Composting: An Organic Gardener’s Best Friend

Organic in nature, compost is one of the best substances any gardener can use to help plants grow strong and healthy without exposing them (and the people who eat the food and handle the flowers plants grow) to chemicals present in most fertilizers and pesticides.

Organically decomposed matter – compost – is rich in soil-enhancing nutrients that bolster the strength and health of future plant generations.

Compost is the end product of a complex feeding pattern of hundreds of including bacteria, fungi, worms, and insects. What remains after these organisms break down organic materials is the nourishing, wholesome substance that your garden plants will love.

Two more great features of compost are that is easy and cheap to make and recycles material that would otherwise decompose in landfills where it would do no real good. Shockingly, nearly a third of the matter found in landfills is organic material that could have been composted and returned to the land in a more positive fashion by using the compost to increase the health of garden soil and encourage the growth of stronger, less disease-prone plants.

You can start composting by building a small pile of leaves and adding to it coffee grounds, tea leaves, orange peels, eggshells and other garbage that will decompose. As it matures this organic matter will decompose, and become compost that can provide nourishment for the microorganisms necessary to maintain garden soil in a healthy, balanced condition. These microorganisms, in their turn, will produce nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus necessary for soil and plant health.

Almost any organic material is suitable for a compost pile, though you do need to balance the carbon-rich materials such as dried leaves, straw and wood chips, also known as “browns,” with the nitrogen- rich materials like lawn clippings and kitchen scraps also known as “greens.

The carbon provides energy for the microbes, and the nitrogen provides protein; using too much carbon material will cause the materials in your compost to take longer to break down, while too much nitrogen will make the pile smelly. Many gardening experts consider the best ratio between these two to be 25 parts “browns” to every one part of “greens.” (Tip: If you can grind up yard waste prior to putting in your compost heap, it will disintegrate more quickly.)

One word of caution: Some leaves and branches contain natural toxins and should not be included in your composting process. All parts of black walnut trees should be excluded, as should leaves from eucalyptus trees, poison ivy, poison oak and sumac.

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