gardener—far from it! Just sharing what I’ve learned.

Here’s hoping these tips help.


COMPOST is rich, organic material filled with nutrients! You can grow in compost and use it as a substitute for soil or you can use it to amend your soil. Whatever soil you have, you’ll probably want fertilizers, whether you have your own soil or have purchased it. Compost is the number one fertilizer to use for all your gardening. And, best of all, you can make your own compost.

Making compost takes time! Depending on what method you choose, how much material you use, and the weather, composting can take a month, six months, or even a year to produce the good, organic humus you want for your garden. When you’re creating your gardening plan, making compost could be one of the first things you start.

Don’t be discouraged by the fancy set-ups you see on some YouTube videos, or the assertions that you must do it this way or that (have a minimum of 3 feet in length, width and height). You can compost in a bowl or bucket using small amounts of kitchen scraps!

Cheap and easy: The keys to making the best compost are to use a wide variety of organic materials. The mixture is composed of green (nitrogen), brown (carbon), water, and air.

Greens are things like grass clippings, kitchen waste (banana peels, orange peels, egg shells, unused parts of onions, garlic, vegetables, coffee grounds, etc.), hair clippings and even weeds (without fertile seeds).

Browns are dead leaves and other dried plant materials (from your yard), newspapers (shredded), cardboard, lint from the dryer, dust from the vacuum, wood ash (from your barbecue), wood chips and sawdust.

Mix the green and brown in layers. Add water at times. Fluff to add air occasionally. Wait for the magic.

You have to realize that chickens, if loose, will get into your compost to poke around at the produce. They do little harm, though, and if your compost heats up, they’ll leave it alone. Rats and shrews may also be interested. To reduce rat interest or rat problems, don’t use cooked foods, meats, or dairy, and place your compost container away from your house or garden. Your set-up may include wire mesh that is small enough to help keep out critters.

Videos: Watch videos about composting from reliable sources. Two I recommend:

Composting is a great project to do because it uses food and yard scraps that would otherwise be thrown away to make a nutrient-rich soil amendment. Making compost correctly will allow you to feed your plants essential nutrients and make your soil more fertile, all while using items that would otherwise go into your trash.


Lazy composting. It is my favorite way to make fantastic homemade compost and is perfect for anyone looking for a simple way to make compost in your own vegetable gardens. backyards or allotments. While methods like hot composting have their benefits, they often require a lot of intensive work in a short space of time, as well as a lot of ingredients all in one go. Lazy composting is far more accessible for home growers and there is only one simple rule you need to follow when it comes to adding things to your compost bin.


Cheap and easy: When it comes to containers for compost, you can make your pile on the ground (this is how we composted when I was growing up in Ohio), in a bucket or bowl (as in the Urban Gardening video), in a cage you make with chicken wire, in an old laundry basket lined with newspapers to start, or any other suitable container. These all have holes for air circulation. I started my compost in an old washing machine basin—it’s metal with holes all around. I don’t remember when I got rid of the washing machine or how I ended up with just the inside basin, but it is very good for my composting. Look around and see what you have that works!

Another option instead of, or in addition to, compost is leaf mold. This isn’t mold and it’s not gross. It’s decomposed leaves that form into a spongy earth-like substance. Leaf Mold adds minerals to the soil and helps with water retention. It is especially good for sandy soils. It is similar to compost except that it’s just one basic ingredient—leaves that you rake up in your yard or get from a friend or neighbor. It’s easy to make, but like compost it takes time, generally about three months or longer.

Leaf mold (mould) is a fantastic soil amendment that adds organic matter to soil and increases the amount of moisture soil can hold. Leaf mold is similar to compost, but is made from just leaves. It is easy to make, but it takes a long time to decompose. Gardener Scott shows three methods for making leaf mold for any garden.


Compost and leaf mold are organic amendments that help build your soil. (See Tip #2). They promote healthy, living dirt that will nourish your plants and help your plants thrive.

Good luck and happy gardening.

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