Healthy Soil Is Important and Composting Helps Produce It
Composting is just for gardeners, right? I used to think so. But I’m learning that healthy soil is important, and composting is an easy way to get more of it. What’s the big deal about dirt?
Here’s a little Soil 101 to get us started:
- Good soil soaks up extra rainfall and helps prevent runoff.
- It stores extra water for plants and delivers it when needed.
- Good soil traps pollutants like oil, metals, and pesticides.
- It strains, filters, and purifies the air and water that percolate through it.
- Good soil provides healthy plants with extra nutrients.
How Good Soil Works (and how bad soil doesn’t)
If left alone, dirt usually does well all by itself. But with road-building and house constructing, it doesn’t function well. All this bad dirt leaves us with stuff like runoff, erosion, and all sorts of bad things.
Did you know that just a teaspoon or two of healthy soil has millions of different living organisms. Sounds gross, right? It’s not at all, though. These organisms all help bind the soil together, as well as capture and hold lots of different pollutants. And they let the soil stay spongy so it can filter water and air. Unhealthy soil can’t do any of this stuff.
What is Compost?
Compost (the making of good dirt) comes to the rescue. What technically is compost? It organic material that’s made when leaves, plants, grass clippings, and other organic material break down over time. There are lots of different ways to build a compost area in your backyard. A common ration is 2 parts brown (dead leaves, etc.) and one part green (grass clippings, etc.). The brown decomposes quickly and the green helps retain a little moisture to keep the process moving forward. (If things start to get a little smelly, you have too much green and need a little less moisture.)
What Goes Into Compost and What Should Stay Out?
Not only will composting give us better soil, we can use much of the food we throw away to help us compost better. According to USA Today, we Americans throw away almost 1/3 of all our food and we feel bad about it, but not enough to stop throwing things away. Composting helps you feel better about all that food waste.
Here’s a list of what works well in compost:
- Dead leaves and grass (brown)
- Grass clippings
- Weeds that haven’t gone to seed (If anything has flower tops keep them out of the compost and put them in the trash instead.)
- Vegetable and fruit waste (Keep meat, fish, and any oily or salty foods out of the compost and put them in the trash instead.)
- Anything made out of flour
- Grains (rice, barley, quinoa, etc.)
- Coffee grounds (and filters!)
- Tea leaves (and tea bags!)
- Outdated boxed food
- Egg shells
- Corn cobs and husks
Don’t put dairy products in your compost.
Consider adding a kitchen compost pail to your sink area. That way you can easily catch a lot of waste and keep it out of the trash can. Dump it into your compost area every few days, stir it up every once in a while to keep the new stuff mixed in with the older stuff, and you’ll be growing healthy soil in no time!
And if this seems like all too much work, you can still jump on the composting bandwagon because the amazing city of Portland makes it easy! Since October, 2011, they’ve been providing a green roll cart for composting that you can put at your curb weekly. Learn more on the City of Portland’s Portland Composts! page.
The great news is that the rules for this city service are a little bit different than typical composting rules. Why is that good? Because the city composting welcomes meat scraps, dairy, and other things that you wouldn’t want to include in your own backyard composting. And even better, all these materials are broken down and used by local landscapers and agricultural users. We’re saving the environment and helping local economy all at the same time. That’s a huge win, Portland!