How-To

All You Should Know About Compost

Learn why this essential garden additive is so important to the health of your plants

Steven Ash, Bruce Williams

Composting is a common practice among gardeners who want their soil to be healthy and nutrient-rich. Composting is the natural process of recycling organic matter, such as food waste or leaves, into a valuable fertilizer that can enrich soil. It is a dark, crumbly, earthy-smelling material that is invaluable to the garden. In this video, Bill Olkowski, a specialist in integrated pest management and biological control of insects, explains why compost is good for your plants’ health and identifies the materials you’ll need to create a composting area in your own garden. 

Why you need compost

Compost is used for myriad reasons. It’s a wonderful way to reduce waste material that would normally go into a landfill and is also an important ingredient in your garden beds, especially if you want to grow food crops on any scale. Compost can be used as a mulch to smother weeds, and it can be used as a fertilizer. If you put compost on the surface of the ground, organisms within the soil will break it down and deliver the nutrient-rich by-product to plant roots. This often makes the plants grow better than if you were using synthetic fertilizer. 

Good materials to have on hand

To get the best compost, you’ll need to find good mulch. When used by itself, mulch is great at suppressing weeds, but it’s also a great additive for compost.  

Next there is sawdust, which absorbs moisture from food waste so you won’t get many flies. It reduces odors and provides a nitrogen-carbon balance to compost. 

Then there’s manure. It sounds unpleasant, but your plants will love it. Manure acts as a slow-release fertilizer that provides small amounts of nutrients over an extended time. 

The aerobic process for sterilizing waste into compost

Bill recommends making your compost using the “three-bin” method. For a small-scale garden, though, you just need two bins.  

You want your bins to hold in moisture, keep water and rain out, and keep heat in. You want your bins to heat up to 160°F to kill flies, pathogens, or any type of organism that’s inside. Only an active aerobic composting process can totally guarantee safe, healthy, mature compost.

A supplement to the 2013 edition of Common Sense Pest Control from Taunton Press.

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