The gardening season is beginning to reach full swing, and first time and seasoned gardeners alike may be wondering how to best improve the quality of the soil for their gardening ventures.
In the Ozarks, the soils range from rocky, to full of clay, to sandy and everything in between. The soil is divided into layers from the grounds surface to several feet into the earth. The top layer is the “A Horizon” which is greatly comprised of organic matter. This organic matter is made up of substances that have been broken down from living (organic) sources such as dead leaves and animals, twigs, seeds and animal feces. The more organic matter in the A Horizon, the better prepared the soil is for supporting the nutritional requirements of plants.
Tim Schnakenberg, agronomy specialist from Stone County with the University of Missouri Extension program explained that composting is “I a great practice and a great way to improve the soil across the Ozarks.”
Adding compost to the soil will increase the organic matter of the A Horizon. According to Dustin Blakey, horticulture specialist for the Sebastian County Extension Office in Arkansas, “When you have a problem with the garden, compost is the best way to improve your soil.”
However, there are a few different sources from which we can gather composting materials. A few examples are: manure from farm animals (cats and dogs are not recommended), cuttings and trimmings from around the house or farm, raked leaves, kitchen scraps and leftover hay.
Schnakenberg said, “Manure is one that we have to be very careful with. Most all kinds of manure that are generated from the farm are appropriate for mixing with soil and other compost to improve the nutrient value of compost that will be applied to a garden.”
Let manure sit for six months before applying it to a garden. It’s unsanitary to apply it to a garden that will have produce within 6 months of application. A better method altogether for manure would be blending manure with a greater portion of plant-based organic materials and letting the plant-based matter and manure compost together.
Blakey suggested starting compost in a trashcan and adding compostable material to it and turning it with a shovel every day or two. It’s also acceptable to have a three cubic foot pile in the yard and moving it around with a shovel every day or two to keep oxygen in it. He adds, “As a rule of thumb, the compost is ready for application when it’s half brown and half green.”
Schnakenberg said, “If you apply manure alone, you would not want to apply more than one inch over the surface of the whole garden. If you apply a plant-based/manure supplemented compost, then you could add four or five inches, which will end up being better for the garden overall.” He also suggested layering these materials in your compost pile, as the blended mixture will help the decomposition process.
The compost will need to reach 140 degrees in order to break down the microorganisms and pathogens that can be harmful. Schnakenberg also recommended adding a little water to the compost if it starts to get too dry, but not to saturate the compost pile.
Compost is best applied at the beginning of the gardening process and then tilled or incorporated into the soil.


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