Home : Gardening Tips : Composting Basics

Composting Basics

Compost is one of nature's best mulches and soil amendments, and you can use it instead of commercial fertilizers. Best of all, compost is cheap. You can make it without spending a cent. Using compost improves soil structure, texture, and aeration and increases the soil's water-holding capacity. Compost loosens clay soils and helps sandy soils retain water. Adding compost improves soil fertility and stimulates healthy root development in plants. The organic matter provided in compost provides food for microorganisms, which keeps the soil in a healthy, balanced condition. Nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus will be produced naturally by the feeding of microorganisms, so few if any soil amendments will need to be added.

Most gardeners have long understood the value of this rich, dark, earthy material in improving the soil and creating a healthful environment for plants. Understanding how to make and use compost is in the public interest, as the problem of waste disposal climbs toward a crisis level. Landfills are brimming, and new sites are not easy to find because no one wants to live near a garbage dump. For this reason there is an interest in conserving existing landfill space and in developing alternative methods of dealing with waste. Don't throw away materials when you can use them to improve your lawn and garden! Start composting instead. About one third of the space in landfills is taken up with organic waste from our yards and kitchens -- just the type of material that can be used in compost!

With a small investment in time, you can contribute to the solution to a community problem, while at the same time enriching the soil and improving the health of the plants on your property.

The Decomposition Process

Compost is the end product of a complex feeding pattern involving hundreds of different organisms, including bacteria, fungi, worms, and insects. What remains after these organisms break down organic materials is the rich, earthy substance your garden will love. Composting replicates nature's natural system of breaking down materials on the forest floor. In every forest, grassland, jungle, and garden, plants die, fall to the ground, and decay. They are slowly dismantled by the small organisms living in the soil. Eventually these plant parts disappear into the brown crumbly forest floor. This humus keeps the soil light and fluffy. Humus is our goal when we start composting. By providing the right environment for the organisms in the compost pile, it is possible to produce excellent compost. We usually want to organize and hasten Mother Nature's process.

By knowing the optimum conditions of heat, moisture, air, and materials, we can speed up the composting process. Besides producing more good soil faster, making the compost faster creates heat which will destroy plant diseases and weed seeds in the pile. Almost any organic material is suitable for a compost pile. The pile needs a proper ratio of carbon-rich materials, or "browns," and nitrogen-rich materials, or "greens." Among the brown materials are dried leaves, straw, and wood chips. Nitrogen materials are fresh or green, such as grass clippings and kitchen scraps.

For more detailed information about composting, including a list of typical materials used to make compost, visit the Compost Instructions web site, a great resource for learning how to compost.

Related Products:

Tumbler Composter and Compost Tea Maker
Tumbleweed Compost Bin
Compost Aerating Tool You can see our full line of compost bins here.