Well-fed soil will result in healthy, thriving nutrient-dense plants growing in your garden. You can enhance and maintain the nutrient quality of the soil in your garden by feeding it organic matter which you can get from composting.
What is Composting?
Composting is the process of recycling organic matter into high-grade fertilizer that feeds soil and plants. Anything that grows will decompose eventually. Composting helps speed up the process by providing ideal conditions for beneficial bacteria, fungi, and organisms (worms, nematodes and others) to do their work. If you understand that soil is living matter, with as many as 50 billion microscopic plants and organisms, you can easily see the important role that composting plays in the lifecycle of a healthy garden.
Composting is good for the soil, good for your plants, and is beneficial to the earth. When you compost food scraps and other biodegradable matter, you are reducing waste that would otherwise go into a landfill or get dumped in ocean water.
What can be composted at home?
A wide variety of organic matter and biodegradable materials can be composted. For home composting, you can include:
- Egg shells
- Nut shells
- Food scraps
- Grass clippings
- Wood chips
- Tea bags
- Coffee grounds and paper filters
- Ash from natural wood used in a fireplace
What material should not be used in a home compost?
The following items are not suitable for a home compost:
- Animal droppings
- Cat litter
- Meat, fish bones and scraps (will attract wild animals)
- Yard debris treated with chemicals or that contains weeds
- Grease, lard, oil, and solid fats
- Plant matter infected with pests or disease
- Charcoal or ash
- Any plant or tree matter that is poisonous
How to Compost at Home
Choose your composting method based on:
- Available space to setup a compost
- Local geography (temperature, aeration, humidity)
- Amount of time you can commit
- Types of organic waste you can collect (food waste, yard waste)
A fairly simple approach to composting is explained by the National Resources Defense Council, summarized below (for details, please go to the NRDC website):
- Set Up a Collection Area. A collection bin can be set up outdoors, in a garage, or even under the kitchen sink. The composting container has to be in a dry and shady area with stable conditions (temperature, moisture) in order for matter to decompose.
- Be a Mix Master. The contents of your bin need to be biologically diverse. This means a mix of carbon-heavy “browns” and nitrogen-centric “greens.” “Browns” include shredded paper, dead leaves, and food-soiled paper napkins. “Greens” include plant matter, tea leaves, fruit skins, vegetable and yard clippings
- Churn the Rot. You want rot to set in. To encourage this, use a shovel (for outdoors) or a garden fork (for a bin) to churn the contents of your bin. In warmer weather, do this weekly. In the colder weather, once per month is sufficient. Sprinkle organic dirt in with each churn. If it is dry, dampen it with a little water (don’t make it soggy), churn, and seal.
- The Dirty Payoff. When the contents of your bin looks like rich, dark soil, you’ve got feed for your garden! It should have an earthy scent. If it smells pungent or you aren’t sure if the compost is good, check out these solutions to many composting problems.
- Feed Your Garden. When you have a dark, moist, and woodsy compost, sprinkle it around existing plants and mix it into organic dirt upon planting. There are many approaches to using compost.
NaturalResource Defense Council. “Composting 101.” https://www.nrdc.org/stories/composting-101
NaturalResource Defense Council. “Composting Is Way Easier Than You Think.” https://www.nrdc.org/stories/composting-way-easier-you-think
Nyman, P. “Master Gardener.” Williamsport, PA. Personal Correspondence.
Cornell University Cooperative Extension web page: “Organic Gardening” Monograph compiled by Cunningham, S.J. & Mazza, C.P. http://www.gardening.cornell.edu/education/mgprogram/mgmanual/09organic.pdf
There are many video introductions to composting available from Home and Garden TV, Better Homes and Gardens, and there are great resources for kids to learn composting, too. https://www.google.com/search?tbm=vid&sxsrf=APq-WBvw3qfUQGbVPo6vLkYMlMqo11pm6A:1644514365788&q=composting+for+kids&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwin3Oa01fX1AhVJMt8KHUrHBz0Q1QIoAXoECAoQAg&biw=1956&bih=1023&dpr=1
Basics of Gardening.com. http://www.basicsofgardening.com
Image attribution: freepik/freepik.com