Composting and its benefits

Marianne Furtado de Nazareth

Compost enriches soil, helping retain moisture, suppress plant diseases, pests, reduces the need for chemical fertilizers and beneficial bacteria and fungi break down organic matter to create rich nutrients

I am just back from visiting my sons who live in the UK and the US. It is Fall weather and the trees are shedding their leaves. Their lawns were covered with leaves and for a while they would collect them and throw them out with their garden waste. In the weeks I stayed with them they learned how to compost and mulch those leaves to be used in their garden, for their plants.


Lady finger growing in Tennessee

So what is this compost which by the way plants love and thrive in and you can get for free. Compost is organic material that can be added to soil to help plants grow. Vegetable food scraps and yard waste currently make up 20 to 30 percent of what we throw away, and should be composted instead. Making compost keeps these materials out of landfills where they take up space and release methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Infact one son used the compost he made to grow Okra or Lady finger this year and got a good crop out of a dozen plants ( see picture)

Here are a few Composting Basics for beginners.

All composting requires three basic ingredients: Browns – This includes materials such as dead leaves, branches, and twigs.

Greens – This includes materials such as grass clippings, vegetable waste, fruit scraps, and coffee grounds.

Water – Having the right amount of water, greens, and browns is important for compost development.

Your compost pile should have an equal amount of browns to greens. You should also alternate layers of organic materials of different-sized particles. The brown materials provide carbon for your compost, the green materials provide nitrogen, and the water provides moisture to help break down the organic matter. My sons use the blower to gather the leaves and then use the lawn mower to shred them, making that easier to mulch in those countries.


Anthuriums grow lush in compost

These are the ingredients one can add to the compost pile: Fruits and vegetables, Eggshells, Coffee grounds and filters, Tea bags, Nut shells, Shredded newspaper, Cardboard, Paper, garden trimmings, Grass clippings, dead Houseplant leaves, Dryer and vacuum cleaner lint, Hair and fur.

So what are the benefits of Composting?

Compost enriches soil, helping retain moisture and suppress plant diseases and pests. Reduces the need for chemical fertilizers. It encourages the production of beneficial bacteria and fungi that break down organic matter to create humus, a rich nutrient-filled material. It reduces methane emissions from landfills and lowers your carbon footprint

So how does one compost at Home?

There are many different ways to make a compost pile. Helpful tools include pitchforks, square-point shovels or machetes, and water hoses with a spray head. Dig a hole in a corner of your back yard and fill it with your vegetable waste.  Regular mixing or turning of the compost and some water will help break down the compost quickly for use.


Colourful Heliconias

Backyard Composting

Select a dry, shady spot near a water source for your compost pile or bin. Add brown and green materials as they are collected, making sure larger pieces are chopped or shredded. Moisten dry materials as they are added. Once your compost pile is established, mix grass clippings and green waste into the pile and bury fruit and vegetable waste under 10 inches of compost material. When the material at the bottom is dark and rich in colour, your compost is ready to use. This usually takes anywhere between two months to two years. In India the waste breaks down faster with the addition of a slurry of gobar or the addition of earthworms.

Indoor Composting

If you do not have space for an outdoor compost pile, you can compost materials indoors using a special type of bin, which you can buy at a local hardware store, or make yourself. Remember to tend your pile and keep track of what you throw in. A properly managed compost bin will not attract pests or rodents and will not smell bad. Your compost should be ready in two to five weeks. Add a few earthworms and wet the pile off and on to speed up the process.


Maiden hair fern

All article images credit: Marianne Furtado de Nazareth

Featured image: solylunafamilia/Flickr Photos/ Creative Commons