There are many benefits of using compost in your garden. It starts with diverting food waste from landfills and transforming it into something useful. By recycling organic materials, you can add valuable nutrients and organic matter to your garden — a lovely take on ‘you reap what you sow.’
But before we get into its many benefits, let’s dig into compost.
What is Compost?
“Compost is simply decayed organic matter,” according to GreenMatters.com. “A twig can be organic matter, but so can a banana peel. When you mix a bunch of these items together in a compost pile, they break down naturally into a nutrient-rich fertilizer that helps gardens grow.”
What can be Composted?
GreenMatters.com says the long list includes almost anything from the ground.
“Cucumber ends, apple cores, carrot peels, cantaloupe rinds, avocado pits, an old pumpkin leftover from Halloween — any vegetable or fruit scrap will do. But grains also sprout from soil, which means you can throw stale bread, cereal, and pasta in your compost heap, too.”
You can also add coffee grounds and filters, tea leaves, herbs, spices, nut and eggshells as well as cut flowers and plant trimmings – but you cannot compost animal products. That means no meat, fish, butter, cheese or milk. And no to your pet’s poop. It contains germs that can make people sick and may also contain harmful parasites. Pet poop can be composted, which can be a great green initiative, but it requires specific conditions to break down into a compost free of harmful bacteria, so keep it out of your vegetable garden compost.
The Benefits of Compost
Compost contains a full spectrum of essential plant nutrients, and in many ways it’s better than synthetic fertilizers. Some of the many benefits include:
- Compost contains macro and micronutrients often absent in store-bought fertilizer and unlike synthetic fertilizers, releases nutrients slowly. We’re talking over months or years.
- Adding healthy compost to your gardens brings pH levels to the optimum range which makes for happy plants.
- Compost improves poor soil. Compost helps bind clusters of soil particles, called aggregates, which hold nutrients and make the soil easier for you to work.
- Compost attracts “diverse life” to your soil, a benefit you can’t buy in a bottle. Bacteria, fungi, insects and worms support health plant growth. Bacteria, for instance, break down organics into nutrients plants can access. Makes sense that moving creatures like worms and insects keep your soil well aerated.
It Goes Beyond Your Garden
“Healthy soil (helps protect) our waters. Compost increases soil’s ability to retain water and decreases runoff (which) pollutes water by carrying soil, fertilizers and pesticides to nearby streams,” according to Compost Fundamentals. “Compost encourages healthy root systems which decrease runoff.”
Fun fact: a five per cent hike in organic material quadruples the water-holding capacity of soil. That means using less water on your garden.
There are countertop composters that transform food scraps into garden-friendly fertilizer in just a few hours. This one is made in Canada. Of course, you can also do it the old-fashioned way with a back yard compost pile, worm bins, or by using a compost tumbler.
We love this site because it breaks down how to get started with easy-to understand explanations.
Preparing Your Garden for Spring with Compost
If you already have compost ready to use, here are some tips from Jessica Hill, one of Plant a Seed & See What Grows Foundation's garden experts.
- For a New Gardener - Build a raised garden bed. You can make this or buy garden boxes. Just make sure it is made with untreated lumber. Creating a garden in a confined space allows you to fill it with healthy soil and compost which will nourish your plants.
- Clean Your Garden Tools - Yes, they’ll get dirty anyway! But it’s important to remove rust, sharpen edges and, in the spring, wipe tools down. This way you do not inadvertently spread fungus or insect eggs into your garden.
- Add Compost to Your Garden - “Compost is the greatest gift you can give to your soil. It replaces nutrients lost from the previous growing seasons, improves the soil structure and creates a friendly habitat for beneficial insects and microorganisms,” Hill says. “It is important to replenish the soil with compost at the beginning of every growing season, at the very least.”
She recommends layering one to two inches of compost on top of the soil and turning it under to a depth of about six inches prior to planting.