May 032010

Decaying organic matter is the "compost" we use to fertilize soil.

There is no substitute for organic matter in soil, as provided by compost.

Nature’s Method of Care

In its natural state, an ecosystem that is not subject to human interference does not need human maintenance through the process we call “composting.”  In a deciduous forest, for example, leaves drop to the forest floor year after year.  Dead branches snap off in strong winds.  Animals poop.  Plants and creatures die.  Yet no one rakes the forest floor.  No one fertilizes the forest.  No one irrigates.  There are no pooper scoopers nor animal control workers to remove scat or carcasses.  They rot where they fall.

Forests thrive for centuries like this, living on this natural fertilizer that creates healthy soil and, in turn, healthy plants.

Those layers of rotting organic material on the forest floor are home to bacteria, fungi, insects and other creatures that produce biological, chemical and structural changes to the soil.  These effects are critical to the health of trees and plants that make up the forest.  In fact, the forest can’t survive without them. Neither can grasslands, plains, or other ecosystems.

Our Landscaped Environment

In modern urban and suburban areas we’ve done away with all that messy organic waste that was lying around.  We rake leaves, bag grass clippings, scoop poop and send road kill to the dump.  By doing so, we deprive our lawns and gardens of nutrients they require. We also destroy the necessary ingredients for good crumb structure, and inhibit Nature’s ability to keep soil pests and pathogens in check.  By withholding organic waste, we hinder our soil’s ability to absorb, retain, and drain water in optimal ways.  There is no substitute for organic matter in soil.


We need organic waste in our soil to keep it healthy but, for aesthetic as well as sanitation reasons, we don’t want to allow organic materials to decay where they fall.  So we continue to collect leaves, grass clippings, and manure.  Then we take them to another location to rot.  This process is called “composting”, and the decaying organic matter is known as “compost”.

Once the composting process has decayed waste to an acceptable point to serve as a nourishing fertilizer, the compost is carted to a chosen area and integrated back into the soil.

Mary Tynes, Master Composter,

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  7 Responses to “What is Composting?”

  1. How long do I need to let leaves sit before I use them to fertilize my garden soil and can I use dog waste to fertilize too ?

  2. Depending on the moisture content and volume of the pile, leaves can take from 4-18 months to decompose. The warmer the pile, the faster the leaves will break down. However, you can use them in the garden earlier, simply by shredding them up and spreading around as mulch. They will slowly decay in your beds while helping to build living soil and retain needed moisture. Worms especially love the leaf litter!

    Decomposing dog waste does not produce appreciable amounts of compost, but the residue remaining in one of the below-ground Doggie Dooley Digesters is highly nutritious and can be added to you lawn, shrubs, ornamentals and trees – just as you would use manure from other mammals. Due to the potential for enteric pathogens, we would not recommend using this soil amendment direct on ingestible food crops like lettuce, carrots, potatoes, etc. Always best to play it safe!

  3. Great post! I really think more people should consider composting. Not only will it be easier on waste disposal companies, but they’ll also be helping their garden!

  4. I’ve been composting for almost 25 years now in a corner of my backyard,my compost pile is some old chicken wire and some wooden posts and lots of leaves ,free horse manure and free grass cliings and produce scrap from my job.I’ve read all the books and even gone to compost seminars,but the best advice I can give you is to do /put whatever you want in your pile or bin add brown stuff and green stuff,water and turn a couple of times a month and if you can ad some worms.
    P.S. if you have an extra $200 lying around buy yourself a good electric leaf shredder and shred your leaves before adding to your pile and for spreading your finished ,siffted compost,I recomend try using your fertilizer spreader if you have one,just open up the hole to its widest and walk around your yard,this works really good.

  5. My dogs eat all organic plant food (vegan diet). Would their poop have a reduced risk for enteric pathogens due to their herbivorous diets, and therefore be more suitable for use as manure?

  6. […] primitive times man has created compost, a combination of decomposed organic waste that is rich in nutrients for creating healthy soil, […]

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