The Compost Connection
Almost ten thousand years ago, in the Mesopotamian Valley, humans began cultivating plants, and agriculture was born. From there it spread to Egypt, China and the fertile crescent, and before long it was discovered that adding organic material like grass, leaves, straw, and animal waste to the soil, greatly increased the harvest. Today, we know why...
All living beings require carbon and nitrogen to flourish; carbon for food, and nitrogen for building cell tissue. Green plant material, like leaves and grass clippings are full of nitrogen, and dry, brown plant material, like straw, fall leaves, and wood shavings or saw dust is full of carbon. In a compost pile, billions of bacteria, fungi, actinomycetes, protozoa, rotifers, arthropods, mites, and nematodes thrive and multiply as they feed on the organic materials added to the pile. The result is healthy, living humus, beneficial to plant growth.
Compost improves soil structure by creating pore space for air and water to enter the root zone. It provides habitat for a number of organisms beneficial to plant life, but most notably fungi, which form mychorrhizal threads that unite with root tips to deliver nutrients from a far greater range, and even act to protect plants from parasites. Compost also attracts earthworms, which tunnel through the humus ingesting bacteria, decomposing organic matter, and minerals, fertilizing the soil as they go, leaving their nutrient rich castings, (worm poop,) behind them.
When one digs into a compost pile or opens a properly tended composter and receives that scent of fresh, aerobically decomposing organic matter, there is something mystical that touches the soul; something very basic about nature and the cycle of life. Ecological interdependence and true spirituality are closely related. I spent many years seeking my place in the universe by searching the heavens, religious scriptures, and my inner self, when all along the answer was just beneath my feet.
On the practical side, a composter is a great way to recycle yard waste and shredded paper while making a rich organic soil amendment for the flower bed or vegetable garden. Kitchen scraps may also be composted, but it is best to bury them deep in the pile to deter vermin, flies, and other unwanted animal visitors. Crows love to tear apart a compost pile to get to the scraps!
For a better way to compost kitchen scraps, see the next page...
Good Composting is best acheived with a little knowledge of chemistry. It is important to maintain a 33 to 1 carbon to nitrogen ratio and between a 35 to 55% moisture content within the composter.
Simply stated, add an equal amount of "greens", like grass clippings, to an equal amount of "browns," like dried leaves or straw. Then moisten until a handful will yield one or two drops of water when squeezed tightly.
Just before this photo was taken, a three inch layer of green garden waste and grass trimmings were added, then covered with a three inch layer of wood chips.
The photo at left shows biologically active, finished compost spilling from the bottom of the same composter in the photo above.
Adding a two inch layer of this finished compost on top of the layers of greens and browns really speeds up the process, helping the materials in the composter to reach the optimum temperature of 160 degrees required to kill weed seeds and plant pathogens.
Organic nitrogen supplements, like bloodmeal, cottonseed meal, or alfalfa pellets, can also be added to heat up a cool composter.
In addition to replenishing nutrients, providing habitat for beneficial soil organisms, and improving soil structure, compost helps purify polluted soils by chemically binding harmful chemicals and heavy metals, preventing them from running off or leaching into groundwater. Also, certain fungi found in compost containing wood chips, bark and twigs are able to break the molecular bonds of some potentially toxic chemicals, simplifying them into harmless components.
If there is any one best thing that we humans can do to care for planet earth, it is to continually recycle our organic wastes and return them to the soil as compost.
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