PLANT FOOD PREP
THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF COMPOSTING
BY MIMI GREENWOOD KNIGHT
Compost is that glorious material gardeners and farmers add to their soil to improve its physical properties and increase their yields. This black gold is created by combining organic wastes, such as food scraps, yard trimmings, and animal manures with agents such as wood chips and leaf litter, then allowing the combination to mature. Once “mature,” it contains “humus,” a black, nutrient-rich material with a delightful, earthy smell and the magic to super charge whatever you hope to grow.
Benefits of Composting
By composting, you can personally have a hand in reducing the amount of methane, a harmful greenhouse gas that’s emitted from landfills. It eliminates the need for chemical fertilizers in your yard or garden, increases the output of your plantings, saves the cost of expensive growing compounds, and makes your garden soil more water retentive so that you can water less often. Because compost-enriched soil promotes healthy plant growth, plants are more resistant to diseases and pests, reducing the need for pesticides in your yard — and on our planet.
A traditional backyard compost pile should consist of equal amounts of brown material such as dead leaves, branches, and twigs to generate carbon, and green material such as grass clippings, vegetable and fruit scraps, and coffee grounds to generate nitrogen. Arrange them in alternating layers and varying sizes and keep them moist but not drenched.
Simply add your “browns” and “greens,” moistening them as you go, then turn and aerate from time to time. A properly managed compost bin shouldn’t attract pests or smell bad. To discourage fruit flies, bury your greens under your browns. In two to three months, the material on the bottom will be dark and rich in color, and you’ll be able to call yourself a successful composter.
If your yard isn’t big enough to accommodate a traditional compost bin or your HOA frowns upon it, not to worry. Countertop versions can do the work of breaking down your food waste in just a few hours. Commonplace in other countries, countertop composters are finally making their way to the US. Like traditional composters, they can compost fruit and vegetable scraps but can also handle soft bones and things like pasta and bread. (But not pits, nuts, watermelon rinds, or pineapple leaves). They can dry, grind, and cool your food waste to a tenth of its original size within three to six hours, so you can run multiple cycles a day, then mix the finished product into your garden or house plants to boost nutrients and enhance soil texture. Several versions are available now, while others are being crowdsourced. Whichever way you go, composting is an earth-friendly way to have a gorgeous and abundant garden — naturally.