Composting…Don’t throw it away, compost it!

There are vast benefits to composting, not only environmentally, but also personally within your home. Using compost in your home garden adds nitrogen, potassium, and micro‑nutrients such as manganese, iron, and zinc. These additions strengthen the structure of your soil, retains water in plant structure, prevents erosion, and is ideal for drainage.

There are two ways to go about composting based on your available space. If you have limited or no outside space then you can use a specially designed bin for indoor use that can be purchased from a local garden store, hardware store, or even via the local paper want-ads. For those with outside space, select a dry area with shade that is close to a water source and dig out a desired space e.g 3’ x 3’ x 3” depth or what every size you feel is adequate, and now it’s time to start creating your compost.

In selecting your compost think of two categories: home and outside. The home category is food from your home including fruits, vegetables, nut shells, coffee grounds, tea leaves, but excludes dairy products, meat or fish scraps, and grease. The outside category includes items from your yard, such as leaves, branches, yard clippings. Note: compost items should not be chemically treated. Make sure to cut large materials like banana peels and break down branches to aid in the breakdown process. Lastly, make sure to layer your compost alternating between home items and outside items, and try to keep each layer similar in size.

Every two weeks or so, while tending to your compost, whether you are simply checking on it or adding to it, it is important to mix your compost. How can you tell if the compost is ready? That will depend on the material being composted and its environment. I suggest researching your material and the environment where you’ve composted to get a better understanding on your compost and the process. Generally speaking, the appearance of compost that is ready will be crumbly and may be slimy in consistency, dark in color (like soil), and have an earthy smell. Now, you can use it to plant flowers, trees, vegetables, and use it as top soil. It can also be used for putting in a new lawn, installing a new eco-friendly landscape, or simply used for rotating your vegetable garden.

There are many benefits to composting. It is known to regenerate soil by promoting the production of micro‑nutrients, which break down the organic matter and in turn retains moisture and increases the content in the soil through a process called humus. Given that 95% of our food comes from our soil, it is critical to consider soil quality. Compost can also clean up the contaminated soil by absorbing volatile organic compounds (think pesticides) that may be found in your soil. Also, carbon released from farming heats up our Earth’s climate and melts polar ice caps, which is another reason composting is an important practice that contributes toward protecting our ecosystem. Furthermore, if all countries put 0.4% of their carbon back into their land, it would produce 75% of all of Earth’s carbon back into the Earth’s soil.

Other benefits of composting include preventing soil erosion, which is especially important if you live near creeks or storm water drains. The compost can slowly preserve the amount of sediment runoff that spills into our waterways, that drain into our rivers. This is imperative in protecting these waterways as they are the ecosystem for our fish and other inhabitants living in the rivers and oceans.

Composting and sustainability should be on the forefront of our minds. Composting is an incredibly versatile practice that supports erosion control and provides many benefits for gardening, our waterways, and our ecosystem as a whole.

This article was authored by Joshua Ricci, of Permit Sonoma, on behalf of RRWA. RRWA (www.rrwatershed.org) is an association of local public agencies in the Russian River Watershed that have come together to coordinate regional programs for clean water, habitat restoration, and watershed enhancement.