Turn Garbage into Gold and Rot Into Riches!

Seattle Tilth: Learn. Grow. Eat.Guest post by Maren Neldam, Environmental Program Coordinator at Seattle Tilth

Compost happens. In a natural ecosystem, plants and animals regularly add organic matter to the soil through physiological and biological processes. These organic deposits feed a whole world of soil life that in turn make nutrients available to plants. It’s a constant cycle.

In our own backyards, our plants withdraw nutrients from the soil bank, but many times we don’t let them deposit organic matter back. Instead, we rake up leaves, grass and other garden trimmings – which could add fantastic nutrients to the soil – in the name of a well-manicured yard. As a result, the soil bank gets overdrawn, and our plants suffer from pests and disease as the soil becomes compacted, less able to hold moisture, and home to ENDLESS weeds. Eek!

“Soils are like a bank account. You should only draw out what you put in.” – Rattan Lal of Ohio State University

worm bin bedding made of leaves and shredded cardboard

Fall leaves and shredded cardboard can serve as bedding for worm bins.

Compost is one of the best deposits we can make to replenish the soil bank and ensure that our plants stay healthy. Organic materials such as food and yard waste that we put in the curbside yard waste bin get taken offsite and recycled into compost, which we can buy back in bags the following year to use as a mulch or soil amendment. But what if – instead of buying them back from a store – those resources never left our yards?

The lazy approach can be productive! Most people have witnessed a pile of leaves, left unattended, slowly crumbling away until it is unrecognizable from the underlying soil. Whether we want it to or not, anything that was once living is destined to rot away.

woman turning a backyard compost pile with a pitchforkWhen you learn to compost in your own backyard, you reap the benefits of this inevitable process of decomposition and even have the power to speed it up. Scraps from your yard are seen with a new eye. What was formerly a messy pile of yard waste, is now gardeners gold. If you really catch the composting bug, you might find yourself collecting leaves from your neighbor’s yard too. And don’t forget the food scraps from your kitchen – you can compost those at home, too.

Composting at home helps save money, keeps valuable resources out of the landfill and reduces the amount of energy spent trucking waste to transfer stations and compost centers. Using compost benefits your garden in several ways. It builds healthy soil that is able to support microbes that in turn, provide nutrients to your plants. The results include healthier plants, your soil holds more moisture, and pollutants are filtered out of rainwater that would otherwise harm the watershed.