Compost Basics

Welcome to the first of our three part mini blog series on Compost Composition!

Are you a seasoned dirt lover, new to the whole idea or right in between the two? 

Ready to learn more?! Get your boots strapped on, here we go! 

 compost boots

What is compost?

Compost: dirt made by the breakdown of ORGANIC materials

Organics = anything grown right from nature

This isn't limited to just the vegetables in the organic section of the grocery. It includes vegetables in the regular section as well. It literally means any material that is 100% natural.

Check out a few relatable examples that even extend outside of food:

 

white tshirt

100% cotton t-shirt you have on right now?
That's an organic material.

*Not all cotton is organic cotton.
Organic in the name means it was grown without chemicals.
We're focusing right now on something that was grown in nature, not in a lab.*

yoga pants50% polyester, 35% cotton and 15% elastane yoga pants?
Not organic. Both polyester and elastane are man made fibers.

We'll focus a later blog on the nature of organic farming (including organic compost). For now, just remember...

Compost is the breakdown of organic materials
(food and otherwise) into dirt.

 

food breakdown into compost

 

Types of Compost

Have you ever done the "Pepsi Challenge"? Where you try to see if you can tell blind folded if Pepsi and Coke actually taste different?? 

pepsi coca cola

Keep that in mind as we work through the different types of compost.

Compost can consist of a number of different types of input materials. The more granular you get with the ingredients, the different flavor profiles of the outputs. Like the slight variation in Coke vs. Pepsi.

If you're not a soda drinker, another way to think of this is like wine.

One of my favorites types is Malbec. Malbec from Argentina tastes completely different than a Malbec from France (Cahors). 

malbec argentina vs malbec france

If this has peaked your interest in wine, check out the full article on the differences here
**Special shout out to the note on different soils in their article**

There are definitely some similarities in the wines but a lot of the tasteful differences comes right down to the dirt.

The different types of compost depend on the ingredients. Those can really get specific. We'll cover more of this in our next blog Compost Ingredients.

Some examples of what you could make are below:

  • Bananas + Dried Leaves
  • Horse Manure + Wood Chips + Residential Food Scraps
  • Mixture of everything

One of the things to consider when thinking about making or purchasing compost is...what is in it.

You might look at the ingredients of a package of crackers to see if they have gluten, dairy or GMOs. Why not also think about what is going on top of the food or plant that you're about to grow?

At Ground Down we are currently making a blended product specifically focused on localizing our scraps in Fort Wayne. More in the future.

Whether you are composting at home or with a service. Start to think about your inputs! 

P.S. - we're going to cover a lot more about how to tell the mixture in our next mini blog post, Compost Ingredients.

 

Mulch vs. Compost

We launched a small graphic on our instagram earlier this week in honor of International Compost Awareness Week!

The graphic below does a pretty good job at explaining the high level differences.

mulch v. compost

It is important to understand which you are going to use in your landscaping (garden, lawn, trees) based on what you are trying to do. 

Looking to prevent weed growth, grab mulch.

flower bed

I have mulch through some of my flower beds at our house right now to hold back some weeds. 

Looking to make your grass lush and your tomato plants juicy? Grab compost.

Compost introduces helpful microorganisms into the soil that protect plant roots. 

compost on plant

It's a balance between the two and knowing which application will get that specific part of your yard or area beautiful! 

 

Why Compost?

This list of reasons to compost is super long! For today, I chose my three favorite reasons. 

I'll be sharing more in the future. Please share in the comments if you have a favorite reason outside of these!

1. Restore Top Soil 

Top Soil is the top 5-10 inches of dirt (the Earth).

Top Soil contains the highest amount of nutrients and microorganisms in all of the layers of soil. These nutrients support growth of all things (plants, trees, food).

Top Soil is darker in color and sometimes called "black gold" or humus

top soil layer

We lose roughly 1% of the top soil each year due to erosion.

Erosion happens as the soil loses the ability to retain water. This can happen for a number of reasons but some include the introduction of chemicals, tilling and compaction. 

Compost is not a top soil replacement. It is a way for us to re-build the top soil

Think of it like brushing your teeth.

Compost = Tooth Paste.

Tooth paste is not going to clean your teeth alone. You need the foundation of a tooth brush or some other apparatus to actually brush your teeth. The tooth paste allows the teeth to be clean with the different ingredients. 

 

2. Retain Water

The microorganisms in compost create small air pockets in the soil. These air pockets allow soil to retain water.

Instead of puddles on top of the soil, the soil drinks up the water and stores it in preparation for future drought or low water situations.

Right now the midwest has an abundance of nitrogen in the water ways (specifically the Mississippi). The high amounts of nitrogen are causing "algae blooms" in the Gulf of Mexico.

algae bloom

The nitrogen enters into the water through erosion, runoff and more.

One thing we can do to stop this is apply compost. Compost can be used not only as an application on top of gardens, it can be used as a berm (see below) to retain water and harmful runoff.

compost berm

This allows healthier crops, better food but most importantly clean water

Did you know that humans can survive with the following:

  • 3 minutes without air
  • 3 days without water
  • 3 weeks without food

Water preservation needs to be at the top of our list!

3. Reserve Space in the Landfill

This might seem counter intuitive. I'm telling you that you SHOULD put things into the landfill?!

My whole belief is very much still:
first reduce, then reuse and then recycle. 

Unfortunately due to the current state of consumerism, some items just cannot be recycled. 

Insert the landfill here!!! 

 landfill

What we need to do is reserve the space in the landfill for things that truthfully cannot breakdown.

If we compost (say the size of a horse) in food and organic waste, we save space for things that need to go into the landfill. This allows us to use the landfill longer! 

Examples of some items that still need to go in the landfill 
(until someone develops a wicked cool company around it - if it exists, let me know):

  • Broken home blinds that cannot be recycled or reused
  • Packaging for dog food 
  • Stickers from your fruits and veggies 
  • Glossy paper products
  • Food packaging that is not recyclable
**Yes. I did just look in my garbage can to see what we actually throw away at our house.** 

Ultimately the more you can reduce in your household, the better!

If you need those quick items that have non-recyclable packaging stay tuned. We're going to have a list of sustainably packaged items in the near future. 

A quick trick for items that you are going to throw into the garbage can:
Use a paper bag or compostable bag to reduce your plastic foot print.

garbage can


Remember. The road to sustainability is a journey! 

Don't put too much pressure on yourself to be perfect. Take small steps each day, acknowledge yourself for those steps and then take another!

When possible, compost and recycle!

 ---

This ends our first blog of three! 

We are excited to share information with you and appreciate your passion to learn, desire to be open minded and curious nature. 

Coming up next, learn with us about the following:

  • Compost Ingredients
  • Compost Techniques

If you have any comments, feedback or questions please leave them below or send me an email. 

Cheers!
Megan

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