Compost

We’ve scoured the web, sifted through the rubbish, and hand-picked the best tips and information on how to compost we could find. Enjoy!

We continually add to this section, so please check back often. Also, you can share tips and ask questions over at our Composting Forum page.

The Dirty Truth About Soil Health

Soil HealthIt’s a point we’ve made often: healthy soil is the key to organic gardening. Whether you’re growing vegetables, ornamentals, or a lush, durable lawn, the health of your soil is what makes it all possible.

Healthy soil is living soil, filled with billions of microbes and beneficial, microscopic fungi; nematodes, earthworms and other beneficial organisms. It’s alive. Frank Tozer, in The Organic Gardeners Handbook says that growing plants is the secondary activity of the organic grower. The first? Growing soil. Grow soil full of organic material from compost, full of living organisms, and the other necessary ingredients plants require, and growing gardens, without chemical fertilizers and the use of pesticides and herbicides to control problems,  becomes vastly easier. (more…)

Composting Manure

Cow ManureHere’s a question we’ve been thinking about: why compost manure? It’s one of those questions we felt we knew the answer to — and we did — but that a reconsideration brought up all the variables and exceptions we’ve either learned from experts or from our own hard experience. So let’s deconstruct. Does all manure need to be composted before being used in the garden? If so, what’s the best ways to compost it? And finally, what about chickens?

We bring that last bit up because more and more people, both in the country and in cities, are keeping chickens. And chickens, er, emit some of the richest manure a gardener could hope for, high in nitrogen and phosphorous and full of other nutrients. Best is the fact that a chicken’ digestive system kills weed seeds — 98%! — that might otherwise be spread to the garden. Fresh chicken manure needs to be composted because it contains so much nitrogen that it will discourage germination of many vegetable seeds and burn young seedlings. Which ones? Ironically, it’s those that require a lot of nitrogen later on as they grow. (more…)

Is Your Compost Made of Sewage Sludge?

Biosolids in CompostThe Dirty Truth About Biosolids

By Bill Kohlhaase, Planet Natural

Compost is rightly celebrated as the perfect soil amendment and a great way to recycle green waste. But not all compost is created equal. In fact, commercial compost based on “biosolids” or sewage sludge can be downright dangerous.

You know what biosolids are, right? Solids made from bio materials, just what the term suggests. One can’t help but think of Shakespeare, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Except biosolids don’t smell so sweet. And what’s in this name is otherwise known as shit. (more…)

Worm Castings Wiggle Into the Spotlight

Red Wiggler WormThe mainstream press is catching up with what we organic gardeners already know. This article in The New York Times details new research showing that worm castings help plants “grow with more vigor, [making] them more resistant to disease and insects, than those grown with other types of composts and fertilizers.”  One of the big reason for this is one we’ve long championed: microbes.

The story quotes Norman Q. Arancon, an assistant professor of horticulture at the University of Hawaii at Hilo, who says that “the earthworm’s digestive process, it turns out, is a really nice incubator for microorganisms.” Here’s the take-away from this part of the story:

. . . these microbes, which multiply rapidly when they are excreted, alter the ecosystem of the soil. Some make nitrogen more available to plant roots, accounting for the increased growth. The high diversity and numbers of microbes outperform those in the soil that cause disease.

Arancon also points out a fact that’s Bible and verse to organic growers: soil that’s seen heavy use of artificial fertilizers and pesticides is deficient in these microbes. This is why compost, which is technically not a fertilizer, is such a valuable amendment. It infuses the soil with microbes which make it easier for plants to use the nitrogen and other nutrients that are already there. And it fights plant disease. (more…)

Taking A Tumble: Making A Tumbling Composter Work For You

Compost TumblerBy Bill Kohlhaase, Planet Natural

For years, I composted in heaps. Three piles — collected, turned, finished — three years from pitching it in to shoveling it out. And then I took a tumble.

Yes, a tumbling composter has changed my life. No longer do I wait several seasons to have rich, rewarding, garden-ready organic material to spread around my plants, add to my growing containers and enrich my precious, precious soil. No longer do I have to listen to my true love’s complaints — and, believe me (yes, dear), they’re well-informed complaints if just a bit misguided — that my piles are unsightly, surrounded by clouds of insects, odiferous (I call it “green perfume”), and offend the neighbors. Best of all, no longer do I strain my back turning the heaps with a garden fork or transferring compost from one heap to the next. Now, my compost is turned twice a week — or more — without back strain. How? By using a compost tumbler. (more…)

Soda Bottle Composting (MicroComposting)

Soda Bottle CompostingSoda bottle composting lets people watch the decomposition process happen in a bottle they can hold in their hands. It’s usually done in clear soda bottles, which are cheap, easily available, relatively indestructible and transparent. Since the volume of compost produced is so small, it’s a lousy way to generate compost for the garden. However, if you want to show your children or your students what happens in a compost pile, this is a great way to do it.

Putting a micro-composter together is the work of an afternoon, but the composting process takes a couple of months. For teachers, it’s not an especially good project for the last week of school. But it’s an excellent one for the slow winter months. If the school has a garden on which compost will be applied in the spring, this project gives students a hands-on understanding of the stuff they’re spreading over the soil. In an urban setting, the micro-composter lets children see processes that might otherwise remain completely foreign to them.

Overview

Micro-composters are constructed from either two or three two-liter soda bottles cut apart so they can be filled with solid material and then fitted back together securely. Holes are punched to aerate the contents, and the bottles are filled with a mixture of damp organic materials before being closed and insulated. At this point, composting begins. (more…)

Home Composting

Home CompostingOne of the loveliest aspects of nature is that everything in it has a use — the nasty, rotting zucchini as well as the lavender sprouting scented blossoms in the backyard. Home composting can take some of our leftovers, waste and unwanted extras and turn them into fertile soil to boost the productivity of gardens and landscapes. Here we show you how to make compost.

What is compost?

Compost is decomposed organic material that is produced when bacteria in soil break down garbage and biodegradable trash, resulting in a product rich in minerals that is an ideal garden or landscaping amendment.

Why compost?

• For one, it’s free. You get to use kitchen waste, lawn clippings, leaves and other vegetation that would otherwise get thrown away. In fact, you might even save money on landfill fees.

• Potting mixes and soils that are rich in compost produce vigorous plants regardless of whether you’re growing vegetables, growing herbs or organic rose gardening. (more…)

Worm Composting

Worm CompostingThe Dirty Truth About Vermicomposting

Composting with worms (a.k.a. vermicomposting) is the proverbial win-win situation. It gives you a convenient way to dispose of organic waste, such as vegetable peelings. It saves space in the county landfill, which is good for the environment. It gives worms a happy home and all the free “eats” that they could want. For those that have gardens or even potted plants, homegrown compost is a great way to feed and nurture plants.

Vermiculture, which some advocates have dubbed “the organic garbage disposal,” recycles food waste into rich, dark, earth-smelling soil conditioner. It’s such great stuff that Planet Natural sells a variety of organic compost that ranges in price from $5.95 to $13.95 as well as potting soil that contains compost. (more…)

Composting Tips

Composting BarrelWhether you’re new to home gardening or a seasoned expert, our collection of 30 composting tips should help. Enjoy!

1. Old shipping pallets make great compost bins. Begin with one flat on the ground. Drive two metal support poles into the ground on each side. Slide other pallets over each support and your bin is complete.

2. Stinky compost pile? This is probably due to an overabundance of anaerobic microbes, enthusiastically breaking down your compost, but creating quite a funk in the process. To cut down on the smell, fluff the pile regularly, creating air spaces and limiting the anaerobic microbes while stimulating the less smelly aerobic microbes. (more…)

What’s In Commercial Compost

Commercial Compost… and why you should make your own.

When the State of California required Los Angeles to reduce its landfill waste, the city had the perfect solution. Compost! A large percentage of what went into the dumps came from lawns, gardens and parks. By collecting green waste, composting it and marketing it back to the public, the City not only reduced its waste by half, it made money to boot. The commercial compost was sold by the yard to large growers and landscape services as well as in attractive bags at select home, garden and grocery stores. The program more than paid for itself. Win-win!

Then the reports started coming in. Growers of tomatoes, peas and other vegetables noticed they were losing crops. Sunflowers and daisies died. The culprit was found to be Clopyralid, a widely-used dandelion herbicide, found to be present in the City-manufactured compost. Suddenly compost programs in Los Angeles, Spokane and other parts of the country came to a halt as the “contaminated compost” scandal spread. (more…)

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