Make Organic Compost for Your Garden

Making and using organic compost improves the overall health of your garden. Includes essential steps for composting, how to use compost, benefits of composting, and materials to use for composting.

| September/October 1986


The gardener delights in good harvests; the garden delights in good compost.


Making and using organic compost are the most important things you can do to improve your garden. 

Make Organic Compost for Your Garden

Rural author Wendell Berry once wrote of the farmer, "He has seen the light lie down in the dung heap and rise again in the corn." These words have sharply clarified for me the agricultural life cycle — or, even better, light cycle . Plants convert solar energy into food for animals (ourselves included). Then the wastes from those animals, along with dead plant and animal bodies, "lie down in the dung heap," are composted, and "rise again in the corn."

This cycle of light is the central reason that composting is such an important link in organic food production: It returns solar energy to the soil. In this context, such common compost ingredients as onion skins, hair trimmings, eggshells, vegetable parings, and even burnt toast are no longer seen as garbage, but rather as sunlight on the move from one form to another.

By making use of such substances, composting enables us to have large amounts of "dung" for our gardens without necessarily passing most of the ingredients through an animal first. It also greatly speeds up the earth's own soil-building processes so we can get the results in months instead of centuries.

The benefits of using organic compost are so legion that it's no exaggeration to say that it is the key to soil fertility. The end product of composting is humus , the broken-down organic matter that is the basis of soil life. And the billions of microorganisms that are in a single teaspoon of fertile soil perform numerous functions. They change nutrients into a form that your plants ran use . . . provide a sustained, ongoing flow of that food . . . and bind earthen particles into small aggregates, helping to build a friable soil.

There are other benefits of organic compost:

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