Composting for healthy soil
Break it Down
BY MELISSA SUTTON-SENG
Millions of people took up gardening in the early months of the pandemic. Now, as we approach our
second spring of social distancing, many of us are looking for ways to improve our gardens.
One of the first things an amateur gardener hears about is the wonder-working power of compost but
starting a compost system can be intimidating. We talked to Riley Alber of Wilmington Compost Company
to learn what compost is, why it’s good for your garden, and how to do it correctly.
Compost is a combination of carbon-
based and nitrogen-based organic materi-als,
Alber says. Organic means things that
were once living; it is good to avoid syn-thetic
herbicides and pesticides altogether.
(Check out last month’s article on organic
gardening, “How Does Your Garden Grow?”
to learn why.)
As these materials decompose, they are
transformed into a nutrient-dense mixture
that can be added to a potting soil mix,
lawn, or garden.
What compost does
By adding organic matter and vital nutrients to soil, compost contrib-utes
to a healthy microbiome, leading to healthier plants and better har-vests.
Compost also diminishes the need for other inputs. On one acre of
land, a 1 percent increase in organic matter can help retain 25,000 gallons
of water each year and reduce the need for fertilizer by 40 percent, Alber
says. That translates to savings on watering and fertilization costs in the
garden while also decreasing harmful runoff.
Given the importance of organic matter in building healthy soil and
a healthy garden, it comes as no surprise that a compost system is a
valuable resource. What’s great about backyard compost is that it costs
basically nothing; you make it with the kitchen scraps and lawn debris
you’d normally throw away.
What if backyard composting isn’t an option?
A local composting program can be a good alternative for anyone unable to maintain a home compost system. One
advantage of commercial composters is that they can break down things a backyard pile cannot, like the bioplastics some
food and drink containers are now made of.
It’s also safe to include meat and dairy products in commercial compost-ing
programs because their facilities are designed and carefully monitored to
ensure temperatures sufficient to kill pathogens.
The City of Wilmington picks up yard waste free of charge for mulching
and composting. Though no municipal pickup is available for kitchen scraps
and other household compostables, New Hanover County residents can
drop off such materials at designated locations for the county composting
Wilmington Compost Company offers on-your-doorstep service, picking
up compostable items and dropping off a clean bucket on a weekly basis.
Customers receive a finished compost delivery twice per year, getting the
garden benefits of composting without tending a compost pile.
WBM march 2021