Composting: What Do Plants Really Need

If you’re looking for a sustainable, eco-friendly method to grow and maintain your garden, look no further - composting is the answer.

Composting turns kitchen scraps into fine dining for plants. It improves the soil’s ability to hold nutrients, delivering much-needed food in the form of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. It also improves nutrient retention by increasing the soil’s Cation Exchange Capacity (CEC), which is an indicator of soil fertility and quality.

Unlike synthetic fertilizers, compost releases nutrients slowly over time, promoting healthier growth and reducing the risk of nutrient runoff, which can harm the environment.

 Why you should compost

  • Nourishment for soil
  • Soil health
  • Soil structure
  • Microbial activity
  • Weed suppression
  • Disease resistance 
  • Sustainability

You can purchase compost, but most commercial compost is based around a single material such as manure. Homemade compost is made with a variety of materials, such as kitchen scraps, garden waste and grass clippings. Much like a varied diet of fruits, vegetables, and other foods supports the diverse microbiome in your gut, it's important for your compost to have a varied mix of ingredients. 

But you don’t have to do all of the work yourself if you have an electric kitchen composter. It automatically warms and stirs - all you have to do is add the ingredients.

Always compost

Vegetable peelings, fruit waste, plant prunings and grass cuttings are fast to break down, and provide important nitrogen as well as moisture. You can also include cardboard egg containers, scrunched-up paper and fallen leaves.

  • Kitchen scraps such as fruit and vegetable peels
  • Loose tea and coffee grounds
  • Meal leftovers: grains, egg shells, fish and meat scraps, sauces
  • Dairy products: cheese, yogurt
  • Herbaceous houseplants (as opposed to woody varieties): soft stems, leaves and flowers under 2 inches
  • Starches: bread, pasta, rice, potatoes, cereal, oats and other grains

Sometimes compost

  • Fibrous waste: chopped up corn husks, nut shells
  • Sticky food: honey, syrup, jams, nut butters
  • Biodegradable materials: Unbleached food-soiled paper napkins, tea bags, coffee filters

Never compost

Meat, fish, dairy, eggs, bones, baked goods, fatty foods, grease, citrus fruits, and odorous foods like onions and garlic, diseased plants, weeds with seeds, and charcoal decompose slowly, can attract animals, and may cause odors.

  • Organic waste: woody plant matter (sticks and branches), salt, hard bones, solid fats (butter, margarine, lard), cooking oils, fruit pits, pineapple heads, walnut shells (toxic to plants)
  • Other waste: soaps, shampoos and conditioners, packaging, diapers and baby wipes, feminine hygiene products, pet waste, cigarettes, styrofoam, synthetic chemicals such as cleaners and disinfectants
  • Metal
  • Glass

Why and when?

Adding compost increases the activity of soil organisms, which provides nutrients to your plants. While not required, it will definitely boost plant growth.

  • For new vegetable beds, add 3 to 4 inches of compost. 
  • For existing vegetable beds, add one-quarter to 1 inch of compost per year.

When we compost, we create thriving gardens and a greener, more sustainable future.