Composting 101: Scratching the Surface on Healthy Soil

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Written by guest blogger, Clara Beaufort of GardenerGigs.

Compost[ing]: Rich, nutrient filled soil formed by decaying organic matter. Used as an additive to gardens and beds and when planting trees and shrubs to enrich pre-existing soil.

That’s a down-and-dirty definition of the substance gardeners call “compost.” But there’s more to this miraculous material than meets the eye – or the nose, for that matter. Are you a gardening novice looking for a way to boost your physical or mental health? If so, then mulch can make your plants bloom like the proverbial rose. Let’s take a peek at this perennial topic and see what comes up.

The Source of Life is Over Your Head

Let’s start with an astronomy lesson. Did you know that all life on earth depends on the sun? It’s true. Let’s say you’re a carnivore. You eat meat because it has the stuff you need to power your body. The animals that produce the meat got their energy either from eating other critters or by feasting on stuff that grows in the ground.

This means that plants are the primary foodstuff on which animals, including you and I, ultimately depend. But where do the plants get their energy? They get it from sunlight. Everything goes back to that glowing yellow orb in the sky. Think of that the next time a solar eclipse comes around.

The point is that plants contain huge amounts of energy, even in their raw or partially digested forms. They release this power by decomposing, otherwise known as “rotting.” When this happens, living plants suck up the energy through their roots. This makes compost an essential ingredient in any healthy garden, whether it’s a single daisy in a pot or a thousand acres of flowers and veggies. What’s more, you can get lots of healthy exercise by making your own compost. Here’s how:

  • Set aside a spot in your yard for your compost pile. The area should measure 3-6 feet in each direction and form a square, more or less.
  • Cover the spot with hay, fallen leaves, or straw to a depth of a few inches.
  • Add stuff like coffee grounds, vegetable scraps, grass clippings, and/or poop produced by herbivores like chickens or cows. Aim for as much variety as possible. IMPORTANT: Never use fecal material from meat eaters, as these can contaminate your compost with toxic levels of iron and other minerals.
  • Mix in a few cupfuls of rich, brown soil. It’s fine to purchase a bag of dirt from your local hardware store for this purpose.
  • Add materials like wilted or dead flowers, weeds, peeled potato skins, watermelon rinds, apple cores, and green vegetables that are past their prime. Many gardeners use a bucket with lid to hold these items as they prepare meals or wash dishes
  • Sprinkle enough water on your pile to keep it soggy without drenching it. Rainwater might handle this step for you, depending on your local weather. Make sure excess rain can drain away from your compost, lest you end up with a swamp in your backyard.

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Here’s where the exercise comes into play. Making great compost means you will need to sink a shovel or pitchfork into your pile every week or two and turn it over several times so all the ingredients come together. It’s impossible to overdo this step, so feel free to mix your composting materials as long as you like. This is a perfect way to get a workout while laying the groundwork for a great garden. The composting process takes a few months, so it’s a good idea to work your pile year-round. Properly prepared compost will never turn your stomach with its odor. It releases a natural fragrance that most folks refer to as “earthy.” Basically, it smells like dirt.

When you’re ready to use your compost, scoop it into a wheelbarrow or other container and transport it to your planting site. This is another way to get natural, healthy exercise while tending your garden. Spread the material around the base of your plants and water the area to enrich the soil.

We should mention that making compost and other common gardening tasks can revive your mind as well as your body. That’s not just our opinion. It’s a proven fact. Human beings need to feel a sense of kinship with nature. Growing a garden is an ideal way to renew this ancient connection.

In this post we’ve only scratched the surface of this important topic. You’ll find lots more information online, at your local library, or by joining a garden club. So get ready for a harvest of good food and great health by letting things rot.

Thank you to our guest blogger, Clara Beaufort. Clara is a retired business owner, who currently works in community gardening. She operates GardenerGigs, which aims to connect local gardeners with those who need them.  

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