Compost is the key to a healthy garden.
Composting is a way of recycling food scraps and other organic matter back into the soil, in order to maintain a healthy ecosystem and microbiome for plants to thrive in.
This post will discuss what compost is and why it’s important, different types of composting methods, as well as some basic steps on how to start composting for beginners.
Let’s get into it!
What is Compost?
Compost is a soil-like mixture of organic matter that has naturally decomposed over time.
In the process of composting, microorganisms such as bacteria, fungi, and worms, break down organic materials such as food scraps, leaves, grass clippings, and woodchips. The nutrient-rich result is recycled back into the soil as a natural fertilizer of sorts.
Compost is used as a soil amendment because it contains high concentrations of the nutrients and microbial communities that soil needs to stay healthy and grow healthy plants.
Why is Compost Important?
As mentioned above, compost contains the nutrients and microbes that plants need and thrive on; thus it is used as a fertilizer to provide plants with the nutrients and symbiotic relationships they need to optimally grow.
When not provided with enough water, nutrients, oxygen, or microbial life, soil can become dry, lifeless, and sterile. Compost helps soil retain the appropriate amounts of water retention, aeration, nutrient balance, and symbiotic relationships among the healthy microbial communities inhabiting it. This ultimately improves the health, homeostasis, and fertility of the soil, which in turn supports the growth and vitality of plants, without the need for synthetic fertilizers or additives.
Benefits of Composting
- Improves biodiversity and resilience of the ecosystem
- Improves soil fertility and crop yield in a natural and sustainable way
- Provides an alternative for harmful synthetic fertilizers
- Reduces waste by recycling kitchen scraps, yard waste, other organic materials into a valuable soil amendment
Types of Compost
There are many different ways to make compost, depending on the organisms and organic matter involved. Below are a few basic methods of composting.
Worm Composting (aka Vermicomposting)
Worms have an amazing ability to eat. This makes them invaluable to composting because they rapidly chow through food scraps and organic matter and produce castings. The castings are nutrient-rich and ready to be used as a soil amendment.
Worm composting uses special composting worms, such as red wigglers, to facilitate the breakdown of food and organic materials. Basically, you regularly feed the worms and they will produce castings that can then be mixed into your soil.
Worm composting can be done indoors in a worm bin or outdoors in a larger compost bin or pile.
As the name suggests, hot composting is a method that causes a compost pile to heat up as it decomposes. Hot composting relies on the activity of heat-loving bacteria to break down organic matter.
A mixture of “greens” (nitrogen-rich fresh green material such as leaves, grass clippings, etc.) and “browns” (carbon-rich dry materials such as dry leaves, wood, sawdust, etc.) will become hot as it decomposes. Hot composting requires a large pile or bin, an appropriate balance of greens and browns, and regular aeration and hydration. These parameters ensure that the compost pile facilitates the growth of the right bacteria and can rapidly decompose.
Leaf mold compost is made from leaves that decompose with the help of fungi. Fallen leaves from trees are gathered into a bin or pile, where they gradually break down into compost. This method of decomposition tends to be slower than other methods such as hot composting.
How to Compost for Beginners
Here are some basic steps to getting started with composting:
1. Pick a method (or two)
Consider the space, time, and resources you have available to you. Hot composting and leaf mold tend to require a bit more space as well as tools required for turning the compost pile. A simple worm compost pile or bin may work better if you have more limited space.
2. Gather organic materials
The type of composting you do will also mostly depend on what organic matter you have available to you. For example, things like leaves and grass clippings will vary in availability depending on the time of year.
Good compost materials to collect when available include:
- Kitchen scraps – fruit and vegetable peels, coffee grounds, eggshells
- Yard waste – leaves, grass clippings, prunings
3. Form a compost pile or bin
Again, depending on space and resources, pick a place to start building up a small or large pile/bin that you can easily tend to and continue to add organic matter to. Include a variety of organic matter and try to avoid adding all or too much of any one type of organic matter.
4. Monitor and maintain your compost pile
Keep an eye on your compost pile and regularly check how wet and aerated it is. Add water or turn the pile as needed. If it’s too dry, add water; if it’s too wet, mix in dry materials like shredded newspaper or dry leaves. If it has a bad smell, it likely needs more aeration in order for the right aerobic bacteria to grow.
5. Use finished compost as a soil amendment
Depending on the composting methods and conditions, it can take months or even years for compost to be fully decomposed, matured, and ready to use.
When the compost has the appearance of dark, rich soil, without any chunks, pest infestations, or funky smells, it is ready to use. This final product is what is known as “black gold” and can now be mixed into soil as a soil amendment. It can be treated like a fertilizer; be careful not to add too much of this compost to a plant as it can “burn” it.
And there you have it! The basics of composting. I’ll be publishing much more on this topic to help guide you through each method in more detail, but I hope this article helped give a compost overview for the beginner!
Please leave a comment below to let me know what questions you have about composting!