I have one word for a gift to get your gardening dad for Father's Day: compost.

I have one word for a gift to get your gardening dad for Father's Day: compost.

Now don't go off to the nearest garden center to buy it. The best compost is the kind you make yourself, and then keep on making it.

Compost is basically sped-up partially decomposed organic matter, the same process that breaks down organic matter in soil.

According to the University of Missouri Extension, compost is not a fertilizer. It is a soil amendment that in our heavy Missouri clay soils helps bind soil particles together. In my garden, compost breaks up clay, making it easier for roots to get through and allows water to move.

It also makes the environment better for soil microorganisms that release nutrients and other growth-promoting materials in soil, which then helps plants, but compost has to be in soil for awhile before those microorganisms benefit.

What's more astounding to me is that nationwide, 75 percent of materials in typical landfills could be composted. In Missouri, it's illegal to put leaves, grass clippings and other garden refuse in landfills so why not let them help improve gardens.

Besides adding to soil, compost makes a nice mulch and, when mixed with a small amount of soil, compost is a great medium to start seeds.

The easiest composter I have ever seen was my youngest brother's black bags in St. Paul, Minn., the year I helped him landscape his historical old house in a tree-covered neighborhood. We had bagged a good 20 bags of leaves, along with some kitchen scraps, and piled them behind his detached garage, fully intending to take them to the recycling center.

On a return visit one year later, I found the black bags greatly deflated but full of "black gold," a lovely crumbly black mixture which is a sure sign the compost is ready to use. After mixing it up in their garden and allowing it to "cook" for several months, the compost made the little vegetable garden they were trying to grow explode.

Well, maybe calling it a vegetable garden isn't fair. It was more like one huge cucumber patch since two, very sturdy, wild rabbits had made quick meals of the rest.

If you want to start small, I would get a large plastic bucket with a cover, old metal garbage can or plastic container with a lid. It needs to be at least 3 feet by 3 feet to have enough room for compost material to heat up.

When I made my first composter out of an old metal garbage can, I added an old cotton pillow case so that I could easily pull it out, shake it to mix and put it back in the can.

That's when I also started saving kitchen scraps in a small plastic bag in the bottom freezer basket so that the scraps didn't smell. When the bag was full, it was dumped in the composter.

If you want to get fancy, you can select from a variety of ready-made composters. Some are on stands to help make the mixing process easier by turning them. Then there's a very popular one that has two separate compartments and legs tall enough to easily get a wheelbarrow under it.

My sister-in-law and I gave my brother in Virginia one of those last year, only to find where he lives he had to buy dry leaves at $50 a bag to mix with his kitchen scraps.

My sister-in-law still says she can't get over how thrilled he was to get a huge box of Missouri-grown dry oak leaves I shipped for $17.

If your dad likes to get involved in projects, give him a card that says let's go shopping for a compost container, or buy materials to work together on making one. You may be surprised at how quickly you outgrow your first one.

In addition to whatever you decide to do about the compost container, I would suggest talking to everyone in the family about how they can help and have everyone sign dad's card with their pledge to compost.

That means when they peel an orange, make coffee, drink tea, finish reading the newspaper — all those items are compost-bound. Even old phone books can be torn up and composted, as well as sawdust and washed out egg shells.

It will take a little adjustment but once everyone is pitching in, you will be surprised at how quickly you will be making compost and improving your garden enough that you can successfully grow flowers and vegetables — in some cases using less chemicals and fertilizers.

Next, I'll go over in more detail what you can and can't compost, but in the meantime, to all my wonderful gardening dad friends — Happy Father's Day!

Charlotte Ekker Wiggins is a certified gardener sharing gardening tips in a changing climate at http://www.gardeningcharlotte.com. Copyright 2013 used with permission by Rolla Daily News - St. James Leader Journal - Waynesville Daily Guide. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Contact Charlotte at chargardens@gmail.com.