Composting And Soil Conditioning
Where space or time does not permit you to operate a compost heap, organic matter can be applied directly to the soil. If this is done in late fall or early spring the organic material should be sprinkled with fertilizer and plowed under. During the growing season this method is impractical. If not offensive in odor, organic matter can be used as a mulch over the soil and worked into the ground after the growing season is over. Here it is important to remember that even though only the lower surface of an organic mulching material is in contact with the soil, rain and sprinkling will wash starches and sugars down from it to the soil organisms which consume nitrogen. Gardeners often are surprised to find their plants turning yellow following the application of a mulch. This can be avoided by the use of a good mixed fertilizer on the soil before the mulching material is applied.

The question is often asked, "How much fertilizer should I apply to compost or to soil on top of compost?" There is no exact formula for this, although a rough rule of thumb is four ounces of actual nitrogen to each bushel of organic matter. This is a much heavier dose than would be applied to garden soil, but it must be remembered that there are well over a million bacteria in a teaspoonful of soil and they can use far more plant food than seems possible. R­member, in the compost pile you are working for maximum efficiency of these soil organisms without depriving plants of nitrogen.

Sometimes a piece of land lies idle for some time, as when property is purchased in anticipation of building a home at a later date. Under these conditions, soil can be built up by what is known as sheet composting, or green manuring. Various plants, such as winter rye (the cereal grain, not rye grass), vetch and buckwheat, are commonly used for this purpose. In the South, lespedeza and kudzu vine are also used.

The green manure cover crop is sown whenever convenient, even in midsummer if artificial irrigation is available. Seed should be sown quite thickly, since the idea is to produce a dense cover to keep down weeds, as well as to grow organic matter to be plowed under. The use of fertilizer in liberal amounts (to a maximum of eight pounds of actual nitrogen to 1,000 square feet) is recommended. This nitrogen will not be wasted, since most of it will be built into plant tissues as protein, which will again be available to lawn grasses or garden plants when the green manure is plowed under and rotted down.