Back Up! Why Compost?? Part II

The previous post presented a case for composting by pointing out the negative consequences of not composting. This post focuses instead on the many positive benefits of composting.

The material we call compost is referred to by many as "black gold." Revered by gardeners and farmers, compost enriches the soil.

I like this description from the City of Long Beach web site. For me, it evokes poetic images of leaves falling softly to the forest floor:

"Composting is a form of recycling that occurs in nature as vegetation falls to the ground and slowly decays. This process provides minerals and nutrients needed by soil, plants and small animals. Setting up a composting system in your backyard speeds up this natural process... The resulting material is called humus, an important component of healthy soil. The humus that results from composting adds nutrients to the soil that can increase the health of your plants and help save money ordinarily spent on fertilizers."

My city, Burbank, offers a bit more technical description of the function that compost serves. It is described as "a rich soil amendment that:

  • Reduces the need for commercial fertilizers and pesticides
  • Improves drainage and loosens heavy clay soils
  • Conserves moisture in light sandy soils
  • Produces healthier plants and slows evaporation, which reduces water usage
  • Saves money on fertilizers and water
  • Reduces the need for City collection of yard waste"
Let's paraphrase the impact of some of the points above:

  • Compost helps your garden grow without chemicals. Consequently, fewer toxins tracked into your house on your shoes, on your pets' feet, and in your homegrown food!
  • Compost improves the quality of the soil and the health of plants. Both of these aspects help conserve water - very important in Southern California.
  • Composting at home reduces waste collection by the city.

The third point ties in with my previous post about the negative impacts of sending organic waste to the dump. Some cities do have large-scale composting operations for yard waste too. However, keeping organic matter at home to convert it to compost has the added benefit of reducing emissions from the trucks that would have carted your yard waste away.

A recent article from the Washington Post summarizes this concept nicely:

"In this age of thrift and environmental concern, it seems bizarre that we then bag or curb our leaves to be taken away. And to where? Yard waste makes up 13 percent of our trash, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Many municipalities divert this away from landfills and into composting yards, where the leaves are shredded and piled into steaming mounds that are halfway decayed come spring; enterprising gardeners then collect it and return it to their yards. Wouldn't it make more sense, though, to keep the leaves on-site?"

Gardening is not only an enjoyable hobby for many - it has benefits that everyone can appreciate. Growing some of your own food, in particular, allows you to:

  • Save money
  • Gain practical skills
  • Control how your food is grown
  • Avoid toxic chemicals in your food
  • Gain a sense of personal achievement
  • Create low-cost gifts for friends
  • Spend time connected to nature
  • Promote national food security (independence from foreign foods!)

Admittedly, some of the points I listed above are quite subjective. I would really recommend checking out this article from Sierra Magazine, which I found quite inspiring.

If you have a yard or garden, it will be easy to find uses for your finished compost. But what if you don't have your own plot of land on which to plant, let alone start a compost heap? Just as there are ways to compost without a yard, there are also many ways to garden without a yard.

  • If you live in a condo or an apartment with a balcony or patio, use planter boxes or pots
  • Grow potted herbs on your kitchen counter or windowsill, or install a planter box on the outside of the window.
  • Work on a plot in a community garden
  • Find a friend who gardens, or offer up your black gold on freecycle or craigslist

I mentioned in a previous post that I was planning on starting a small planter box garden in an "upcycled" storage bin. I have since decided not to grow vegetables, but instead focus on a variety of herbs. Why? Point #4 above - I found a friend who gardens. Much more on that to come!

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