It is difficult to overstate the importance of composting in organic gardening. Just as your body is at its healthiest when you eat whole, natural foods, your plants will be at their peak of health when you provide them with a steady supply of organic compost. Full of nutrients and beneficial microbes, able to repair damage to structurally unsound or pH unbalanced soil, highly effective in helping your plants fight off disease, organic compost is the best way to improve everything about the way your garden grows in one single stroke.
- Improves Soil Structure and Balance
One of the most basic but easiest to overlook problems in gardening is poor soil structure. What we call soil is a mix of inorganic matter—such as clay, sand, and rocks—and organic matter such as decayed plants, invertebrates, and microorganisms. Tiny changes in the ratios of these substances can have large effects on your soil’s ability to grow.
Chances are, the soil in your garden contains either too much clay or too much sand. If soil has too much clay, water doesn’t drain sufficiently, leading to over watering. Clay-heavy soil is also dense, which cuts off the air supply and forces plants to develop shallow root systems which can’t reach nutrients and water lower down in the earth. If soil has too much sand, water drains too quickly and takes nutrients with it. Roots never have a chance to grab onto them.
Compost solves both of these problems, evening out the structure of dense or loose soil. In addition, the organic matter in compost absorbs water in a way neither clay nor sand can accomplish, which lets the water dissolve nutrients so root systems can access them.
Water is not the only factor in determining whether your plants can get the nutrients they need. If the pH of your soil is too high or too low, essential micronutrients such as iron, zinc, and phosphorous become unavailable. Compost works in a miraculous way to balance soil pH, by either absorbing or providing hydrogen ions that bring the soil back to the neutral state desired by most plants. This same effect provides a buffer for the soil so it is less likely to become too acidic or too alkaline in the future.
- Adds Nutrients
Since compost is made of plants it is packed with the nutrients plants need to grow into healthy and delicious specimens. Compost contains the major plant nutrients of nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium, as well as important micronutrients that are often missing from commercial fertilizers. Commercial fertilizers also have another problem. Because the chemicals in them are so pure, they are often washed away by rain or watering before the plants can take them up. As much as 20% of their phosphorous and potassium and up to an astonishing 85% of their nitrogen is lost in this way. By contrast, compost holds those nutrients dissolved within itself until the plants need them.
- Boost The Development of Beneficial Organisms
A single teaspoon of organic compost contains billions of microorganisms. These microbes provide numerous benefits to your soil. They are vital in converting inorganic nutrients into a form that your plants can use for food. They compete with potentially harmful microbes found naturally in the soil so that only the beneficial life forms survive. Studies have even shown that they “turn on” genes within the plants themselves that help to fight off disease.
Microbes aren’t the only organisms that love compost. Earthworms and other insects thrive on the organic matter in compost. These creatures not only help aerate the soil for better air circulation and better development of root systems, but they add compost by leaving organic matter of their own in the soil.
- Benefits Beyond Your Garden
Composting can save you money on fertilizers and soil treatment, and in the form of delicious fruits and vegetables for you and your family. By the importance of composting can be felt beyond your garden. Waste that you compost is waste that doesn’t end up in landfills. This means less methane gas in the atmosphere, and less pollution in the air and the rain that will eventually fall back down on your garden. And fewer chemical fertilizers means fewer toxins leeching off into the water supply.
There are many more benefits of composting; enough to fill volumes on its own. When you compost you are playing a part in the earth’s natural cycle of growth and rebirth. You are taking waste and transforming it into the food and nutrition it was meant to be. And the effect on your garden will be enormous.