Every year billions of leaves fall from trees and this has been
going on for millions of years. One might ask why the earth
isn't covered with a layer of leaves several miles thick. The
answer is that nature is a Master Composter and continuously
consumes or digests huge quantities of spent organic material
and recycles it back into mother earth. It takes a lot of
compost to keep life going! This section is about the benefits
of compost in the home garden, the various ways to construct a
compost bin or heap, the kinds of materials that should or
should not be composted, the do's and the don't's of composting,
the various ways compost can be used and the composting process
Compost returns the basic nutrients to the soil feeding the
soil micro- and macro organisms. The products of this feeding,
in turn, feed the plants of the garden.
It is one of the best natural sources for organic material
needed to make humus, the richest of all plant nutrients.
It is also one of the best natural sources for the essential
It is outstanding as a soil amendment - improving the tilth
or workability of the soil as well as the drainage,
speeding up the drainage of soils that drain too slowly and
slowing down the drainage of soils that drain too quickly.
It improves the soil's ability to retain both moisture and
It corrects many degraded or corrupted soils by 'tieing-up'
a variety of toxic pollutants.
It helps to buffer soils too acid or too alkaline.
It protects plants from a variety of soil borne diseases
It makes an excellent mulch.
This sub-section is about the ways compost benefits the home
Manures and composts vary in terms of their nutrient content
but both are relatively low in terms of the macro-nutrients.
A typical analysis for manures and composts would be
somewhere around 1-1-1. Compost, however, is an excellent
source for the trace elements and contains anywhere from ten
to fifty times as much of the micro-nutrients as the
Composting offers the gardener a number of ways to improve the
garden and to dispose of a lot of garden wastes without taking
up space im the landfill; however, there is often reluctance
to build a compost bin or heap. Some times there are problems
in finding space. There are often problems in finding the
time, energy or material to turn out the quantity of compost
that is really required. An alternative is to buy commercial
compost. It is generally of reasonable quality, moderately
priced and readily available. The problem with commercial
compost is that it may contain materials that don't belong in
the garden. Making your own gives you total control over the
This is a 'how to' section covering the design, construction,
and placement of compost bins and heaps.
This section deals with the starting materials that are
appropriate for compost destined for the home garden. Those
materials that are inappropriate or should be avoided are
covered in Section C.04.*
There are many different appropriate starting materials that
can be used to make first rate compost. The best compost,
however, comes from combinations of starting materials without
too much of any one thing. A mixture of different kinds of
garden clippings combined with various uncooked scraps of this
and that from the kitchen maybe combined with manure might be
typical. This section is also about the combination and
balance of various appropriate starting materials.
The organic material that goes into compost is mostly a blend
of carbohydrate-like material which is high in carbon and
protein-like material which is high in nitrogen. The soil
microorganisms use the carbohydrate-like material as their
source for calories or energy. They use the protein-like
material essentially as "building blocks"
recognizing that they are single-celled organisms. The soil
micro-organisms do best when their diet is about 20-25 parts
of carbon to 1 part nitrogen and will work at maintaining this
ratio. In practice, this most often means a volumn of
"green" material such as grass clippings balanced
with an equal volumn of "brown" material such as
The microorganisms that do the work of composting have the
capacity, if given enough time and the right conditions, to
decompose probably every natural material from both animal and
vegetable sources. This includes the capacity to destroy most
disease organisms, the eggs or spores of most garden pests,
the eggs of most animal parasites and the spores or seeds of
most weeds that might be attached to or carried by the
starting materials. Composting is not an absolute process and
there are some organic materials that simply shouldn't be
added to compost.
This sub-section is about those starting materials that are
considered as inappropriate for home garden.
Vermicomposting is composting using earthworms as the
principal biological agents. The vermicomposting bins are
relatively easy to make and set up. Maintenance and harvesting
require little effort relative to that required for regular
compost bins or heaps. The vermicomposting bins take up
relatively little space, they are essentially odor-free, they
fascinate kids and because the bins are small they can be
brought inside out of the cold to allow for year round
operation. While the yields of worm castings are relatively
small, they are richer in nutrients than regular compost.
Vermicomposting can be a good answer in those situation in
which a regular compost bin or heap isn't an option.
This sub-section is about:
The design and construction of vermicomposting bins
The various ways to start and maintain the process.
The various ways of harvesting and using the worm castings.
Some of the commercial sources for "Red Wigglers"
(Eisensia foetida) and "Red Worms"
4 (Lumbricus rebellus).
Sheet composting is like mulching. A generous layer or
"sheet" of raw or partially composted organic
material is laid on top of the soil and allowed to decompose
naturally. The organic material is left on the soil surface
with the nutrients simply leaching into the soil below. This
is an easy way of recycling the organic material back into the
soil and to do so without disturbing the plant roots or the
soil's microorganisms. In addition, the layer or
"sheet" of organic material also works as a mulch.
The problem is that sheet composting has little effect on the
viability of any of the disease organisms or pests that might
be present in the organic material. This may or may not be a
problem, perhaps the better plan is to use finished compost as
This sub-section deals with the advantages and disadvantages
of sheet composting and the restrictions imposed on sheet
composting in the Certification Standards by the Organic Crop