Jeannette Compton

Article Summary:

The benefits of composting are outlined in this general article on why and how to begin composting for your garden.

The Benefits of Composting

Compost is one of the best things you can do for your flower and vegetable garden. Using home and yard wastes to improve soils in your garden soil is both simple and offers a variety of benefits to the gardener, both in the garden and beyond. Compost serves as a cure-all to soil problems, breaking up heavy clay soil, improving water and nutrient holding abilities of sandy soil, and helping soil everywhere in between that spectrum of soil. Compost is a great way to improve a planting bed or vegetable garden before planting, or can be applied to existing gardens for a boost as mulch that slowly breaks down and improves soil. Beyond all of the great things that compost does, best of all, its free. Here's a simple guide to making and using compost in your garden.

Compost can be made out of basically anything that was living. The following compost very easily:

  • Grass clippings,
  • leaves from the fall,
  • pulled out weeds,
  • kitchen scraps (but not bones, meat or fatty foods like salad dressing).
The more broken up the material is, the faster it will compost.

There are many options for storing all of your material while it composts, ranging from making large piles to plastic bins that allow you to turn the compost. What works best for you depends on how much volume you have, how much effort you want to put into composting, and how quickly you want the compost. Compost bins are sold in many gardening catalogues and stores. Making your own bin is pretty simple as well, and instructions are available online or from cooperative extension offices. Just make sure that whatever you use, you are able to turn your compost occasionally so that it gets enough air.

The keys to composting successfully are to make sure there is enough air in the compost for it to be broken down, and the pile is large enough to heat up. If properly aerated, your compost will never smell. Through the process of breaking down, microbial action gets so hot that the compost is sterilized, killing weed seeds and plant diseases if present. The whole process of converting your kitchen and garden scraps can take 6 weeks if using a turning compost bin, or 6 months to two years if using a simple pile. Once done, the compost will be crumbly, have no resemblance to the material that went into the compost, and smell like soil.

Completed compost has a variety of uses. When starting a flower bed, or to revive a vegetable bed every year, compost improves the soil texture, aerates the soil, adds nutrients, and holds moisture in overly drained soils. Holding water and providing nutrients translate to less work for you, as watering and fertilizing are needed less often. Compost also provides micronutrients, which are necessary for plant growth but almost always absent from commercial fertilizers. As a mulch, it can hold water in the soil, and as it breaks down adds nutrients. Used over the winter, it can protect sensitive plants from the cold. Research is being conducted to explore the possibility that compost helps with plant disease resistance. Compost is a great way to reduce your waste as well, which helps the planet and nature everywhere. And composting is a great example of nature working for you, for free.

Jeannette S. Compton is pursuing a master's degree in Urban Ecology from the Horticulture Department of Cornell University. She also holds a bachelor's degreen in landscape architecture, also from Cornell. A gardener her entire life, Jeannette is interested in the environmental aspects of gardening and how ecology and landscape architecture can be married to better urban spaces. For more information see Jeannette's student profile.

Read all advice by Jeannette Compton; Find more Gardening experts

More advice on Gardening
» Budget Gardening
» Gardening on a Budget
» all Gardening articles