Click to open in a new window to view larger version. (Source: treehugger.com via Charissa on Pinterest)
Composting is the accumulation of plant matter to rot, and the resulting product is soil. All things rot and return to the earth, but composting is deliberate.
Compost is the best fertilizer anyone can add to trees, fruits, vegetables and lawns. Worked into the soil, it slowly releases nutrients. Compost can also be used as mulch instead of bark chips, which remove nitrogen from the soil in order to decompose the heavy carbon.
Compost soaked in water makes compost tea, which can be used in container plantings.
Why compost is vital to sustainability
Used as a soil amendment, compost aerates the soil and reduces flooding and run-off from rain by absorbing and retaining water. Water retention also means less watering is necessary during dry spells.
Compost is an integral part of organic farming, which aims to improve soil nutrients and structure, which in turn increases biodiversity. Toxic chemicals do none of that, and hence they need to be used repeatedly for the desired effect of lush growth and production.
How to ‘manage’ your compost
Composting is a process that most gardeners and farmers use, even if it’s by accident. I am of the composting school that it all rots sooner or later.
I have three piles all in different stages of decomposition.The oldest one goes into the garden beds in the spring. After three years, it’s ready. I don’t do a lot to my piles, except water them once in a while. It all rots.
Others tend their piles by turning them with a pitchfork every couple of weeks for aeration and faithfully watering them. This simply speeds up the natural process, and you can have compost in one season.
Compost tumblers do this – they turn the plant material around while you add water.
So you see, it’s easy to make compost. Pile up your food scraps and yard waste, and let them rot. The final product is beneficial to the earth, and it keeps tons of recyclable material out of the landfills.
The EPA estimates that 25% of landfill waste can be composted. I have written about food waste in the past.
Composting in the city
If you live in a city, composting may not be convenient for you. Maybe you don’t have space for a pile, or it’s off limits in your neighborhood.
Because of this, many municipalities are implementing composting programs. Where they used to just collect yard waste, like tree trimmings, leaves and grass, they now collect food scraps, too.
Think of all the raw material for compost that comes from restaurants, schools, supermarkets, hospitals and homes. Everybody needs to eat, and everybody generates food waste. It can be put to use to extend the life of a landfill and replenish the earth.
Curbside composting has separate bins, just like your recycling bins. The city picks up your waste and hauls it off to a distant corner of the city to decompose.
The resulting compost is sold to cover the cost of the program, or the city uses it in their landscape plantings. Residents can receive compost in return to use in their own yards.
Ways to start composting
I know of a few people who collect their food scraps in the freezer then bring them to collection centers.
A good urban program provides you with containers and pick up, but you may have to deliver yourself in certain circumstances. You can also bring scraps to farms outside the city, although urban farming is getting more and more popular.
It should be easy to find a farm close to you. Aside from making compost, chickens, pigs and goats will eat food scraps. This also reduces waste at home, which is important if you pay for trash removal based on volume or weight.
If you live in an apartment building, see if you can get a few neighbors to join you in composting in a tumbler, like this determined father did. If you are an entrepreneur, you can start a composting collection service like this unemployed guy did.
Community and composting
Think ‘community’ and ‘neighborhood’, and you can change lives. Contact your city to see if they would implement a composting program.
It saves the city money by reducing landfill waste, it creates fertilizer and soil amendments all in one, and it educates people about recycling and natural processes.
It may also get people to realize how much food is wasted, which could help them eat less and better, which improves health and saves money. Education is important, so people understand the processes and benefits, as well as how to participate and compost.
Composting is a win/win, no matter how you look at it!