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Home > Types of Gardening > Backyard Gardening > Soil Amendments & Composting
Soil Amendments & Composting
Soil Amendments

Soil Amendments  & CompostingMany areas of the country have acidic soils. If it is determined that your soil is acidic, add lime, gypsum or dolomite to loosen the soil and reduce acidity.

Gypsum is neutral and will not acidify alkaline soils, although it is sometimes promoted as an "alkali fighter." It can be used in areas of very high sodium soils known as "black alkali" areas where crops grow poorly, if at all.

Little can be done to neutralize alkaline soil, but adding iron sulfate or ground sulfur will help. Iron sulfate alters the pH more quickly than sulfur, but it also breaks down more quickly. Ground sulfur will stay in the soil for years.

Another good way to lower the pH slightly is to add an organic matter such as peat moss, wood chips, leaf mold, or sawdust.


Composting is the decomposition of organic material into humus. It is a natural phenomenon that gardeners can use to their advantage to improve garden soils. Compost can be purchased or created in a home garden by recycling kitchen and garden waste.

Composted materials make excellent mulches to cover or amend the soil. Using organic waste to make compost makes sound ecological sense. About thirty percent of the waste that reaches the landfill could be composted, lengthening the time that the landfill is useful. In addition, it improves the soil by increasing fertility, water holding capacity, and drainage.

Composting can be a casual or scientific endeavor. Kitchen and yard wastes can be piled up in the garden, but must be allowed time to decompose. More sophisticated systems use containers to turn and mix the material to hasten decomposition.

Organic wastes naturally decompose through microorganisms, insects and earthworms feeding which break it down. To function properly, the decomposing organisms need oxygen, water, nitrogen and heat mixed into the organic matter. If the right amounts of oxygen and water are incorporated, the decomposition takes place rapidly and the mixture produces enough heat to kill weed seeds and plant disease pathogens.

Incorporate air into the mixture to hasten the decay process and keep it from developing foul odors. Turn compost frequently to keep oxygen levels high. The faster the process takes place, the better the source of fertilizer it becomes.

Add nitrogen fertilizer to the composting product to hasten the decomposition process. A ratio of one part nitrogen per fifteen to thirty parts compost is about the right mix. Using the easiest method of composting, make a pile of organic waste, turn it periodically to keep oxygen levels high and reduce foul odors, and let nature do the rest. The resulting compost will improve soil tilth, but will not be as high in fertilizer value as compost made using more sophisticated methods.

A compost bin makes the process tidier and more efficient. Make the bin about six feet high, and three to four feet square. Use building materials that allow air to get into the composting mixture such as wire, or board slats with air spaces between slats. Add moisture, and a few handfuls of lime each week to speed up the process. Other sophisticated bins and plans are available. Consult your local county agent for more detailed information.
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