Iron Earth Canada

Learn How to Compost

Hands stretched out holding rich composted soil

What if I were to tell you that there is a magical substance, a soil superhero, that has the capacity to not only solve most of your gardening related dilemmas, but literally save the planet? And what if I were to tell you that you could create this substance with virtually no change to your current lifestyle? In fact, you are probably already creating this substance simply by being a functioning and consumptive human being.

What is the name of this substance, you ask? In a word: Compost. Yes, beloved compost, a soil superhero with an undeservedly bad reputation.

What is compost?

So let’s talk about this bad boy of the soil… Deemed by some as stinky and putrid rot, compost is, in reality, a healing life force. By definition, compost is simply a smorgasbord of organic matter such as leaves, grass clippings and food scraps left to decompose, with the end result being humus, a synergistic array of magical substances that give soil its structure, allow it to hold water and increase its nutrient and mineral bio-availability for plants.

Composting 101

There is a plethora of information on composting and, like all great topics, some of it is very in-depth and a tad intimidating for even a relatively experienced gardener. In looking for some simple advice on composting, one can suddenly be overwhelmed with talk of carbon to nitrogen ratios, soil PH & temperature, water levels and aeration.

But the truth is, one can create a beautiful and rich humus by simply tossing waste onto a small plot of ground and never tending to it in any way. Such is the brilliance of Mother Nature.

There is no need to buy a composting container or needlessly stress about nutrient ratios – it’s as simple as taking out the trash… actually it’s simpler: it’s condoned and encouraged littering. Want compost? Do some yard work. Rake leaves and cut (untreated) grass into a pile and don’t pick them up… Take a break from raking and read the newspaper. When you’re done reading, throw the newspaper onto the pile… Have a snack and throw that banana peel onto the pile… The end result of this slovenliness? A tiny majestic compost heap and soon-to-be healed plot of planet.

So, again, you can reap the miraculous benefits of compost with virtually no effort. If you want to hasten the process, however, here are a few helpful tips:

What can be composted?

Firstly, only organic items should be composted. Any vegetation that has been treated with pesticide and/or herbicides should not be added because, unfortunately, these poisons do not break down and will, if added to your garden or soil, kill plant life and beneficial microorganisms. The same goes for diseased plants: don’t add diseased plants to a compost pile in order to avoid infecting new growth with diseases and pathogens.

Secondly, although we want to avoid the stress of worrying about proper carbon to nitrogen waste ratios, for optimal decomposition, most literature suggests a 30:1 ratio of carbon waste to nitrogen waste (i.e., C:N ratio). What does this mean exactly? Decomposing microbes tend to work best when fuelled with a properly balanced diet of carbon-rich brown matter such as dried leaves, dried grasses and cardboard and nitrogen-rich sources such as green plant matter, fresh grasses and well-chopped produce peels.

According to Chris McLaughlin of the Vertical Vegetable Garden, to simplify the math even further, adhering to the Master Gardener’s 1:1 ratio or 50:50 rule - adding 50 percent brown material and 50 percent green material – will still yield great results.

    Thirdly, it is helpful to aerate or turn a compost pile over, and keep it moist (i.e., with a moisture level akin to a wrung-out sponge). A well-aerated compost that is moist will provide the ideal environment for aerobic (i.e., oxygen-loving) decomposers to do what they do best: transform organic refuse into a rich resource for new growth.

    And finally, it is always important to remember that soil and plant health is a synergistic process; numerous factors influence and determine a thriving ecosystem. There is no question, however, that the addition of organic composted matter to soil with a balanced mineral profile will help plants to prosper. So start composting those scraps today for superior soil and spectacular growth!

    Check out our next post, DIY Compost Bin, to learn how to make your own compost bin at home. We also break down a list of all of the green and brown materials that you can compost.