Can we talk about compost? It’s been on our minds since the first day of spring, and we’re keen on getting people to nerd out and talk dirty with us. Let’s start with what compost is first: organic matter that turns into fortified soil by decaying over time. Worms, bugs, and bacteria help this process along by using the decomposing organic matter for food and, in turn, make the soil replete with nutrients.
These composters need a little starting assistance in the process to keep decomposition running smoothly, but the action required on your part is small. As a matter of fact, compost starter is the stuff that was going in the trash anyway! Carbon and nitrogen-rich starting materials (grass clippings, old newspapers, cardboard, or dried leaves), water, and oxygen are all that’s needed. So, if you’re ready to become a horticultural hero, look over our pros and cons checklist of why gardeners should start composting.
- Soil structure improvement – a starting landscape can be hard-packed, sandy, loamy, or somewhere in between. By improving the texture and granularity of soil, it allows for better nutrient uptake and water retention, which means you get deeper roots and less water runoff*.
- Stable source of plant nutrients – just like the colorful cereal commercials of yesterday (with no added sugar or corporate branding) you can provide a balanced breakfast every day for your plants. Even a top-notch, double-certified-organic fertilizer can’t compete with the broad spectrum of heavy macro and micronutrients one gets from natural compost. Whether plants use a little or a lot, the nutrients you provide help slow soil exhaustion and provide the energy for plants season after season.
- Stimulating soil organisms large and small – Worms are the best neighbors you’ll ever have. They don’t throw midnight parties, never complain about your grass being too high, and chip in free soil aeration to boot. Try getting that from Larry next door who won’t even let you borrow a cup of flour. Microorganisms also love a great compost pile, as they help temper the decomposition rate. Abundant bacteria do most of the heavy chewing in a properly maintained compost heap. They use most of the available carbon and nitrogen to spread their numbers and aid in decomposition. Forget a lab petri dish, you’re making science in your own backyard!
- Exercise turning the pile – Maintaining a consistent turning schedule (every 3-4 days) gets you outside and moving as you adjust the zones in your pile. Besides, gardening gloves are basically weightlifting gloves, so get your reps in and break a sweat!
- The natural alternative to chemical fertilizers – if it isn’t evident by now, natural composting will save you money and spare the local ecology from chemical fertilizers with ballooning nutrient levels. There may be an increase in the plant yield, but this could lead to soil nutrient exhaustion in the long run.
- You literally get to eat something to help make it – enjoy that banana, apple, or orange twice! When you narrow the scope of what you can do to help the environment, you gain a deeper understanding of how the cycles and systems work. Food waste is just unused energy, so make every scrap count.
*Water runoff can be a nuisance in terms of rinsing unwanted materials into storm drains. For more info on how this affects local and downstream ecology, check out our rain garden blog post
CONS (this is a shorter list, we promise)
- Smells – Wouldn’t you know it, things dying in a pile left in the sun can leave a bit of a funk. However, most of the odor can be regulated by adjusting the balance of the compost (think about dear Goldilocks and her porridge). It is going to take active involvement to make sure the pile isn’t becoming compacted, which can lead to less aeration, or disrupting carbon and nitrogen levels by not properly layering the ingredients.
- Sights – H.O.A. is on your butt again about the eyesore mound at the corner of your house. You’ve tried explaining that you’re a horticultural alchemist making black gold to grow amazing plants for the good of the environment, but they’re not having any of it. Larry probably tattled because he’s jealous.
Greenscape Geeks is an Indianapolis landscaping company that has solutions to set your mind at ease. We’d love to coach you on the correct composting methods like turnover rate, green and brown balance, and zone management in your pile. Plastic compost bins can help tidy up the mess, but if you want a more natural look, Greenscape Geeks offers a composter building service that you can customize to your specific backyard space. We think unfinished wood is passe; we can jazz up the finish using natural alternative stains like coffee, vinegar, and light oils, making it the closest thing to a hot rod that a gardener could want! Patience is vital in waiting on the magical dark earth to come out of the pile, but Greenscape Geeks is happy to pack it full of ready-made compost for you to have a jump start. You’re on the verge of making one of the best decisions for the health of your yard and garden. Let Greenscape Geeks help you follow through with expert guidance and made-to-order compost bins. Check out our service page for requesting an estimate!
Greenscape Geeks, LLC
“Pros and Cons of Composting” Amy Grant and Mary H. Dyer
“The Science of Composting” Univ. of Illinois Extension Center