What Is a Compost and What Are Its Benefits?

Simply put, compost is what you get when organic material decomposes properly. It’s a nutrient-rich, dirt-like material that is typically used as a natural fertilizer that can enrich the soil and encourage plant growth. Composting is an eco-friendly activity that can help you live an organic lifestyle, and if you need a guide to organic living, you can check this out

What is a Compost?

Compost is made of organic matter that has been decomposed and can be used as a fertilizer. Composting is the natural process of recycling organic matter. While anything organic and natural decomposes eventually, composting speeds up the process by providing an ideal environment for bacteria, fungi, and other decomposing organisms to do their work. The resulting decomposed, which often looks like fertile garden soil, is the compost.

Farmers fondly refer to compost as black gold because it is rich in nutrients that can be used for gardening, agriculture, and horticulture. Compost acts as a probiotic, food source, and sponge for the soil underneath, making the soil more fertile, healthy, and efficient.

All composting is made of three essential ingredients:

  • Browns – this includes materials like dead leaves, twigs, and branches.
  • Greens – this includes materials such as vegetable waste, fruit peelings, and seeds, coffee grounds, grass clippings.
  • Water

The compost pile must have an equal amount of browns to greens and be layered alternatively. The brown materials provide carbon, while the green materials provide nitrogen. Meanwhile, the water provides moisture to help break down organic matter.

Here are things you can add to compost:

  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Eggshells
  • Teabags
  • Nutshells
  • Coffee grounds and filters
  • Cardboard
  • Newspaper
  • Paper
  • Grass clippings
  • Yard trimmings
  • Houseplants
  • Hay and straw
  • Leaves
  • Hair and fur
  • Fireplace ashes
  • Wood chips
  • Cotton and wool rugs

Benefits of Compost

Compost can offer a lot of benefits, both from an environmental, health, and personal standpoint. When used correctly, compost can save you money through reduced maintenance costs. It can ensure that your project is more sustainable, and it increases the success of your gardening or agricultural pursuit. Plus, it allows you to help save the environment . Here are some of the benefits of compost:

1. Improves soil health

Any gardener knows that the first solution to almost any problem that pops up in the garden is compost. Why? It’s because it adds nutrients, helps retain water, protects against plant diseases, and improves the structure of the soil.

Compost improves the soil’s ability to retain nutrients and deliver these nutrients to the plants. It can do this by increasing the soil’s cation exchange capacity, then delivering the needed food for the plants in the form of phosphorus, nitrogen, and potassium. Because it enhances the nutrient content of the soil, it lessens and eliminates the need for fertilizers.

Compost can help plants grow healthier by balancing the soil density. If the soil is too tight, compost can help loosen the soil. But when the soil is too loose, compost helps to clump it together. This allows the plants to grow healthier roots. It also balances the soil pH and helps keep plants from drying out as quickly. It gives plants more excellent resistance to insects and pests and suppresses disease.

Finally, compost can also discourage certain weed types. By balancing the nutrients in the soil, compost makes it a less inviting space for weeds to grow and flourish.

2. Promotes healthier plant growth

If you want your plants to grow healthy and resilient, use compost. As it makes the soil more nutrient-rich, it can allow the plants to absorb more nutrients, too.

Compost adds essential nutrients such as carbon and nitrogen, which plants use for photosynthesis and growth. It also introduces valuable microorganisms to the soil like bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and other decomposing organisms, as these organisms can aerate the soil. Most plants won’t be able to access the nutrients they need without these organisms helping to break the nutrients down and increase the plant roots’ surface area. Once the soil is aerated, it converts nitrogen into a usable form, and it can repel some plant diseases.  

3. Conserves water

Compost helps conserve water in different ways. It can retain and transfer water through the soil, allowing the plants to maximize water for growth. It prevents the water from laterally flowing off the soil and potentially into sewers and storm drains. This can help save you money by lessening the amount of irrigation you need to provide for your plants. When the water soaks into the soil more efficiently, the water transfers better within the soil as well.

4. Filters water

Since water eventually makes its way to the oceans, the compost’s ability to filter water as it penetrates the ground means that the water flowing in the ocean will be cleaner, helping preserve the environment as a whole. One of the most significant pollutants that make their way to the oceans is the acidifying fertilizers and other chemicals used in farming.

If you choose to use compost, it can help decrease the water run-off that brings these harmful chemicals to the ocean, and it lessens the need to add these chemical pesticides and fertilizers in the first place.

5. Controls erosion

Compost is a great tool to prevent soil erosion – thanks to its ability to bind the soil together and slow down and infiltrate the water. It can reduce erosion by acting as a soil “glue” to hold it together. Since it can slow down water flow, it increases the holding capacity of sandy soils to decrease on-site erosion. This will be helpful whether you’re tending to a multi-acre farm or a small garden patch.

6. Reduces greenhouse gases

When you mix your food waste and other biodegradable materials into your trash, it gets mixed and buried under massive amounts of other trash in the landfills. This means the regular supply of oxygen for organic matter to decompose gets cut off, and then the organic wastes end up undergoing anaerobic decomposition that creates biogas as a by-product. Biogas is about 50% methane and %0% carbon dioxide, both of which are potent greenhouse gases that contribute to air pollution and global warming. Methane is actually 28 times more potent than carbon dioxide that can warm up the planet.

If you separate your food and yard waste and bring it for composting, you can actually decrease your local community’s methane and carbon outputs.

7. Recycles food waste

On average, about 30% of waste from households is from food. 30-40% of the total food supply is wasted in the US alone, translating to around $161 billion worth of food wasted every year. The best way to reduce food waste is to prevent it from happening in the first place.

Composting transforms what would have been thrown into the trash into a valuable resource. It allows you to recycle unwanted food and its scraps and turn it into something useful. Also, by diverting this biodegradable waste into compost, you won’t need to buy as many trash bags or take out the trash as often.

8. Reduces landfill waste

As mentioned earlier, organic material will decompose in landfills but in a slower process that brings about greenhouse gas emissions. Plus, this compostable waste is contributing to filling up the landfills. The US is quickly facing a national shortage of landfill capacity, so you can help prevent it from happening too soon by composting.

9. Helps lower production cost for farmers

By using compost, farmers and gardeners spend less money on fertilizers, pesticides, water, and irrigation, so they can allocate more of their money for expanding their production capabilities. More than that, fields and farms that use compost have been shown to produce higher yields than those that don’t. This means farmers can have more money to make and save and more crops to sell.

10. Creates healthier foods

Last but not least, compost can help create healthier food. Due to the widespread use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers, the overall soil quality around the world has decreased and has lost much of its nutrient content. If the soil is lacking in essential nutrients, so does the food it creates. The depletion of soils has led to less-nutrient dense whole foods.

Since compost makes the soil more nutritious and the microbes in it help make those nutrients become bioavailable, it sends all the goodness to our plates and bellies.

Bottom Line

No matter how it gets done, composting is a great way to decrease food waste and greenhouse gas emissions while enhancing your local food systems at the same time. It helps protect our future against the threats that face modern agriculture, including soil erosion and climate change. Now is a great time to help the planet in small ways, like composting in your own backyard.

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