When you look at the “ingredients” to growing a successful garden, there are a range of elements that work together, including the right amount of sunlight, sufficient water, and soil quality. There are many benefits of composting, which include maintaining and enhancing that soil quality. In this article, I’m going to explain why adding compost to your property should be a regular item on your gardening to-do list.
The organic matter you spread on your gardens and lawn may be compost you make yourself in a pile or by using a composter. The compost you use could also be purchased in bags at your local garden center. Labels can vary, from horse or sheep manure to “organic vegetable compost.” Depending on the size of your garden, you may need a delivery. In the spring, depending on where you live, many municipalities have free compost days, which are worth looking into.
Keep in mind that different types of compost have slightly different nutrient contents. A soil test will help you determine any specific deficiencies in your soil.
The benefits of composting
Composting can describe actually making compost and also the act of putting compost into the garden or on your lawn. Jessica has written a helpful article on the science behind making your own compost successfully.
Any green thumb who has spread “garden gold” in their vegetable garden has seen—and tasted—first-hand the product of growing in nutrient-rich, healthy soil. Besides the results-based benefits of composting you can see, I’m also going to talk about a few of the environmental advantages.
Compost improves soil structure and fertility
Compost adds micronutrients, as well as nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, which are essential to plant growth, to the soil. It also helps the soil to retain moisture for plants and reduces nutrient leaching. Strong plant roots can develop in healthy soil, allowing the plants to be able to absorb nutrients more efficiently. Compost also helps the soil retain those nutrients for a longer period of time. Healthy soil and the plants that grow in it are also better at warding off various pests and diseases.
Compost increases the amount of valuable microorganisms in the soil
The humus you add to a garden is teeming with microorganisms, like good bacteria and fungi. These decompose organic matter and work to aerate the soil. Beneficial soil organisms also work to suppress pathogens.
Composting adds nutrients to soil in between successive crops
When I give my Raised Bed Revolution talks, one of my tips (after amending your soil in spring or fall), is to keep some bags of compost on hand. (Or, a reserve from your compost pile.) When you harvest crops in the middle of the growing season, say garlic or peas, you will be pulling out some of the soil from the garden. Those plants will also have depleted some of the nutrients. Adding compost to your vegetable garden before succession planting late-summer or fall crops will put valuable nutrients that those new plants will need to thrive back into the soil.
I also add compost to my raised beds at the end or beginning of the season. It’s great to do this task in the fall so the beds are ready to plant early-spring crops. But you can add it in the spring, as well. Spread a layer before you’re ready to sow vegetable seeds or dig in plants.
Compost helps to amend hard-packed or sandy soil
One of the benefits of composting is that it can improve even the most challenging soils over time. Rather than tilling hard-packed soil, which can disturb the web of activity from microorganisms, adding a layer every year will eventually work to transform it into loose, friable soil. Adding compost can also amend sandy soils, holding in moisture for the plants to access, rather than quickly draining away.
Composting can eliminate the need for chemical lawn fertilizer
Top-dressing your lawn with compost cuts out the need for chemical fertilizers. Consequently, these chemicals, as well as chemical pesticides, can be washed into our sewer systems and waterways. Compost’s slow-release nutrients can help your lawn thrive and allow you to garden organically.
Compost can help with soil erosion
Heavy storms can wreak havoc on a garden or yard. Adding compost can help minimize soil erosion. It can help loosen heavy soils and increase water retention in sandy soils. The US Composting Council refers to compost as a soil “glue” (in a good way!) that works to hold soil particles together.
Composting diverts materials from landfills
According to the Compost Council of Canada, biodegradable material, such as food waste, makes up approximately 40 percent of the residential waste stream in Canada. Composting food scraps, whether in a compost bin or in a Bokashi composting system, reduces the amount of trash that goes into landfills and diverts it to your garden. This can reduce carbon dioxide and methane emissions, a potent greenhouse gas. Plus, nutrients go to waste when they decompose in a landfill.
If your compost pile doesn’t have organic waste, you can make leaf mold from your fall leaves, grass clippings, twigs, and other yard trimmings. Finding a use for dead leaves also reduces the need to purchase brown paper yard bags to put at the curb, if that’s how your yard waste is collected. Those leaves are a valuable garden commodity!
Compost can be used to amend perennial gardens
Years ago, when I first started gardening, I would buy black earth to freshen up the look of my perennial garden beds. It made them look so neat and tidy. However I quickly learned that there really aren’t any nutrients in those bags. A gardener is much better off adding an inch or two of compost to increase the presence of the aforementioned beneficial nutrients and microbes in the soil.
I also use compost when planting spring flower bulbs in the fall. I’ll mix a bit into the hole and also spread some around the planting area. And my garlic bed also gets a healthy dose of compost to amend the soil after a summer of growing vegetable crops.
Composting can be used in environmental projects
On a larger scale, compost helps with restoring wetlands and habitat affected by poor soil. And it helpsin areas where trees are being replanted. It can also help with remediating soil that’s been contaminated with hazardous waste.
Find more articles that prove the benefits of composting
- Garden soil amendments: 6 organic choices to improve your soil
- Soil pH and why it matters
- How to build a wormbin
- DIY compost bin: Quick and easy ideas for making your own compost bin