Scraps to Soil Amendment: The Benefits of Compost

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Sandy soil can be difficult to grow in because of the coarse texture that creates
large spaces between soil particles. This allows for quick drainage, lack of nutrient
holding capacity, and provides poor conditions for beneficial microorganisms. Many of our vegetable and ornamental plants are not well adapted to these conditions. However, there is good news! There is a cheap solution to solve or at least improve these problems. Compost! Often used by gardeners and farmers, compost can amend or improve the soil.


Compost in the simplest terms is decomposed organic material and composting is the process in which one gets the finished product, compost. Composting is an
environmentally-friendly way to recycle organic material such as kitchen scraps, animal manure (such as horse, chicken or rabbit), and yard clippings. If these materials end up in the landfill, they create a lot of methane gas because of the anaerobic environment created by mounding debris. Composted properly, natural materials produce little methane. It has been found that food residuals make up 21% of the waste being thrown away so you can imagine the environmental impact of “throwing away” large amounts of organic material such as yard waste.

There are two basic forms of composting: cold and hot. Cold composting requires
less management and consists of gathering leaves into a pile and letting them decay on their own. Food waste can be added, but it should be buried within the pile so it doesn’t attract pests. Eventually, in about a year, the compost will be ready for use in the landscape. While this method has low input energy, there are some disadvantages. Cold composting takes a very long time, it may attract pests, and weed seeds and pathogens will not be destroyed because of the pile’s low temperature.

CompostHot composting uses the combination of heat and microorganisms to break down plant material. The heat is created by the microorganisms through the natural process of breaking down organic matter. When done properly, the end product will be a fine medium with the texture, consistency, and smell of a very healthy soil. Hot composting requires more management, but it is significantly faster than cold composting and has the potential to get hot enough to kill weed seeds and pathogens.

Hot composting is by no means a complicated process, but there are a few rules
to abide by. The pile needs air, water, a 2:1 ratio of “browns” to “greens”, and be large enough to enable the process to occur. Composting is an aerobic process (meaning it requires oxygen) and needs ventilation. This is why it is recommended to turn compost weekly, in order to get oxygen into the interior of the pile. Decomposition of materials will be slow if the pile is too dry or too wet. The compost should be 40-60% moisture. “Greens” and “browns” refer to materials high in nitrogen and carbon. Nitrogen rich materials include lawn clippings and kitchen food scraps while carbon refers to materials such as leaves or sticks. The pile should be at least 3 cubic square feet in order to get to – and sustain – a sufficiently high temperature.

Adding organic matter to soil has many benefits including supplementing
nutrients, improving water holding capacity and soil structure, providing a home for
beneficial microorganisms, and can reduce soil moisture evaporation and suppress
weeds if used as a mulch. Composting is a cheap and low maintenance way to both recycle nutrients and improve soil and takes up little space in the landscape.