Are you looking for the easiest way to become a gardening virtuoso? Save the eco-friendly garbage bags for the real trash, and put your food scraps in the compost bin instead. Here are 8 reasons gardeners should be composting at home.
Composting is your ticket to magnificent marigolds or picture-perfect peppers. And composting is so much simpler than you may think. Your green thumb will be unmistakable as you wave at your neighbors when they run to the store to buy peat moss or fertilizer.
Read on for all the great reasons gardeners should be composting at home.
As you already know, your plants need three essential nutrients to thrive. These nutrients — nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium — are collectively known by their chemical symbols, NPK. Commercial fertilizers most commonly contain these three nutrients — and only those nutrients.
But your plants need more nutrients than just NPK. Compost goes beyond commercial fertilizers by providing a more complete collection of minerals that will make your plants healthiest. These nutrients include copper, calcium, iron and zinc, among others.
There is one important caveat about solely relying on compost for your plants’ nutrients. Compost tends to contain less NPK than commercial fertilizers. However, the nutrients in compost will last longer than those in fertilizer. This fact, along with the inclusion of secondary nutrients, usually means most gardeners don’t have to add fertilizer to their composted soil.
Have you ever taken a vitamin C supplement because you have a cold? Or sipped on chicken soup when you’re feeling under the weather? Just like with humans, nutrients help plants resist disease. But compost keeps plants free of pests and other ills in more ways, too.
Fungi found in compost produce antibiotics that keep plants healthy. We all know penicillin comes from mold, a form of fungus. In fact, many of the early antibiotics were grown from soil samples containing beneficial fungi.
If you haven’t been living under a rock in your garden, you’ve probably heard about probiotic supplements for good health. These beneficial bacteria keep us healthy, in part, because they crowd out the bad bacteria. The good bacteria in compost does the same for plants.
Sometimes soil has too much clay or too much sand. The structure of both of these soil types causes water to either drain away or saturate the ground. Either way, your plants won’t grow well if the soil in your area contains too much sand or clay.
But when you mix compost with your soil, you improve the soil’s structure. This is because the organisms in compost excrete a mucus that causes particles to bind together. The resulting lumps of soil are of varying sizes. These lumps hold water and nutrients, while the air pockets between them allow the plant’s roots to grow longer and stronger.
It isn’t just your plants that love compost. All the little critters that live underground and benefit your garden also love compost. The spaces between particles make it easier for them to get around. Compost also contains food particles for these organisms. As they eat, they release even more nutrients for your plants.
Compost also supports the growth of beneficial fungi. We’ve already talked about how fungi create disease-fighting antibiotics for your plants. Some fungi go even further by forming a symbiotic relationship with the plant’s root system. The fungi forms “strings” that act as a type of second root that helps the plants absorb water and nutrients from farther away. In turn, the roots provide the fungi with carbohydrates.
If gardeners ever had a nemesis, it’s pH.
pH denotes the acidic or alkaline nature of soil and influences everything from how well microbes survive to how well plants can absorb nutrients through their roots. Most plants thrive in a near-neutral pH level of around 7.
As most gardeners know, reaching that magic level requires frequently testing the soil and purchasing various products to balance the pH. This is because the commercially available fixes for pH soil balance can only tip the scale one way. You need a different product if your soil is acidic than you would if your soil were alkaline.
Compost helps take the work out of balancing your garden soil’s pH level. The pH neutral compost will bring your compost to a state of pH bliss, no matter if it’s too acidic or too alkaline.
Now that you know all about the benefits of using compost, you may be thinking about bagging your food scraps in 30-gallon compostable trash bags and just finding a place that sells compost. Instead, let us list all the great reasons to make your own compost.
- Making your own compost is easy and inexpensive. You can purchase an easy-to-maintain compost bin for less than the cost of a year’s worth of fertilizer. You only need to spend a few minutes each week turning your compost and adding water.
- You’ll know what’s in your compost. If you’re using your compost for gardening, then you’ll want to make sure it doesn’t contain any weed clippings or diseased plants. Weeds and pathogens can survive to infect your garden.
- Composting is an easy way to dispose of your yard clippings and food waste. And why is composting better than tossing your food scraps in the garbage? We’re glad you asked.
Did you know that methane is a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide? When you throw your food scraps into the trash, they end up in the landfill where they release dangerous amounts of methane into the atmosphere.
In the U.S., 15 percent of human-generated methane comes from landfills, which amounts to the yearly equivalent of more than 20 million cars.
But composting yard waste and food scraps don’t produce such devastating amounts of methane. You can help fight climate change when you use composting to keep your organic waste out of landfills.
For an environmental benefit closer to home, composting protects waterways in two ways. First, you’re less likely to need pesticides and other synthetic chemicals to keep pests and diseases out of your garden. Second, any chemicals you do apply are less likely to run off into neighboring streams or underground wells.
Or maybe grow a giant peach. Whether you’re interested in sprouting bragging rights or cultivating cucumbers, composting is the single easiest way to improve your garden.
Adding compost to your garden’s soil bestows some serious benefits to your flowers and plants. Soil mixed with compost you make at home will keep your plants healthy while reducing your workload. And composting is much easier on your wallet than fertilizer and pesticides. It’s easier on the environment, too. When you start composting at home, you’re doing your part to make sure future generations can enjoy gardening as much as you do.