Composting: Recycling in the Garden
Compost is the byproduct of decomposing organic matter, such as autumn leaves, eggshells, grass clippings and coffee grounds. Called “black gold” by many gardeners, compost is an ideal soil amendment because it enhances soil structure, improves plant health and defeats weeds. Compost does all that – and more. You can also use compost as a mulch to help suppress weeds.
The best part of compost is that it’s nearly free for the making and less time-consuming than growing a tomato. In a few hours, you can easily assemble a no-frills compost pile and be on your way to harvesting homegrown compost.
Benefits of Compost
Compost does nothing but good in a garden.
Fertility. Compost infuses soil with a broad spectrum of nutrients, including enzymes and minerals, in a form that’s easily taken up by plant roots. Compost releases these nutrients slowly, over time, creating a goof-proof fertilizer that won’t burn plants. You can’t over-apply compost. If you do add fertilizer to soil, microorganisms present in compost help plants absorb those nutrients.
Soil Structure. Compost improves soil structure, regardless of soil type. Clay soils loosen, sandy soils hold water, and well-balanced soils become even richer. Compost reduces soil compaction and surface crusting, which can enhance drainage. Why is compost such a wonderful amendment? It’s 100 percent organic matter, which increases soil’s ability to hold water and enhances its texture.
Beneficials. Compost increases the number and activity level of beneficial soil creatures, including microorganisms such as fungi, algae and nematodes, as well as visible critters such as earthworms, ants and millipedes. Soil fauna is what breaks down organic matter and converts nutrients into forms plant roots can easily absorb. When soil fauna is healthy and active, like it is in compost, the organisms can also help suppress certain diseases that attack plants.
Beyond the garden, compost benefits the environment by reducing the amount of yard waste entering local landfills. And if your city requires payment to pick up yard waste, creating a compost pile eliminates that fee. Using compost in planting beds also reduces the amount of money you’ll spend on water and fertilizer.
Compost stinks. Actually, when done properly, the only odor compost offers is an earthy, damp-soil aroma. If your compost pile smells, you’re doing something wrong.
Compost is demanding. While there’s no free lunch, creating compost comes pretty close. The most time-consuming part of composting is researching how to tackle it. Depending on your pile size, moving finished compost from bin to planting beds can also prove to be challenging, requiring both time and muscle. Beyond that, adding materials and a once- or twice-yearly pile turning doesn’t claim loads of time or effort.
Compost requires space. You really don’t need acres to generate ample compost. Small compost bins and tumblers offer ideal solutions for small yards. Even apartment or condo dwellers can produce compost using worm composters or automatic indoor compost bins.