Exploring the gospel principles of earth stewardship

Why compost?

A little while back I gave a presentation at our former ward’s “Skills Day”.  The half-day event was part of a summer-long programme of events spearheaded by the Bishop with the aim of encouraging self-sufficiency in these hard economic times.

I was asked to speak about gardening as MBCB and I have a large fruit and vegetable plot but I struggled to distil just a few ‘must know’ tips.  There is a lot that can be said about gardening, especially with reference to plantsmanship and soil management!  I narrowed it down to some basics, but decided to place the focus on composting.  A skill everyone should know, from farmer to non-gardener.

I’m always amazed at the number of gardeners who, despite being able to rattle off the scientific names for various plants, have little grasp on the art of composting!  Compost is not only a great source of nutrients for the garden, it is a great use of waste as much of what ends up in landfills could be composted.  Not only is this a loss of good fertiliser, it shortens the life of the landfill site and, once buried, decomposes anaerobically (without oxygen) creating methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.

A plastic composter at our vegetable plot in Scotland.

Since the 1990s, municipalities around the world have tried to encourage household composting to reduce the cost of disposing of organic waste.  I recall our family getting a black upright composter in the mid-90s, similar to the one shown on the right.  Our initial enthusiasm waned as we opened the composter after several months to find grass clippings and food waste still mostly intact.

More recently, my sister tried composting with her family using the same type of composter.  She had a similar experience – a big dry heap of grass peppered with mummified food scraps.  Along the same lines a friend in Scotland had found that her composter was not only ineffective, it had become home to a well-fed, nearly tame, rat.

Although home composting is perfectly feasible, many cities are now moving to central composting as waste managers find home owners can’t seem to make it work.  Not necessarily a bad idea, but why should you give away your valuable nutrients, only to buy them back from the city?

The good news is that composting is not hard and is much easier to learn then, say, making bread, as it is completely forgiving.

I thought that since I have some expertise (professional and practical) in the subject, I would share a little bit of knowledge on this basic skill.  In my next post I’ll go over the science and the art of home composting, giving away the secret to making your own free miracle fertiliser/soil amendment!

In the mean time, let me know of any questions you have or topics you’d like me to cover… or possibly a compost horror/success story of your own.

  • Anonymous

    I love compost. Because our backyard was once a parking lot, the soil is very poor. Nothing but tough invasive weeds will grow in the back area. But where we have compost, life sprouts spontaneously. The mutt squash plant currently growing at the front edge of our compost pile is a glorious testament to the fecundity we’ve been fostering our care and a little work.

    And compost is certainly a matter of self sufficiency and family preparedness. Food storage should be about being able to grow and harvest your own food, preserve it, save the seed, and cultivate the soil (including good compost) so you can continue to grow more, year after year. Although he didn’t mention compost specifically, Kimball’s counsel in 1976 follows along these lines: 
    “We encourage you to grow all the food that you feasibly can on your own property. Berry bushes, grapevines, fruit trees—plant them if your climate is right for their growth. Grow vegetables and eat them from your own yard. Even those residing in apartments or condominiums can generally grow a little food in pots and planters. Study the best methods of providing your own foods. Make your garden as neat and attractive as well as productive. If there are children in your home, involve them in the process with assigned responsibilities…
    Develop your skills in your home preservation and storage. We reaffirm the previous counsel the Church has always given, to acquire and maintain a year’s supply—a year’s supply of the basic commodities for us.”

    • Steve

      Add to that, there is a section in the Priesthood Manual – Duties and Blessing of the Priesthood B, with detailed instructions on composting:

      lds.org/gospellibrary/materials/dutiesB/Start_Here.pdf

      Page 148.

      • Anonymous

        Nice. I, for obvious reasons, had not read that manual before. I noticed that the beginning of the chapter on gardening used the same quote from President Kimball that I cited earlier. It makes me feel a little more legit.

  • Anonymous

    We simply bury our compost in the garden. Is that the wrong way to do it? If that is creating methane and there is a better way to do it, I can’t wait to hear about it.

    • Steve

      Excellent – I hope I won’t disappoint! There are many ‘right ways’ and some nifty technology that can help as well – which I think I’ll cover in a 3rd post.

    • Steve

      Simply stated, that would not be a good way to do it.  Compost needs air and burying it underground would likely slow the process down or turn it anaerobic – giving you a rotten egg smell.  Don’t worry about it though, it’s not a disaster, it’ll just be real slow!

  • Kayt

    I cannot wait to hear about how to compost.  Not sure why it has always seemed difficult to me.  I would like to know which types of containers are best, if you can make your own, and what can and cannot go into compost.  I have heard that dairy products are a big no-no, as well as meat. 

    • Steve

      My most recent post should answer those questions for you!  In terms of what can go in compost… anything organic.  That is is anything made from something that was once alive.  This includes all foods (dairy for sure), paper, wood and natural fibres (cotton and real linen).  Depending on your set up, open or closed container, urban/rural, I would advise not composting meat open composting anywhere or even closed composting in the city.  It attracts animals like crazy and can be a bit more smelly than other stuff.  That being said, I wouldn’t fret about a few bits of gristle from plate scrapings going in.  It certainly doesn’t hurt the process.  A bit of caution on paper and fabrics – yes it is possible to compost them, but it will take a lot longer than, say, a bunch of mushy vegetables.  Also, keep out glass, plastic and stuff with paint on it (some old paint contains lead).