The 6 Rules of Compost Gardening

Put the natural decomposition processes first, and the rest falls into place.

By Barbara Pleasant and Deborah L. Martin


Compost GardeningAs a compost gardener, you will do much more than simply make compost. While following these guidelines, you will no doubt invent even more ways to create compost in your yard and garden. As you do, keep in mind that the whole point of compost gardening is to put the natural decomposition processes first. From there on, everything else easily falls into place.

1. Choose labor-saving sites.

Keep your garden and compost as close to one another as possible. Compost in your garden whenever you can, or at least nearby. There is a catch, because while most garden plants grow best with plenty of sun, compost piles retain moisture best when situated in shade. Address this dilemma by using in-garden composting methods at every opportunity, and water as needed to keep the pile barely moist. Locate slow-rotting heaps in a shady spot near your garden, and site new garden beds close to your best area for making compost.

2. Work with what you have.

Compost what your yard produces first, and import materials only when they are convenient and of special value to your composting projects. Instead of yearning for materials you’ve heard make great compost, concentrate on doing the best job you can with compostable materials that you generate at home. Most landscapes produce plenty of fallen leaves, grass clippings, and withered plants; and kitchens spew out a steady supply of compostable riches. When you do want to bring in outside materials, start looking for them along the curbs in your neighborhood, and stick with other sources close to home. In addition to being convenient and efficient, using local materials takes a bite out of local waste disposal costs and saves you unnecessary compost miles.

3. Help decomposers do their jobs.

Compost happens thanks to the efforts of a vast population of organisms — from earthworms and pill bugs to microscopic fungi and bacteria — that live in, feed on, and otherwise process organic matter into nourishment for soil and plants. Creating optimal conditions for these essential composting critters is the key to your compost-making success. Keep them working by balancing compost ingredients between “greens” and “browns” adding high-nitrogen meals when needed and keeping compost materials moist. Additionally, you can aerate compost piles by turning them to stimulate microbial activity.

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