by Sandy Swegel
One of the problems with gardening is that you just can’t rush Mother Nature. If you don’t get those tomato seeds planted early enough, there’s just no way to trick the plants into growing overnight. Compost is the same…you can’t just mix everything up today and use the compost tomorrow. But there are things you can scavenge that you can add directly to your garden that help your garden a lot more than those sterile-looking bags of manure or compost they sell at the store. And they’re free!
1. Leaf Mold
Better even than regular compost for improving soil texture, leaf mold is what you end up with after a pile of leaves has rotted down to a dark earthy mix with only a few leaves still recognizable. This can take one or two years depending on how wet your climate is. You can find leaf mold that’s been breaking down for months or years anywhere leaves collect: where the wind blows them behind the garage or along the shady side of the fence. Your neighbor’s yard is a good place to find it, or along stream beds or in shady woods. Dig in to get the dark damp leaf mold next to the soil and leave the dry leaves for another year. Spread the leaf mold over your garden, at the bottom of planting holes, or along the trenches for your potatoes. This is pure gold for your garden.
2. Coffee grounds
Coffee shops are often willing to give you their used coffee grounds for free. Starbucks packages them up for you in empty large coffee bags. No need to do anything special with the grounds…just sprinkle them across your soil or at the base of plants. The plants like the boost from caffeine almost as much as you do.
3. Weed Tea
When I’m weeding, I keep two buckets with me…one for the green leaves (and roots) of weeds like dandelions, thistle, dock, lambsquarters and one for the seed heads or other garden debris I’m cleaning. All those long tap roots that are so hard to dig out have been pulling up minerals and micronutrients from deep in the soil. Once my bucket of green leaves is mostly full, I fill the rest with water and leave the bucket out to “steep.” After four days or longer, (ideally until it starts to smell bad), I use this nutrient rich water to water the garden. The leaves get thrown out or into the compost. Plants that get this water turn a nice dark green.
4. Grass Clippings
If you (or your neighbor) have a lawn (and you don’t use weed killer), the grass clippings are the perfect mulch for your garden. Layer the clippings thinly on the surface of the soil near your plants. Keep adding it every week and it will keep breaking down at the soil line into compost.
Most newspapers are printed now with soy ink and safe to use in the garden. Lay three or four sheets of newspaper over the soil in your walkways or between rows and cover with mulch. The newspaper helps block weeds from coming up, and reduces evaporation. Worms LOVE the taste of newspaper and will help break it down into rich soil.