Composting to Build Healthy Soil and Improve the Health of Your Garden

Updated on April 21, 2018

Building Soil Is the Best Way to Increase Your Garden's Yield

Your food's nutritional value depends on your garden's soil health. Composting is a great way to return nutrients to your soil, increasing your garden's sustainability at the same time.

Adding compost creates rich soil, without the need for chemical fertilizers. Rich soil enhances the growth of healthy plant roots that take in more nutrients and water. Plants with healthy roots produce beautiful, healthy, productive growth in the garden. Growing vegetables that are a nutrient-rich food source requires the necessary mix of carbon, macronutrients, and micronutrients. Composting can provide these nutrients to your soil, and the rejuvenated soil will increase the flavor and health of your fruits and vegetables.

Compost Is the Decomposition of Organic Materials

Creating healthy gardening compost is achieved by providing the proper balance between carbon that comes from brown, dry waste materials and nitrogen found in green vegetation. Maintaining a proper mix of brown carbon green nitrogen containing materials in compost is essential to reaching this balance. Plants need other micronutrients to remain healthy, as well.

Maintain the Proper Ratio of Brown Carbon to Green Nitrogen-Containing Materials

Microorganisms that decompose waste into compost need the correct proportion of nitrogen from green plants for growth and the production of protein. Microorganisms get energy from carbon, which comes from dry materials, cardboard or straw, or dead, dry plants. Composted materials must provide the proper proportions of carbon and nitrogen and provide them in a continuously moist environment. The carbon to nitrogen ratio should be about 25 to 30 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen.

Humus is created by breaking down carbon containing waste with the presence of the right proportion of nitrogen. Keeping a balance between the brown and green materials is important. Excessive carbon in compost will slow the decomposition. If there is too little brown the compost will contain to much nitrogen causing the compost to smell sour. Additionally, too much nitrogen can harm plants in the garden. Adding carbon rich materials to compost can return the balance.

Nitrogen can come from grass clippings, yard trimmings, garden clippings, house hold waste such as fruits and vegetables, and coffee grounds. Hair and feathers also provides good sources of nitrogen.

Aged chicken, goat, and cow manure also provides a good source of nitrogen for composting. Fresh manure must compost for approximately a year, turning over (mixing) occasionally before adding to compost; fresh manure can burn plants.

Carbon sources are dead, dry organic material, which can come from straw, branches, twigs, dry leaves, corn stalks, wood chips and sawdust, shredded paper, and cardboard. Lint from your dryer can be used in compost.

Micronutrients are also needed by plants, but in small amounts. Ash and remnants from the fire place can be a good source. Wood ash is a source of phosphorus, potassium, and can add micronutrients such as iron, manganese, boron, copper and zinc to compost. Egg shells can be another great source of nutrition for your garden, as they contain calcium. Eggs do not breakdown easily, therefore, crush them before composting.

Knowing the pH of soil is important in successfully growing plants that need either neutral, highly acidic, or alkaline soils. Knowing the pH of soil before using ashes is important, because ashes will increase soil alkalinity. pH can be tested using inexpensive hand held pH monitors.

Compost must be turned occasionally, approximately once every two weeks, to allow waste products to break down evenly. It is equally essential to keep it moist. Moisture provides a healthy environment for bacteria that decompose waste products. Depending on your climate, materials used, and effort you can have compost as quickly as 6 to 12 weeks.

When compost is ready to use it smells pleasant and earthy. Compost is ready to use when it is dark brown and crumbly, not moldy or foul smelling. There should be no large pieces of recognizable waste, such as food. If compost is used before it is completely decomposed its bacteria may compete with plants for the nitrogen in the soil, causing plants to be unhealthy and yellowish.

Compost provides nutrient for flavorful produce from the garden. Composting builds soil and provides needed nutrients, increasing your garden's yield. The proper balance between carbon and nitrogen creates healthy gardening compost. Composting also provides micronutrients needed in soil. Rich soil supports growth of healthy root systems that are the foundation which allows plants to reach more nutrients and water. A solid foundation results in healthy, productive plant growth. The overall health of the soil results in healthier plants that yield produce that is nutrient rich.

Keeping a Balance Between the Brown and Green Materials Is Important

Carbon to Nitrogen Ratio

The proper ratio of carbon to nitrogen in compost is the key to a healthy microorganism environment. Microorganisms decompose waste into compost. They need the correct proportion of nitrogen to carbon: nitrogen for protein production and carbon for energy. This ratio is approximately 25 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen.

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    • Blond Logic profile image

      Mary Wickison 

      4 months ago from Brazil

      This is something we are trying to do on our farm. I didn't know the green to brown ratio so that is helpful to know. We are trying to do this in situ between our coconut trees. We are piling the leaves, grass clippings etc and then covering this with palm leaves. For us turning it will be a problem but I know it helps with the rate of decomposition.

      Interesting article.

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