Last Updated on March 11, 2022 by Grow with Bovees
A garden is only as healthy as its soil. Regardless of a plant’s beauty or suitability to the garden, it’s success ultimately depends on the nourishing capability of the soil.
Experienced gardeners have learned that the most important gardening work—building soil that is fertile, well-draining, and absorbent—takes place before anything is planted.
And the best way to prepare soil is by adding compost to it every year. Starting a compost pile will be one of the very best things you can do as a gardener. Here is our guide to composting to help you get started.
Composting — Is It Science or Art?
In part a science, but mostly an art, composting can be a very rewarding activity. By fostering the natural cycle whereby organic materials are transposed into rich humus, gardeners improve their gardens, recycle yard waste, and reduce pest and disease problems.
They save money on fertilizers, topdressings, water, and pesticides. And the best part is that composting is easy to do and will happen whether you intervene in the process or not.
Even a minimal understanding of composting reveals that it’s a very logical, easy process, one that has been practiced in different forms throughout history. And your involvement in composting can be minimal or extensive, depending on your needs and time.
Our composting pages will present an array of composting options, from simply piling organic debris and letting Nature do the work to managing a series of piles for a larger amount of compost.
When Did People Start Composting?
The history of home composting is intertwined with development of agriculture as a whole. Observing the natural decomposition of organic material on the forest floor, in meadows, and along the water’s edge, prehistoric farmers sought to duplicate the process by deliberately piling mixtures of animal manure, plant debris, and soil in hope of promoting its decomposition.
The resulting product—called compost or humus—is still the primary source of soil nutrients in many parts of the world, despite the prevalence of manufactured fertilizer products.
In the early twentieth century, Sir Albert Howard developed a system of composting whereby piles were constructed in alternating layers of various organic material and manure.
Howard deduced that decomposition was most efficient when the ratio of plant material to manure was three to one. Later in this century, composting was adopted by serious gardeners, especially those who followed the organic principles popularized by the Rodale family.
The advent of the environmental movement in the 1960s helped introduce composting to a broad segment of the population, including industry, commercial enterprises, municipalities, and non gardening households.
Suddenly, composting became an easy way to reduce the pressure on overburdened landfills and practice environmental responsibility.
The lawn and garden industry responded to the surging interest in composting by developing a host of new products that do everything from aerating a compost pile to practically turning it for you.
Because decomposition of dead and discarded organic materials is a natural process, it’s very easy to make compost. When the essentials—air, moisture, carbon, and nitrogen—are present, it’s virtually automatic. Therefore, the degree of your involvement in composting is extremely flexible.
Some gardeners simply want to avoid adding to the municipal waste stream and will pile their organic debris haphazardly and let Nature take its course. These people are more than happy harvesting a few bushels of compost each year from their “simple” compost pile.
Others are more serious about the process and will “manage” a composting system, assuring quick decomposition and bushels of humus.
These gardeners typically chop or shred materials for piles, or fill bins, roll compost tumblers, make compost “tea,” or employ the services of worms.
Many people also collect kitchen food scraps into a kitchen compost bucket and then add that to their compost pile – let nothing go to waste!
The truly obsessed do all of these things.
Most gardeners, however, fall somewhere in between the two extremes.
The smart gardener is prepared for the possibility that a modest composting project may become increasingly more intensive over the years.
Compost is such a valuable, useful product that you may become impatient to add more piles, and employ different ways to speed the decomposition process. This will yield more material for your vegetable garden, flower beds, houseplants, shrubs, trees, and lawn.
We will introduce you to the art and science of composting, plus help you begin your own backyard composting project.
In this series of articles, you’ll find information on every aspect of the process, from where to site your compost pile to using compost most efficiently.
The information will help you make initial decisions about how deeply you want to get involved in composting, and what you’ll need to do it.
Begin by Assuming That Your Soil Needs Improvement.
Typically, soil in most residential yards is compacted and depleted of organic matter, many gardens benefit from having the soil aerated using soil aerating tools.
While it’s a good idea to pinpoint specific areas of soil that need improvement—so that you can estimate how much compost you’ll need—there’s nothing wrong with just starting in.
Your efforts will be limited, to some extent, by how much organic material you generate in your yard, but seasoned gardeners quickly learn how to forage from other places.
If you’re lucky enough to have trees on your property, then you already have a wonderful source of leaves, the backbone of most backyard composting operations.
Space is another critical consideration when starting a composting project. The more compost you intend to make, the more space you’ll need for your pile.
You’ll also want to consider planning additional space for storing raw materials, composting tools and accessories.
Storage of tools becomes especially important if you expect to move beyond the few basic tools: a cart, composting fork, shovel, and pruners. Shredding or chipping equipment can be quite large, and will therefore require adequate space for safe operation, as well as storage.
The sooner you can harvest compost and add it to your soil, the sooner your soil will be able to serve your plants. For those who intend to manage their composting process and reap compost quicker, there are lots of methods and products specifically designed to speed decomposition.
While most are not necessary, some are quite helpful.
Take time to evaluate these products carefully before buying any of them.
As you add compost, you add fertility to the soil. The microbial life in organic matter, or humus, converts other soil elements into essential nutrients that plants need.
Fibrous humus also adds texture to your soil, and preserves precious air spaces for plant roots. Lastly, you add appropriate moisture to soil because the spongy humus absorbs and retains moisture for plants, while simultaneously draining excess away from plant roots.
Expect your composting system to change over time as you gain experience and find ever more uses for the wonderful compost that you produce. Our site can help you every step of the way. Use it as a resource to dip into from time to time or as a text to be read through from start to finish.