The Basics Of Composting


Composting has gotten a lot of buzz in recent years, but is it really an effective gardening strategy or merely a passing trend? The practice of composting isn’t new at all, but is actually Mother Nature’s way of maintaining the balance and fertility of the earth. Consider a forest floor or even a field covered with native plants: as the plants die, they fall to the earth, where eventually they decompose and add nitrogen and other elements back to the soil. The same process occurs when animals die. Their bodies are reclaimed by the earth for good.

We may give credit to Mother Nature, but God is the true founder of this process as part of the cycle of death, waste, and rebirth. In the cycle of composting, we see a metaphor for resurrection and salvation.

In Ecclesiastes 3, we read:

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven. A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted. …a time to break down and a time to build up; For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts. All go unto one place; and all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again.”

Composting seems complicated, but it’s really not. Through a regular composting program, you can reduce waste and add valuable nutrients back to your soil. In doing so, you practice good stewardship of the earth, which is one of the best ways to demonstrate gratitude to God.

To get started, first select a location for your compost pile. It should be placed at the edge of your property, away from everyday traffic, but close enough to be easily accessible. It should also be in full sun to partial shade. If you’ve never composted before, start small with a simple pile. Once composting becomes a habit, consider building or investing in a compost box or bin.

To get a good hot compost pile going, start with a few inches of dry (or “brown”) materials, such as dried leaves, newspaper, dryer lint, or pine needles. Follow this layer with wet (or “green”) materials, such as untreated grass clippings, vegetable and fruit scraps from the kitchen, or weeds. Be careful about putting weeds with seeds in the pile though. They may come back to haunt you later.

Continue building your pile, alternating brown layers with green layers, until it stands three to four feet high. Soak the layers with a hose as you work. Once you’ve gotten your pile built, use a pitchfork or shovel to turn it every few days and give it a soaking with the hose. It should feel about as moist as a wrung-out sponge.

This is how the experts recommend building a compost pile. In real life, it rarely works this way. Unless you stockpile materials, you probably don’t have enough green and brown materials to build a pile all at once. You’ll also continue to add materials to the pile throughout the season as you mow the lawn, weed the garden, and discard food scraps in the kitchen. You may forget to turn the pile or let it dry out. Don’t worry. Your compost pile will still decompose, but it will take longer than the two to three months that compost enthusiasts promise. Aim for perfection, but accept reality and know that eventually you’ll have “gardener’s gold.”

Another method of composting is known as “sheet” or “lasagna” composting, which is comprised of simply piling alternate green and brown materials over your vegetable garden at the end of the gardening season. The materials break down over the winter and are tilled back into the ground in the spring.

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