Skip to main content

Let's Talk Compost

There is certainly a chance that those of you reading this thought it was going to be a review of the 2005 Rustic Voyage EP by the Austin Texas based band Compost, which is spearheaded by the environmentally conscious singer/songwriter Joseph La Fave. Alas I am writing about the benefits of composting in ones garden but if you happen to be interested in the former you can always check out La Fave’s website at

If you were to walk into your local library you would be able to find book after book praising the benefits of composting. I will attempt to give you the cliff notes on the subject but I highly recommend looking into it if it is not something you are already doing. For this blog I am mostly gathering my information from the following sources; The seed savers exchange, which can be found online at, , Clemson Cooperative Extension found at and the Cornell Cooperative Extension, of which I am a board member, found at

Let’s briefly discuss the benefits of composting. To begin with the environmental impact is tremendous. If you properly compost and recycle you can reduce the amount of garbage your family generates by nearly 80%! Another benefit according to Cornell Co-op is that “Organic matter in the soil improves plant growth by helping to break up heavy clay soils and improving their structure, by adding water and nutrient-holding capacity to sandy soils, and by adding essential nutrients to any soil.” By using your compost you are returning organic matter to the soil in a usable form. Clemson Extension points out that “Compost also contains beneficial microscopic organisms that build up the soil and make nutrients available to plants.”

Basically compost contains nutrients that provide energy and growth for microorganisms. The organic materials involved each have their own ratio of carbon to nitrogen. Everything that is organic has its own ratio of carbon to nitrogen (C: N) in its tissues that can range from 500:1 like sawdust to 15:1 for table scraps. Clemson Cooperative,among others, states that “A C:N ratio of 30:1 is ideal for
the activity of compost microbes.” Items such as leaves, straw and sawdust have a higher ratio of carbon while things like grass clipping and veggie scraps are higher in nitrogen. An easy trick is to think of these items as browns and greens. Greens are your nitrogen and browns are you carbon. This is important to know simply because anything with a C: N ratio that is too high takes forever to decay so if you mix your browns and greens properly things will move along nicely.

Most folks have a separate space for their lawn clippings and their kitchen scraps. Our main compost bin contains our green kitchen scraps for the most part. The only “animal” product we put in is discarded egg shells. We also put old coffee grounds and unbleached toilet paper rolls in along with all the remains of vegetables and fruits. It is highly recommended that you do not put meat, bones or fatty foods in your compost bin as it will most likely attract unwanted guest such as raccoons and skunks and will make your pile release a foul odor. If you find your compost becoming too damp simply add a little soil from your garden or some dried lawn scraps such as grass or leaves. Be sure to rotate your compost regularly as well to help the process move along. Heat plays a large part in the rate of decay so in the winter you will notice a very slow process taking place but keep at it when the spring comes it will take right off.

There are a number of options for compost bins or containers. You can make them yourself out of garbage cans, you can buy the large stationary plastic bins (we received ours from Cornell Co-op as a gift from our in-laws so be sure to check with your local co-op.) You can build frames for lawn scraps out of old wood and so on. With a little research online and a few hours in your local library you will find the model that works best for you. I even recommend having a brief conversation with a neighbor if you see a bin in their yard.

It really takes a minimal amount of effort to do something wonderful for the environment and for your gardens, whether they are flower, herb or veggie.

Tobias Whitaker blogs for Mother Earth News and Grit Magazine. Click on the Mother Earth News logo at the bottom of the page for all of his post. You can also find him on Facebook at Seed To Harvest: Bossy Hen Homestead which is a central location for his homesteading blogs and his homeschooling blog, A Mile In Her Shoes: Tales Of A Stay-At Home Dad found here


Popular posts from this blog

In Winter

I enjoy winter when it arrives at the homestead. Though the gardens are long since dormant there is still plenty to do.The rabbits and the chickens need constant care. A couple of times a day I have to break ice from the animals water and make sure they have enough warm bedding.

I don't mind though. No matter how cold it gets. There is poetry in the garden during summer. Birds sing with triumphant melody. Soft summer rains baptize new growth. But the winter features a more solitary form of art. For the most part there is a resonating silence that is a canvas for the occasional temperamental gust of wind and snow. These same squalls force the breathe from my lungs and scatter the frozen mist before my eyes. Then, once again, there is silence. As any good steward I try not to disturb this peace. If anything, I try to move unnoticed among it.

When it is cold enough the trees will produce an individual moan as they threaten to splinter in the darkness of the woods. They all have their…

Swedish Flower Hen

The rare Swedish Flower Hen has a unique story. Called Skånsk blommehöna(Bloom Hen) in their native country of Sweden this landrace breed was thought to be extinct in the 1970's. (The term landrace refers to the fact that S.F.H.'s were free to develop for nearly five hundreds years without interference from man, so to speak). But in the late 1980's the Swedish Poultry Country Club located isolated flocks in the villages of Esarp, Tofta and Vomb. The gene bank that was eventually created by the S.P.C.C. was successful and there are approximately 1,300 Swedish Flower Hens currently in Sweden.

While enthusiast of rare breeds continue to work hard to increase the numbers it is painfully obvious why they slowly fell out of favor nearly 100 years ago. Though rare and visually stunning they cannot equal the number of eggs some of the top laying hens produce in a peak yearly cycle. Swedish Flower Hens average around 150 eggs over the course of 12 months. Compare that with the nea…

The Land of Plenty

The idea that I am about to present to you is certainly nothing new. Wonderful organizations such as Ample HarvestPlant a Row for the Hungry and countless food banks and pantries across the country have been confronting the issue of hunger in our communities head on for some time.

Food insecurity is a cornerstone of the human condition. A little research will lead you to discover a long history of charity in opposition. For example, the seventh century Irish Benedictine monk St. Fiacre who was a master herbalist eventually settled in France and practiced a reverse tithe by keeping 10% of his harvest while giving away 90% to those less fortunate.

Life is complicated, as we all know. There are no easy answers to any of the problems that plague our society but there are some very simple issues that could be addressed that could in turn have a ripple effect on a number of other dilemmas such as poverty, health and even violence.

According to the USDA 40% of the $161 billion dollars’ (yo…