As unashamed compost-heads feeling the love for the earth this Valentine’s Day, we thought we’d fill a space on the Great Green Systems office wall with this DIY picture.
And perhaps we should compose (decompose?) a little ode to compost while we’re at it:
Compost, how do I love thee?
Let me count the ways…
(with apologies to Elizabeth Barrett Browning)
Perhaps it would be better in prose.
Why we love compost
Let’s just start by saying that you don’t need to be a gardener to compost. That is a wrong-headed assumption some people make and if that’s you, we hope we’ll manage to change your mind.
Many of our customers know nothing about composting at the outset but they start because they want to take control of their own food and garden waste.
Composting used to be thought of as a side-line to gardening, but now more and more people are taking it up because they want to live a more sustainable life and do something to fight the climate crisis.
Compost is an ally in combatting the climate crisis because it boosts soil quality as well as helping soil to pull carbon out of the atmosphere and sink it back into the ground. The more carbon that is taken from the atmosphere, the better chance we have of reducing the rate of global warming. Along with oceans and forests, soil is an important carbon storage medium.
An American study showed that spreading half an inch of compost over half of California’s grasslands could remove carbon from the air at such a significant rate that it would balance the greenhouse gas emissions for the entire state of California for a year.
The International Compost Alliance, formed in 2021 to raise awareness about the benefits of composting, says: ‘Compost is a win-win solution to climate change – not only does recycling organic wastes reduce emissions, compost also brings many benefits when used on soils too.’
Compost boosts soil quality by:
- holding on to important nutrients
- improving plant productivity and quality
- protecting plants from pests and diseases
- preventing erosion
- improving drainage
- absorbing water, slowly releasing it to grass and plants so they need watering less frequently.
As compost breaks down, it delivers important nutrients into the soil. Compost contains the three primary nutrients that plants need: nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium. As well as feeding the plants that grow in this soil, compost also increases the number and variety of beneficial bacteria and fungi in the soil, which helps plants to grow.
The quality of produce grown in soil treated with compost tends to be higher. International studies have shown:
- In India – quinoa plants in soil mixed with compost showed a significant increase in ability to take nutrients from the soil.
- In China – wheat fields treated with compost had significantly increased yields versus a control field of uncomposted soil.
- In Italy – compost increased lettuce and kohlrabi growth by 24% and 32% respectively.
Studies on compost’s water-retaining abilities have shown that for every 1% of organic matter content, soil can hold 16,500 gallons of plant-available water per acre of soil down to one foot deep.
Compost also helps water to get to plant roots more effectively by:
- reducing crust forming on soil, so water can get into the soil more easily.
- helping to disperse water laterally from where it hits the ground, which means it will evaporate less quickly.
What a waste
Once you start composting you begin to realise the amount of food that is wasted and its cost. This awareness tends to help households to reduce food waste in general.
Food and garden waste account for more than 30% of the contents of a typical domestic wheeled bin, which is crazy when you think that this waste could be turned into free soil nutrition that can replace or reduce costly chemical fertilisers.
Around 50 per cent of local authorities in England have yet to begin separate food waste collection schemes, so there are still mountains of food waste being sent to landfill or incineration for the foreseeable future.
Engaging in the composting process also introduces children to environmental science. This is a topic that can grow in complexity as a child grows and is able to understand more about what is involved.
According to the charity Garden Organic, the health of the earth’s soils is fundamental to life as we know it, yet half the planet’s topsoil has been lost in the last 150 years.
Save our soil
There are around 15 million gardens in the UK – that’s millions of people with access to a patch of the planet. The charity urges people to take simple steps to redress soil degradation in their own gardens by regularly topping up beds with compost and ensuring soils are not left bare.
Bare soil is vulnerable to erosion, weeds and carbon loss. So even if you don’t need compost for the sake of plants, covering bare soil is still beneficial for the environment.
You can also spread compost thinly across a lawn or grassed area, where worms will pull it down into the soil and it will boost soil quality and by extension the grass.
Or give it away – to allotments, community gardens, school gardening clubs, voluntary groups. It will always be gratefully received.
Compost – spread the love.