The brown thumb: compost and life

Compost is full of life. A single spoonful of compost can contain hundreds of millions – even billions of organisms, and tens of thousands of different species. The biodiversity and life within compost is so immense and your plants depend on it. What does this life have to do with gardening? Gardeners often pride themselves with having a ‘green thumb’ but the successful ones will tell you that compost and soil is the key - you could call that a brown thumb.

Compost is the fuel for the life of your garden. It is the end product of the decomposition Protozoanof organic matter such as leaves, food scraps, and manure. The billions of microorganisms carry out the decomposition process and turn all of that organic matter into plant available nutrients. It’s the circle of life – the organic waste is absorbed by roots and becomes the life of your vegetable plant, which in turn becomes the delicious food you and your family enjoy.

It’s not only the nutrients in compost that plants need. The microorganisms and fungi within compost are also essential for a healthy garden. Plants have a very special relationship with microorganisms and fungi that has developed over millions of years. In this relationship, plants secrete food from their roots into the soil that is eaten by bacteria. These bacteria are then eaten by predatory organisms called protozoa and nematodes. Protozoa and nematodes excrete their waste back into the soil. This waste provides further nutrients to the plant roots. There is a complex thriving ecosystem in the soil between the plants, their roots, and microorganisms – you just can’t see it. This is called the soil food web, and successful gardeners will understand that compost is central to its healthy functioning.

So, now that you know the importance of compost, you need to know where to get it. One option is to take full advantage of the Halton Compost Giveaway. Another option is to make it yourself out of the organic matter found in every household and backyard. You can start a pile in your backyard or purchase a composter, and don’t forget to enter the Halton Food Council Composter Giveaway contest.

When you’re making compost, all you need to remember are these 3 key things:

Water: Remember how compost is made from life? All life requires water so make sure to keep your compost pile moist – but not wet. A simple test is to take a handful of your compost and squeeze it. If a lot water comes out, you should probably add some dry materials like sawdust, dry leaves, or even shredded newspaper. If you squeeze the compost and it crumbles apart, then you should add some water.

Oxygen: The bacterial life decomposing your organic matter needs oxygen, just like you and me. If your compost pile stinks, it means there is not enough oxygen and anaerobic (living without air) decomposition is occurring. Having larger items like small sticks or twigs will create air pockets in your compost pile. It also helps to turn over your compost pile once in a while (every 1 or 2 weeks).

Ingredients: Life needs to eat. The microorganisms will be happiest with a balanced diet of carbon and nitrogen, or brown and green. This balance is best at 20 parts carbon, to 1-part nitrogen. Carbon is typically brown organic matter like dried leaves, hay, or small branches. Nitrogen is usually green and more fresh, moist organic matter such as food scraps, grass clippings, or coffee grounds (I know those are brown).

Click here to find out more about the ingredients you can use around your house for compost.

In conclusion, if you are having difficulty growing plants, just think about what life needs – more life in the form of compost.

More resources to check out:

Gardening with Microbes

Soil Foodweb Inc.

Compost Junkie

Center for Development and Strategy