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Composting Success Story
The Walter Family, Cresco, Iowa

From a pile of leaves to rich black gold compost in just one year… the Walter family likes to make compost in a big way. Each year, the garden gets about 20 inches of compost. In the fall, we turn it under and start all over in the spring. We use a front end loader to turn the pile over. We have been doing this for five years now and it has made a big difference in the garden. It is soft ground now and the worms are back!

How we compost

First, we collect the leaves – in the fall we run a lawn service. For a charge, we vacuum the leaves. Last year, we collected over six tons of leaves. We do not have any green to put in with the leaves, so we throw in dry nitrogen as the leaves go on the pile. We also throw on green sand and tons of eggshells from a local eggplant. We also add a lot of water and turn the pile over about every thirty days to let her heat. The farm dogs and cats like the compost pile in the Iowa winter because it is warm!

We use some of the compost in the spring when we plow the garden. We use more of it after the plants are in and or up; we put it ten inches deep between the rows to help keep the darn weeds down. It works great and saves on water.

Not for the pile

There are things we never put in the compost pile: weeds, tomato plants and squash or pumpkin vines. Our operation is based on a one-year cycle and the vines take longer than a year to turn into compost, tomato plants may have plant disease in them and we just don't like weeds in the compost. We also do not compost sawdust; it takes too long and takes way too much nitrogen to compost. There is one other thing we never allow to get even close to the compost pile or the garden....don't even think about smoking anyplace close to our garden!

The tomato plant is related to the tobacco plant and the tobacco plant MAY have a plant disease called tobacco leaf mosaic (TMV). It is not killed in the process of making the cigarette and it is not killed when the cigarette is smoked. IF that disease is in a cigarette that is smoked in the garden and the cigarette ash gets near the tomato plant, the tomato plant CAN get it and it will kill the tomatoes.


My dad is six feet tall and, as you can see in the photos, our tomato plants towered over him. They were loaded with large tomatoes all the way to the top. This fall when we dug the garden, we covered it another ten inches with compost that was a year old. It looks like good Iowa black dirt. See the photo showing the size of the tomatoes we had. We also had a large cabbage that was over 50 inches around. We had it weighed at the post office, 38 pounds 9 ounces; not the largest ever, but darn big for our garden.