Composting Guide for Geniuses Like you
If “start composting” has been sitting on your to-do list but you have no idea where to start, stress no more. Presenting “Rootree’s Guide to Composting for Geniuses Like You” (formerly titled “Rootree’s Guide to Composting for Dummies, but you’re not a dummy, you’re a genius, and that’s why you’re going to start composting right when you’re done reading this). So, in this “Composting Guide for Geniuses Like You”, we will walk through the pros and cons, the dos and don’ts, as well as an in-depth guide on how to get started.

Let’s take a deep breath and dive in, because throwing your banana peel in the garbage is old news.

What is composting?

If you’ve made it this far and you’re still wondering “what is composting?” well, it’s the best thing you can do for your garden and the environment. In simple terms, composting is making valuable soil humus from decomposing materials. Compost can be defined as “decayed organic matter” and is a viable way to improve soil structure, promote plant growth, reduce greenhouse gasses, and reduce the need for chemical fertilizers.

Finished compost looks like rich soil; dark and crumbly with an earthy smell and has tiny air pockets that can absorb and hold moisture – behold, the Green Thumb’s object of affection: Black Gold.

Composting Bin

What can go in the compost pile?

You’ll never run out of things to compost, from orange peels to avocado pits, from pet hair to coffee grounds, there are so many things that can help your compost thrive.
As a general rule, animal by-products (bones, meat scraps, etc.) can cause a host of issues, including harmful bacteria, pests, and diseases that will render your efforts null and void. Although there are hundreds of things that can add to the richness and glory of your compost, there are also the same number of things that can take away from it.

  • While livestock manure can add many benefits, your pet’s poop should stay far from your compost as it can contaminate the pile with parasites and viruses.
  • When adding yard trimmings or broken branches, do some research on what kind of material you are adding; some plants and trees (such as black walnut) contain toxic substances that can stunt the growth of, or even kill, new plants.
  • Coal and coal ash can contain damaging chemicals
  • Diseased plants can pass on disease to new plants, and chemically treated plants can kill the hardworking microbes in your soil.
Don’t be discouraged, if you’re unsure about whether it can go in the compost, chances are it does not belong… go with your gut 😉 or refer to our cheat sheet!
Composting Guide Cheat Sheet 2
Composting Guide Cheat Sheet 1
Composting should always include a balance of “browns and greens”. Without getting too scientific, greens are the nitrogen-rich materials in the soil, think of them as the catalysts; they heat the compost pile and help the microbes multiply quickly. Browns are carbon-rich; their job is to provide airflow and sustenance for the soil-dwelling organisms (crickets, earthworms, other insects) that work hand-in-hand with microbes to aid in decomposition. Greens often attract pests and rodents so they should always be covered with a layer of browns to keep furry friends from spreading your pile across the yard.

Once you get the basics of composting down, with the right means and methods, your compost soil provides the perfect accommodation for earth’s helpers like fungi, bacteria, worms, and other organisms which aid in decomposition without the use of nasty chemicals. Some of these macrofaunae kick-start the first phase of decomposition, some transform nutrients into energy for plants, and others manage the levels of other microbes in your soil.

Pros and Cons of Composting

Pros and Cons of Composting

Composting is the soil-ution for many garden issues.

When done right, the benefits of composting are endless. Soils will adhere to compost particles to form a better root environment and in turn, allow roots to grow deep and easily absorb the many nutrients that will be present through the decomposition process. To achieve the end result of good compost, we rely on aerobic decomposition, the process of matter being broken down by microorganisms that require oxygen. Why is this important? When you throw your banana peel into the garbage and it finds its way to the landfill, it gets buried under heaps and heaps of trash. This banana peel now has its supply of oxygen cut off and will be broken down by organisms that can live without free-flowing oxygen, which is the process of anaerobic decomposition. Still with me? During anaerobic decomposition, harmful biogas comprised of methane and carbon dioxide is released from the decomposing waste. Long story short; proper composting reduces your carbon footprint and has the benefit of:

  • Increased oxygenated air
  • Increased moisture retention in soil
  • Healthy, mineral-rich plants – soil bacteria create antibodies, some of which are utilized within your garden beds to combat many soil-borne diseases, keeping your plants healthy.
  • Protection against plant disease and treats nutrient-deficiencies
  • Balanced PH Levels in the soil
  • Reduced need for chemical fertilizers, which can seep into your food and local groundwater.
  • Encouraging production of microbes, beneficial bacteria, and fungi.
  • Reduced methane emissions from landfills

If not done correctly, despite having a nicer garden than your neighbours, your compost heap can emit foul odours and carry pathogens. Good thing you have an in-depth guide to prevent that from happening. 😉

During the decomposition process, bacteria and fungi break the greens down into ammonium.
Bacteria in the soil turn the ammonium into nitrite, which metamorphoses into nitrate, and in the final stages, it turns into nitrogen. For compost to be useful, it must go through all stages, but the amounts of unconverted ammonium can result in very smelly, imbalanced, unusable, and counterproductive compost.

In Conclusion

Composting is a process that requires patience and attention, once you’ve figured out what system works for you, you’ll be loyal to the soil and ready to take your gardening to the next level. On-site or off, inside or out, simple or complex, you can navigate the possibilities and get down to earth and learn how to compost like a pro!