A backyard compost pile or bin is more than just controlling waste. Composting keeps food and yard waste from rotting away in landfills and it may be an engaging hobby itself. If you’re an avid or aspiring gardener, compost may be the secret weapon that you need to make your garden grow.
Fortunately, since composting offers many benefits, there are already many stores that sell it. Additionally, if you want to save money while maintaining or improving your garden’s health, you can make your own composting bin.
Whether you buy it or make it, organic compost can enrich your soil, protect your plants, and help boost the overall health of your garden, among other things.
Read on to learn more about composting and the benefits that it can bring to your garden.
What is Compost?
Compost refers to decomposed organic matter that resembles soil in its final state. Microbes, earthworms, fungi, and other decomposers work together to break down organic materials, specifically food and plant waste from the kitchen and garden. Regularly turning your compost and adding the right balance of materials will eventually leave you with rich, black humus, which is key in returning nutrients to the soil. There are many techniques for composting, from making a compost ‘tea’ to vermicomposting or the use of worms to break down organic waste materials.
A wide range of things may end up in your compost pile—you can even use materials as diverse as seaweed, hops, and mushrooms to make compost. The key to healthy compost is maintaining the right mixture of ‘greens and browns,’ which refers to wet materials, like kitchen scraps, and dry materials, like yard or paper wastes. The right mix of these two elements will create the proper moisture content for decomposition while lessening undesirable smells.
Here are some beneficial materials to add to your compost bin:
- Coffee grounds
- Vegetable leftovers and fruit peels
- Tea and coffee
- Dry leaves
- Grass clippings
There are also certain items you should avoid adding to your compost pile as they’ll produce foul odors or the usual host of decomposers in your bin won’t be able to break them down properly. These include:
- Meat and fish
- Oil and dairy
The Benefits of Compost
Starting your own compost pile might seem like the perfect quarantine activity. This is because it’ll teach you and your family plenty about biological processes and provides a sustainable solution for all that extra food waste you’re probably generating from your various kitchen projects.
But even if you don’t generate enough waste for a viable compost pile, or live in an area where composting is not a viable option, buying from a local organic compost supplier ensures that your garden can still enjoy the benefits of organic compost.
Here are the many advantages that organic compost can bring to your garden:
- Return Nutrients to Depleted Soil
If you live in an area with sandy soil or where frequent rainfall washes away topsoil and mulch, you may have issues growing some plants. This is because your soil is probably depleted and lacks the valuable nutrients it needs to support a wide range of plant life. The number one nutrient needed for plant growth is nitrogen, which is the ‘brown’ material in composting.
In addition to nitrogen, here are some nutrients that good organic compost will help return to the soil:
These are all vital to your garden’s health. As an added bonus, if you’re supporting a kitchen garden, these nutrients all get passed down the food chain to you. In this way, having healthier soil in your garden could ultimately mean a healthier diet for you!
- Improve The Soil Food Web
It’s important to note that healthy soil is not just a mixture of nutrients and minerals. Rather, it’s a complex ecosystem that includes plants, microorganisms, fungi, and invertebrates, such as beetles. Compost helps attract beneficial decomposers, such as certain kinds of microorganisms, fungi, and, most famously, earthworms.
Earthworms are your garden’s best friend as their digestive system break down larger materials into the soil so that the nutrients in it are accessible to plants. In addition to earthworms, different kinds of bacteria will also help ‘fix’ nitrogen to your plants’ roots. Furthermore, beetles and worms borrowing through the soil will help keep it from getting too compact and improve the aeration of your plant’s root systems.
While you might not be too fond of the idea of having all of these creepy crawlies in your yard, they actually play a vital role in maintaining your soil’s health and richness. They’ll also help balance your soil’s ecosystem, ultimately preventing the nasty creepy crawlies, such as plant parasites or even ticks, from moving in.
- Improve Soil Quality
Just as sandy soil is typically lacking in nutrients, soil that feels like clay may be too dense and heavy to allow the proper circulation of air, water, and nutrients around your plant’s roots. Plus, young plants will be struggling to establish their delicate root structure in soil that’s too dense.
Adding compost to your soil will improve its structure, allowing for better air and nutrient distribution. This keeps soil from being either too loose or too easily compacted. Rather than heavy, gritty, or overly wet, healthy soil should be crumbly. Compost also helps balance the soil’s pH and improve the soil’s capacity to hold nutrients.
- Limit Water Runoff
Sandy soil lacks the capacity to hold much water and clay soil may block water absorption altogether. Fortunately, compost is super water-absorbent–with one acre of soil increasing in water holding capacity by about 16000 gallons for every 1% of organic material. Healthy soil contains around 5% of organic material, which means that it’s able to hold about 80,000 extra gallons of water per acre.
Compost that’s evenly distributed throughout your garden will help with moisture dispersion and absorption, allowing you to use less water but still ensuring that the proper amount of moisture reaches all of your plants.
- Prevent Diseases
Sterile soil is the perfect breeding ground for all sorts of pests and plant diseases. A properly balanced soil ecosystem, conversely, can help ward off the nastier critters that call your soil home.
Similarly, by improving soil structure, compost helps prevent soil and organic material from splashing on to the stems and leaves of your plants. This alone is a major way in which diseases can spread to plants (incidentally, it was how the potato blight spread throughout Ireland and mainland Europe in the mid-1800s).
Healthy soil may also help prevent human parasites, such as ticks, from finding a home in your garden.
- Provide Slow and Steady Fertilization
While some chemical fertilizers provide a fast injection of nutrients into the soil, much of those nutrients are leeched away from the soil with the first rainfall. Compost releases nutrients into the soil more slowly, which means that watering or rain will not rob the soil of these nutrients. Instead, as decomposition continues, nutrients will continually be redistributed through the soil. This way, the nutrients can better be absorbed by your plants.
Often, compost also contains both micro- and macro-nutrients that commercial fertilizers lack. Not to mention that it’s much relatively cheaper to purchase.
- Prevent Erosion
Erosion is a major obstacle to your soil’s health. Especially in areas with heavy or regular rainfall, the nutrient-rich topsoil layer of any garden is easily depleted. As a solution, many gardeners use a mulch to try to combat it.
Meanwhile, compost can both replenish topsoil and prevent it from being eroded away by wind or water flow. It does so by providing more weight to the soil, helping it stay in one place.
- Eliminate the Need for Pesticides or Chemical Fertilizers
Many of us are looking for ways to protect the environment in our everyday lives. Unfortunately, much of the conventionally-grown produce that we buy in stores rely on pesticides and chemical fertilizers to reach our tables tasty and blemish-free.
Utilizing organic compost in your personal garden will help eliminate the need for chemicals, whether they’re pesticides or fertilizers. Instead, compost will provide adequate structure, nourishment, and pest-protection for your plant babies without creating harmful runoff, which can pollute nearby bodies of water.
A Million Reasons To Use Compost!
Composting itself is one of the most exciting ways we can engage with the natural world in our own backyard and sustainably repurpose organic waste. There are plenty of ways that composting helps the environment–from reducing the need for chemical fertilizers and pesticides to providing an eco-friendly use for kitchen scraps and yard waste.
Furthermore, there are even more ways that composting can bring richness and life to your own back yard, whether your soil is sandy, dense, or simply depleted. Compost improves soil composition and structure, keeping away nasty pests, prevents erosion, promotes airflow, and supports a diverse and healthy soil food web.
All these ways and more can make your garden healthier, happier, and more productive, today, and for years to come.