No one thing can do more for your garden than good compost. Compost is like a Swiss army knife for the gardener — except, unlike most multi-tools, compost addresses nearly every problem you face in a garden exceptionally well — almost as if it was designed to tackle the problems a gardener faces. Compost is essentially food for your soil, which encourages healthy crops. Every type of soil can benefit from organic compost. It replenishes nutrients and gives the soil pest-resistant properties.
The key to having healthy plants in your garden starts with having good compost.
Compost: A Plethora of Benefits
So, what are some of the benefits of using compost to amend your soil? Good-quality compost can hold many times its weight in water, making soil resistant against erosion. In addition, compost can keep plants healthy by promoting growth both above and below ground.
PlanetNatural.com reports, “Compost improves soil tilth; helps maintain a neutral pH, and allows the soil to hold more nutrients and water (it can literally quadruple the soil’s ability to store water). Compost is to your garden what spinach is to Popeye. Finally, compost feeds earthworms and microbial life in the soil — which, in turn, support your plants.”
Getting Started: Making Good Compost
Here are is a list of just a few of the common household items and yard waste that will make a great compost:
- Crushed egg shells
- Coffee grounds
- Orange rinds and fruit peels
- Potato skins
- Hedge clippings
- Shells (clam, crab, lobster)
- Tea leaves or tea bags
- Weeds (before they go to seed and avoid roots if they propagate by them)
- Some grass clippings (discard if you treat with chemicals)
Items NOT to Compost
Do not use these items in your compost: cat and dog feces (although, according to organicgardeninfo.com, they can be buried around ornamentals), cat litter, coal ashes (toxic), disposable diapers, animal byproducts, sawdust (slows the decomposition process), diseased plants, and human waste. The risk for contamination is fair enough that these items should go into the trash can. (Cat and dog manure may contain parasites that can harm humans. Meat, dairy, and other animal byproducts can attract unwanted predators though you can try to bury the meat well.)
Bins and Turning Compost
Some gardeners admit they have a laid-back approach: They let their items rot, and they don’t regularly turn their compost. Air is a friend of the decomposition process, and you’ll know when the bacteria that prefer airless or low-air conditions have moved in when the pile starts to stink.
Almost any sturdy bin will do. Many stores sell plastic bins for less than $100. You can also build your own with pallets of wood, or almost any sturdy material. Cedar makes an excellent wood to build a bin with because of its natural resistance to rotting. You can place the compost bin right in your garden, leaving the bottom open so worms can work their way into the decomposing materials helping the process along. Keep the pile moist, well-aerated, and continue to add to it. Soon, you will have a nutrient-rich, healthy black soil that will revive and revitalize any plant.
For an excellent in-depth discussion on composting with everything you’d ever want to know or need, pick up Edward C. Smith’s The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible. It’s an excellent resource for the novice and green thumb alike with a comprehensive (and entertaining) section on composting.
Gardening Compost Is Your Soil’s Main Source of Food
Composting: Hitting Paydirt!
The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible by Edward C. Smith