Why Not Try the Rot?

Are you new to gardening or shy to try scary, really! Composting practices have been around longer than the wheel and you don’t need to make it complicated. As stated by Stu Campbell*, the first people to discover composting were simply observing their environment and “whoever they were, they were artists, not scientists.” Composting doesn’t need to be a lost art; all you need is willingness and resiliency to learn to make luscious, nutrient-rich soil. 

It’s easy to get bogged down in blogs and articles that make composting look like rocket science. Don’t get me wrong, there has been immense research put into modern composting but for small-scale composting the process of trial and error will do just fine. Even if your methods are far from perfect you’ll probably end up with decent compost; just let Mother Nature do her thing! So take a deep breath, and remember that rot and decay are naturally occurring processes and your job is to just help it along the way. Learning to compost should be a creative process; a little effort and a little artistry will go a long way.

Why are we composting? As any experienced gardener will tell you, excellent soil quality can only be sustained using some form of composting. Unhealthy soil equals unhealthy plants and no amount of fertilizer is going to change that! Composting helps provide the essential nutrients plants require at a steady rate they can absorb, provides soil stability and structure, creates space for oxygen which is essential in the growth of roots and increases the soil’s capacity to hold water. Last but not least, composting can potentially divert tons of organic waste from landfills.

What about the creepy crawlies that live in compost piles? Well, they’re actually the stars of the show and are vital in the health of your garden or lawn, especially those too small to even see. These are called microorganisms (bacteria, fungi, and actinomycetes) and they’re essential to the vitality of all growing things. Compost provides the ideal environment for these little guys to thrive and therefore improve the health of the soil and plants. 

What should we put into to the compost? To be honest, there is very little organic matter you can’t compost but for those starting out, I would recommend sticking to vegetable matter and leave out any meat or dairy. For those who are compost shy, the following guidelines can help you get started:

1. 50% Greens and 50% Browns: This is the easiest way to balance your compost when starting out. “Greens” are cutting board leftovers such as apple cores, soggy spinach, celery ends, and other vegetable scraps. “Browns” are fibre rich with low moisture content and include unbleached paper, non-waxed cardboard, leftover rice, and wood ashes. If your compost smells quite foul you probably aren’t adding enough browns!
2. Bit-by-Bit: Chopping up your leftovers into small chunks and shredding paper will provide more surface area for microorganisms to do their work! The pulp from juicing is excellent compost content.
3. Let it breath: Make sure that your compost pile is aerated by either turning over your compost frequently or using a container that allows good ventilation. 
4. Compost Super Foods: The following are exceptional material to add to your compost: coffee grounds, crushed eggshells, hops (brewing waste), peat moss, and even some dog food!
If you’re still not stoked on the idea of a pile of rotting veggies, perhaps starting with vermicomposting is the path for you. Vermicomposting uses various species of worms to help with the composting process; this is a great way to start composting on a smaller scale. You can either make or purchase ‘worm-homes’ that can be kept indoors. This is ideal for beginners as this small-scale system allows you to keep a close eye on the health of your worms and compost.

I’ll have more tips for composting this summer in the Fernie Fix, so have no fear! Get dirty and you might learn to love the rot along the way.

* Stu Campbell, author of Let it Rot!: The Gardener’s Guide to Composting