Compost Conquers All!

Spreading compost over your lawn is a terrific alternative to chemical fertilizers. But “black gold” can do a whole lot more than keep your turf well fed. Scientists at Cornell University and other top horticulture schools have discovered that this wonder drug works in three ways to keep your lawn (and all your other plants) strong and healthy: It produces chemicals that kill foul fungi and bad bacteria, feeds microorganisms that eat fungi, and provides essential nutrients in a safe, slow way.

Here’s more good news: Making your own supply is a snap! To get started, buy a commercial compost bin at a garden center or from a catalog. (I prefer the bins that look like big, fat black wheels, mounted on a turning mechanism.) Then throw in your raw ingredients, and give the wheel a spin every week or two to let air get into the mixture. The sides are perforated, so the more you twirl the wheel, the more oxygen gets in, and the faster the stuff inside breaks down. As for what to put inside, you want roughly three parts high-carbon ingredients, or “browns,” for every one that’s high in nitrogen, known as the “greens.” If you have too much carbon, the compost could take years to cook. Too much nitrogen, and it’ll give off an odor that’ll make you hold your nose and run away — fast! Here’s the lineup:


  • Chipped twigs and branches
  • Dead plant stalks
  • Dry leaves
  • Hay
  • Pine needles
  • Shredded paper
  • Sawdust
  • Straw


  • Coffee grounds and tea bags
  • Eggshells
  • Flowers
  • Fruit and vegetable scraps
  • Grass clippings
  • Green leaves or stems
  • Hair (pet or human)
  • Manure