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Making garbage work for your garden

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Give back what you take may be good moral words to live by but for gardeners, it’s a necessity.

Believe it or not, vegetables and flowers rob the soil of its nutrients. And when organic matter in the soil gets low, it reflects in your yield—and leaves plants prone to disease.

“All you’re doing when you grow plants is you’re taking from the soil,” noted Blair Lowey of Lowey’s Produce and Garden Centre here.

“What you put into it, that’s what you get out,” agreed Boris Katerick, a member of the Fort Frances Horticultural Society who has been composting for about 20 of the 30 years he’s been gardening.

While organic matter should make up between seven and nine percent of the soil content, after five or six years it could drop to one or two percent.

As a market gardener, Lowey said they can’t afford to let that happen. But rather than throw on chemical fertilizers, he suggested trying to regain what was depleted through composting.

“Organic is environmentally friendly," he explained, adding it also works to conserve landfill sites. "Waste is becoming a huge problem for everybody. It’s just controlling natural waste.”

In fact, Lowey noted some larger cities actually turn a profit from their organic waste by selling compost. It helps the soil retain moisture, and aerates the soil so roots grow better.

“It’ll make a big difference,” Katerick said, noting it would mean bigger and better quality vegetables.

Pretty well anything that’s not metal, plastic or glass can go in your compost—grass, straw, coffee grounds and filters, orange peels, even hair.

But Katerick warned people to watch what they put in because some items—such as maple leafs—actually could hinder the breakdown.

“Rhubarb leaves will prevent it from composting,” he noted, adding they also were poisonous.

While there are commercial composts, Lowey noted it was fairly simple for people to make their own. A thermometer and oxygen are necessities to ensure the compost gets up over 100 F.

Katerick has a commercial composter, as well as a barrel where he puts organic matter. And in the spring and fall, he works it into his garden soil.

But you don’t even need a composter. Lowey said you can simply work the organic matter into the soil gradually, or put it on your garden in the spring or fall and then till it under.

“You could just keep putting compost on top of the snow, really,” he added.

And he noted some people put grass clippings between their rows during the growing season. Not only is that a way of composting but it also helps keep the weeds down.

“It just takes ingenuity, really. Or people willing to try more things, probably more than anything,” Lowey said.

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