Compost piles are truly amazing; they are a perfect example of the circle of life. You dump a bunch of organic material into a dedicated spot, keep adding to it, turn it now and then, give it air, sunshine, and a bit of moisture if it gets too dry…and within a year or so you should have a whopping pile of fantastically healthy dirt.
And that’s just what we have. A busy, bustling, incredible little eco-system all our own in our alleyway. Last summer my husband built a compost bin behind our fenced yard and beside our new shed that he constructed from the ground up the previous summer. He’s very proud of that shed. It was a tear-down project from our sad little dilapidated garage that couldn’t be salvaged because the wood was mostly rotted away.
It took him about three months of diligent effort working on it during evenings and weekends to raise it up from nothing. It has all the characteristics of our 1920s Craftsman style Bungalow, including the absence of coverings on the eaves, roof supports for the overhang on the front and back of the shed, and the cedar-shake siding. And it really needed something to keep it company. Now it has a compost pile there as its companion.
Today my son and I went out to see what had become of our little compost pile. I wasn’t sure what to expect. As I do with a lot of projects in my home, I hadn’t done anything with the pile since we started it last summer. Not a single turn. I kept hearing that if you don’t turn it, you won’t have anything but half-decomposed material in the pile.
So naturally I was a little apprehensive at what I might find. But after a few minutes of shoveling and turning, I began to discover this gorgeous, rich soil beneath where the grass had started growing on the top. A few big roots here and there and some tomatoes, egg shells, and squash that hadn’t quite broken down yet. But otherwise, glorious, moist, healthy soil. I was so happy! What’s really great is that once again I proved to myself that with not much effort or money, I could create something quite amazing and good for my health.
I’m still in awe at nature’s cycles and how it really does take care of itself in a way that modern technology and science never could. This little pile (and actually, it’s really a pretty big little pile) of dirt is capable of sustaining life! I can use it in my garden and in my pots, and to grow my little seedlings that I started this week in the house for my garden when the frost finally stops for the season. Our dirt is replete with pill bugs (affectionately known as rolly-pollies), earthworms, and all the other necessary elements for healthy soil to make something grow.
It’s beautiful, moist, and rich – and that’s saying a lot for the typical dry, hard soils of southern Idaho which are known (infamously) for their frequent deposits of clay and sand. It reminds me of the expensive, acidic potting soils that western Oregon and Washington are so proud of, that people pay good money for at the garden center. Mine was practically free! The only cost was a little bit of lumber, wire, and all our leftover rotting produce and egg shells from our meals over the fall and winter.
So let’s review the benefits of a compost bin:
- You can share with your children how life renews itself in one of the simplest ways imaginable – by dumping your unwanted organic material in a pile and watching it transform itself into something that can sustain life. If that isn’t a lesson in sustainability, I don’t know what is!
- Having access to healthy, gorgeous dirt for all sorts of uses – gardening, planting, and endless other projects, all for the price some rotting vegetables and fruits.
- It’s a project you can work on with your family or neighbors, gain fellowship over an honest day’s work, and get your Vitamin D at the same time.
Here are some of the more technical benefits of composting (courtesy of Compost Fundamentals):
- Compost retains micro and macro nutrients often absent in synthetic fertilizers and soil compounds.
- Compost helps sandy soil retain nutrients and water better than without.
- Compost causes tightly bound particles in clay or silt soil to loosen so so plant roots can spread, water, drain, and air penetrate.
- Compost modifies the structure of soil, causing it to erode less and preventing spattering of soil on plants, which can be the cause of disease to spread.
- Compost holds nutrients tight enough to keep them from washing out, but loosely enough so plants can take them up as needed.
- Compost makes any soil easier to work.
- Compost releases nutrients slowly, over months or years, unlike synthetic fertilizers
- Compost provides a buffer to the soil and neutralizes both acid and alkaline soils, thus bringing pH levels to the optimum range for nutrient availability to growing plants.
- Compost brings a rich, diverse group of bacteria to feed the soil, also attracting the right type of worms, fungi, and insects to support the healthy growth of soil.
- Bacteria in compost break down organics into plant available nutrients. Some bacteria are capable of converting nitrogen from the air into a plant-available nutrient.
- Compost enriched soil have a wide variety of beneficial insects, worms, and other organisms that burrow through soil to keep it well aerated.
- Compost may suppress diseases and harmful pests that could overrun poor, lifeless soil.
- Compost increases the soil’s ability to retain water thereby decreasing runoff damage.
- Compost encourages the growth of healthy root systems which also decreases runoff.
- Composting can reduce or completely eliminate the need for use of synthetic fertilizers.
- Compost can reduce chemical pesticides since it contains beneficial micro organisms that may protect plants from diseases and pests (hmmm, that sounds like something else we know – could it be eating real food to keep ourselves healthy and avoid taking medications and antibiotics?)
- Only a 5 percent increase in organic material quadruples the water holding capacity of the soil
So what are you waiting for? If you have poor, lifeless soil in your yard or on your land, consider a compost pile as a start to begin the renewability of life in your corner of the world for cultivating and growing living things. Compost is where sustainable food comes from; it has made a believer out of me!