Garden enthusiasts everywhere sing the praises of compost, the “black gold” made from garbage that serves as a nutritional powerhouse in the ground. Compost is so rich with nutrients that almost any type soil benefits from adding it and its texture can improve the quality of even the toughest soils. As environmental concerns grow, composting is becoming more common, from the small-scale garden of a single-family home to statewide industrial composting programs.
What is Compost
In its most fundamental sense, compost is organic garbage that has been allowed to decay until nothing is left but chemical elements at their most basic. Finished compost is black, moist, and dense, with no lingering aromas of decomposition from the ingredients that made it. Under natural circumstances, all organic matter undergoes a similar transformation over time, producing humus-rich, loamy soil as a result. Composting is a way people have developed to control this natural process with quicker, predictable results.
- Compost–What Is It?: This California recycling website describes how compost is a controlled process that involves decomposition of biological materials.
- How to Turn Your Household Scraps Into Compost: From pet hair to vacuum cleaner lint to fireplace ashes to cardboard tubes, a compost bin recycles a surprisingly large degree of household waste and reduces the amount that goes to landfills. Recycling this way can reduce the cost of garbage collection in a growing number of towns and cities.
- Yardwaste Compost Tips: Composting converts a substantial amount of everyday yard waste into a rich, nutritious substance that improves the health of soil in the garden.
Uses of Compost
The uses of compost are many and they appeal to a broad spectrum of users. From potted plants on an inner-city balcony to large-scale agriculture, compost improves the yield of every plant that grows in it. It’s perhaps the one additive that is welcome no matter what the crop, be it flowers, edibles, or lush greenery.
- Climate Friendly Parks: The National Parks Service advocates composting as a way to make the nation’s parks cleaner, more beautiful, and more ecologically compatible with nature.
- Compost to Save Time, Money, and the Environment: As much as 50% of America’s garbage is organic matter than can become valuable compost, available for many uses that are personal and public.
- Waste Management Program – Yard Waste Composting: In South Dakota, composted yard waste is used for erosion control and remediation of land disturbed for various uses.
- What is Compost Used For?: In Gallatin County, Montana, compost is sold for a multitude of uses from mulching to planting trees.
Importance of Composting
Composting is important from the ground up. What goes in determines what comes out. It’s truly amazing what can be put into a compost pile but there are some things best omitted.
- Compost That Stuff!: The city of Cambridge, Massachusetts, encourages businesses to take advantage of citywide composting initiatives.
- Composting Information and Guidelines: Since 1993, when Wisconsin issued a ban on disposal of yard wastes, as much as 700,000 tons of yard waste is diverted every year away from landfills and into composting operations across the state.
- Environmental Benefits: The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) describes several benefits of composting.
- Foodscraps Collection Program: In Santa Barbara and several other cities in California, a foodscrap composting program reduces the cost of operating landfills while making valuable compost available for community beautification purposes.
- Smart Gardener Program: This South Carolina gardening awareness program features an excellent downloadable guide to composting.
Approaches to Composting
As with so many things that happen in the garden, composting can be approached from various angles – active or passive, hot or cold, large scale or small. Some composting enthusiasts actively pursue worms but others may not ever even think about them. If one approach doesn’t produce the desired results, it’s never a problem to change plans and try something different. The curious gardener with lots of time and patience may even want to start more than one compost heap, experimenting with a different approach for each one.
- Active or Passive?: Composting, like gardening in general, can be approached from either an active level of participation or a more passive one.
- Compost Recipes: Some gardeners approach their compost bin in much the same way they approach the recipe box.
- Composting With a Worm Bin: Put worms to work for a small-scale composting project that makes black gold out of food scraps.
- In Your Backyard – Composting can be accomplished using hot or cold methods or try worms for a third option.
How to Compost
Composting isn’t at all complicated nor is there just one way to accomplish the mission. The simplest method is all about piling things up, but more complex designs produce different results. Explore various ways to compost to determine which one best suits your time, energy, and space but also be aware that a certain amount of garbage is required. Choose a method that takes your household and yard waste production into consideration, too.
- Building Your Own Compost Pile: Explore several types of do-it-yourself compost bins and find out what might go wrong and how to fix it if it does.
- Composting at Home: Learn how to make a compost pile, what to put in it and what to leave out of it, and some handy do-and-don’t tips for best results.
- Green:Brown Ratio: Make sure all compost heaps have the optimum ratio of green (nitrogen-rich) items to brown (carbon-rich) items.
- Vegetative Waste Management and Yard Waste Composting: Vegetative matter from both inside the home and in the yard can be used in a successful composting project.
- Your Compost Pile: This Louisiana website offers guidelines for constructing, filling, and maintaining a compost pile in a hot, humid environment.
Additional Composting Resources
One neighbor’s compost bin many be another’s nightmare, putting a damper on friendly, over-the-fence conversation. When the merits of composting become exciting and spark even further interest, look to these resources for further discussion. And don’t forget to share some of the finished compost with the reluctant neighbor; she may just be a convert in the making.
- Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Association of the United States: Composting may be the catalyst that launches the gardener into the world of biodynamic gardening. This method of gardening, which relies on the elements of nature to a much more extensive degree than does composting, is more popular in other parts of the world at the moment but a growing movement in the states is making it a more common topic of conversation.
- 10 Tips for Making Better Compost: From watering to shredding to turning more often, these 10 tips will speed things along and help produce a better quality finished compost.
- Seed Savers Exchange: This foundation, dedicated to saving heirloom seeds and preserving plant integrity from the time before hybridization and engineering became the norm, welcomes online discussion of all matters that involve soil, mulch, and compost.