Composting is a natural process and a great way to enhance your garden soil, but that’s not all. Here are eight top reasons why you should immediately start composting and how you can begin today. But first, what is compost, and why is it such a buzzword?
What Is Compost and Composting?
Compost is decayed organic matter, and it’s a totally natural product.
Composting is how humans manage this decomposition cycle and use it to improve their yards. “Decaying” might sound rotten and smelly to us, but composting is not a stinky process; the result is dry, humus-like organic matter you can sieve through your fingers. It’s full of microbes and microorganisms that benefit the environment. Gardeners call it “black gold” because it’s such a plant booster.
Let’s discover why you should start composting.
1. Improves Soil Structure
Adding compost to yard soil improves its structure, which improves plant growth.
Compost is light and airy, so it creates pockets of oxygen that encourage unrestricted root growth. Hard, compacted soil is difficult for plant roots to grow in, but add compost, and it changes the structure vastly. You’ll find plants grow much larger because bigger roots increase their nutrient uptake.
2. Increases Nutrients
And speaking of nutrient uptake, adding compost to soil replaces the spent nutrients that plants need to grow and stay healthy. Compost is a slow-release nutrient source for plants because it’s full of diverse materials that break down at various rates instead of releasing them all at once, like the liquid fertilizers we apply. Diverse material means there’s a whole range of different vitamins and minerals that promote plant fertility.
Plants grown in nutrient-rich soil grow larger, bear more flowers, and better fend off pests and disease.
3. Reduces Chemical Reliance
The process of composting creates beneficial bacteria and microorganisms that help manage pests.
In a thriving ecosystem, life balance is stable without added pesticides and fungicides. Some composters say adding compost to the soil is like humans taking a probiotic. We’re refilling it with good bacteria that are needed to fight off infections and stay healthy.
But it doesn’t stop there because when compost reduces the need for chemicals in the garden, we don’t need to apply pesticides. That means essential pollinators like bees and butterflies thrive there.
4. Enhanced Water Retention
Soil enhanced with compost retains water.
Experts say that increasing organic matter in your soil triples its ability to hold water and prevents wasteful runoff. Plants that receive enough water grow larger, produce more fruit, attract pollinators, and benefit the ecosystem as a whole.
In drought-prone areas, adding compost significantly reduces the need for hosepipe and sprinkler systems. On a larger scale, compost reduces our demand for water resources, benefiting the whole planet.
5. Reduces Soil Erosion
Water run-off transports soil particles and depletes nutrients. Still, compost helps reduce soil erosion by creating woody, high-friction areas, binding soil particles together, and aerating soil so that it’s able to absorb more water.
This trial in Connecticut highlighted how useful composting was in controlling soil erosion and how added compost boosted turf establishment.
6. Climate Change Resilience
Climate change affects us all, but composting can help mitigate and improve the downward spiral of climate change in a few ways:
- Composting means fewer organic materials are sent to landfill where they break down into harmful methane gases that damage the ozone.
- Compost promotes healthier, larger plants that capture and sequester carbon, turning it into leafy growth instead of polluting the atmosphere.
This not only slows the rate of climate change it makes us more resilient to current climate change effects such as drought, flooding, and heat waves.
7. Saves Money
Composting not only saves the planet it saves you money! If you compost organic household waste you’ll find your bank balance improves because:
- No need to buy manufactured potting compost
- No need to buy fertilizer
- No need to buy pesticides and fungicides
- Larger and healthier edible plants reduce the shopping bill
- A healthier environment boosts well-being potentially resulting in fewer days off work
8. Good Use of Waste
Composing is a good use of waste. In 2018 the United States Environmental Protection Agency reported 22.3 million tons of yard trimmings and 2.6 million tons of food waste were thrown out by Americans. Yard trimmings and food waste are compost gold.
Recycling organic leftovers into plant-healthy compost to boost the environment is much better than sending it to a landfill. In a landfill, it turns into methane and takes up room which means more landfill sites in the long term.
Composting food and garden waste at home also keeps it local, so fewer carbon-emitting trash collection trucks are required.
There are so many good reasons to compost! Let’s take a look at how you can make compost at home.
How to Start Composting
Some folks like an open compost pile while others prefer a bin. It’s up to you, so here’s how to do both!
Choose an easily-accessed well-drained area in the yard. Choosing the furthest place from your back door is tempting, but remember you’ll need to head out in winter when the weather isn’t friendly.
Take four wooden pallets and wire three together so one side is open and line it with wire mesh. Line the fourth pallet, and attach it with hinges to make a door. Leave the bottom open to the soil so microbes can get to work. Alternatively, you can buy a ready-made composting frame.
Widely available compost bins sit on the open ground so worms and bacteria can reach up and decompose the waste inside. You add scraps via the lid and remove them via a ground-level hatch. Plastic compost bins are available in various sizes to suit small or large yards.
An effort-saving compost bin is a tumbler that looks a little like a cement mixer. Its main plus is a turning handle that mixes up your scraps instead of flipping them by hand — more on later.
All variations on a compost heap, bin, or tumbler rely on microbes to decay the waste. These microbes need food (the scraps) but also water and air to break down waste.
To achieve this, you need to add what’s known as “browns” and “greens.” Adding browns creates a healthy compost pile with enough carbon. Add just greens, which break down into nitrogen, and the compost turns into a wet, stinking pile of sludge!
Aim for three parts brown to one part green for healthy, stink-free compost.
Here’s a rundown of what’s what:
Greens vs. Browns
- Garden clippings
- Cut grass
- Tea bags and loose tea
- Coffee grounds and filters
- Straw and hay
- Dry leaves
- Twigs and branches
- Dried grass
- Paper towels and napkins
Turning a compost pile speeds up decomposition, so stir it, flip it, and move about its ingredients to keep the process moving along. Frequent turning also prevents animals from moving in, but be sure to use pitchforks slowly and carefully to avoid hurting any wild animals.
Don’t add plastic, Styrofoam, oil, any cooked food, meat, animal waste, whole eggs, or dairy products because they decompose slowly and attract animals. Another big no is diseased plant clippings because the disease won’t die off in the compost pile. You’ll spread it around the whole yard at a later date.
Where Can You Use Homemade Compost?
Now that you have a pile of nutrient-rich microbe-packed black gold, what can you do with it?
- Apply ¼ inch thick layer on the lawn to reduce watering needs and suppress weed growth.
- Add two to three inches to your garden border. Added compost boosts nutrients, traps moisture, prevents water runoff, suppresses weeds, and keeps roots cool, so you’ll watch your plants flower like never before.
- Remove the top two inches of soil from potted plants and replace it with your homegrown compost to boost nutrients.
- Mix one part compost with two parts sieved soil and you’ve made a potting mix to die for.
- Top dress large shrubs and trees. This is especially important if you’ve raked up all the fall-time yard leaves a tree dropped to feed itself.
Any left? Mulch every plant in the yard and put the remainder back in the compost heap to get a head start on your new batch.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Elena Elisseeva/Shutterstock.com
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