They say spring is the season of new beginnings. All things in nature are fresh and renewed. Spring is also the time of year that inspires us to get outside and tackle those lawn and garden projects that have been put off during the winter.

Whether planting colorful shrubs and flowers, or herbs and vegetables, giving your plants a good start will ensure their health and your enjoyment for months to come.

Beginning with healthy soil is crucial. Many Contra Costa communities have dense clay-like soil, making it difficult for plants' roots to grow. n easy and inexpensive way to improve clay soil is to use compost as an amendment.

Compost is the result of decaying organic material, which involves the interaction of microorganisms with plant materials. This process breaks down materials into useful soil fertilizer that's rich in nitrogen; a plant's best friend that promotes root growth.

Compost also helps the soil to retain water, an important benefit during a drought.

While compost can be purchased at garden stores, why shell out the bucks when you can make your own? There are several ways to compost at home, but one of the most popular is "backyard composting." Whether you choose an open pile on the ground or use a compost bin is a matter of preference. In suburban settings like ours, most people use commercial compost bins to help discourage pests.

Compost bins come in a variety of styles and price ranges, and you can buy them at most hardware or garden stores.

If you live within the Central Contra Costa Solid Waste Authority service area (Alamo, Blackhawk, Danville, Lafayette, Moraga, Orinda, or Walnut Creek), you can purchase a "Soilsaver" bin at a discounted price, and you may also be eligible for a discount on your garbage bill if you compost at home. Visit the solid waste authority website (www.wastediversion.org), or call 925-906-1801, ext. 306 for more information.

You can also put red worms to work for you making compost. Some gardeners prefer this method, called "vermicomposting," because it takes up less space and produces usable compost more quickly than does the regular composting method. And with worms there is no "turning" of the materials required like with traditional composting methods. The wiggly critters do all the work and you get all the benefit of both soil amendment.

Beginning composters can attend one of several free home composting workshops hosted by the CCCSWA. Upcoming workshops are Saturday, June 7 at the Lafayette Community Garden, 3932 Mt Diablo Blvd., Lafayette from 1 to 2 p.m.; and Saturday, July 12 at the Sports Basement, 1881 Ygnacio Valley Road in Walnut Creek from 10 to 11:30 a.m.

For resources used in this article, email lois@wastediversion.org