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Composting provides 'black gold' for planting

Information available at 'Gardeners Gathering' March 7 at Blue Goose
By: Joyia Emard, Loomis News Staff Writer
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Decomposition happens. According to Placer County Master Gardener Julie Barbour, composting is simply making it happen “in a specific area and hoping for a certain result in a certain amount of time.” Even before she became a Master Gardener, Barbour was composting. She said she did not burn or throw away her yard debris but dumped it in a pile in her Loomis yard and left it. “I didn’t realize what was at the bottom,” she said. What she found was compost, a mixture of rich, decomposing organic matter that is called “black gold” by many gardeners because when used in the garden it naturally improves soil structure and contains all of the necessary plant nutrients. Barbour had unconsciously been ‘cold composting,’ which she said is the easiest to do, but may take up to six months. Barbour now simply “peels back the top layer until she finds worms or sow bugs,” and reaps her black reward. Barbour also is a fan of hot composting. She said it requires the correct amount of ingredients to create a pile that heats up and breaks down material quickly. The pile must be turned regularly to re-oxygenate the compost-making microbes. Barbour recommends vermicomposting for those who don’t mind worms. She said kids especially enjoy the process in which red worms eat kitchen scraps and create compost. Patty Foust, co-owner and manager of the Flower Farm Nursery, uses a container with three stackable trays called “Can-O-Worms” that comes complete with a package of worms. She said all of the kitchen scraps from the coffee shop go into it. “We use the compost in our garden and add it to potted plants,” she said. Foust said the liquid from the composter, called “worm tea,” can be siphoned off to water or spray on plants. The containers will be available for sale at the nursery in mid-March. Daniel Spangler, nurseryman for High-Hand Nursery, has a passive cold compost pile on site for plant trimmings. At his home, he hot composts yard trimmings and kitchen waste. He uses three stacking bins, turns it once a month, and in four to six weeks has rich compost. Master Gardener Barbour said that anyone can compost, whether or not they have acreage. It can be as simple as turning a storage bin into a worm composter or setting up a compost pile in the backyard. “The only real rule is don’t put in anything that came out of a meat-eater animal or dairy products,” she said. Shredded newspaper, napkins, eggshells, coffee filters, lint, coffee grounds and fruit and vegetable scraps can all be composted. Debris from the yard, including leaves, pine needles, grass clippings and plant trimmings can be composted. Barbour said that perennial weeds and diseased or pesticide-sprayed plants should not be composted. Downed trees and branches can be chipped and added to the compost. Free residential chipping is available by calling 791-7059. Composting information will be available when the Master Gardeners hold a one-day workshop – A Gardeners’ Gathering – from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, March 7, at the Blue Goose Fruit Shed. Along with guest speakers, the gathering will also feature exhibits, including one on composting. The cost is $25 and includes lunch. Tickets may be purchased online at ceplacer.ucdavis.edu. They are also available at the University of California, Cooperative Extension office in Auburn; call (530) 889-7385 for directions.