Turn your natural trash to garden treasure

LOS ANGELES If you are old enough to remember the television show "The Beverly Hillbillies," the term "black gold" or "Texas tea" was symbolic for dark, rich, bubbling oil.

But today's urban gardener refers to "black gold" as a perfect compost pile, surprisingly easy to make and wonderful for your garden.

"It's very smart because you're really taking stuff that you have on hand -- dead leaves, kitchen scraps -- and you're turning it into something you would buy," says Katie Tamony, Sunset magazine's editor-in-chief.

Tamony says between what's in the garden and what's leftover in the kitchen, you can make something wonderful for your plants.

"Vegetable peelings, fruit, any plant material, plant food, can be tossed into a bucket and you can also use coffee grounds, egg shells, tea bags," says Tamony.

However, you cannot use dairy, meat or meat bones because that will attract local critters like raccoons and mice.

"You want to avoid putting weeds into it or diseased plants," Tamony said.

You're looking for rich, healthy material to revitalize your soil, and the last thing you need is more weeds.

While you can buy a stack compost that makes for easy tossing, a cheap way is to get about 4 feet of 3-foot-tall chicken wire that loops and fastens together with wire. This makes a nice holder for compost, as its holes are small enough not to let stuff fall out, yet large enough to let air come in.

Alternate what is green and what is brown, green being moist matter, like grass clippings to table vegetables, and brown being dried leaves found under trees. Layer until you've got about 6 inches of material.

"Once you get sort of the heat going the first week or two, then you're sort of constantly turning it," said Tamony. "You can see it and feel it that everything has sort of changed into one material."

Once it's reached that "black gold" look, it can be mixed into the soil of growing plants, or you can keep it for a while for upcoming crops.

Another beauty of the compost pile is you're using what you already have, so why waste the waste? Your living trash is truly an outdoor treasure.

For more on composting: www.sunset.com

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