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Home  > Question of the Week

Question of the Week

Permalink What can you tell me about composting household organic waste?

Answer: Adding compost—nature's own fertilizer—is one of the best ways to make
the soil in your garden richer and more productive. And you can easily make it yourself, while cutting back on yard and kitchen waste. Compost is simply a product of nature's own recycling program. Anything that is alive, plant or animal, will decompose once it dies. But decomposition isn't a solitary act. Other organisms, from bacteria to large mammals, do the work of decomposition—consuming the dead matter to use its energy to sustain themselves.

When conditions are right, the end result of decomposition is compost, also called humus—a combination of digested and undigested food that resembles a soft, sweet-smelling, nutrient-rich soil.

Composting speeds along the decomposition process by controlling what is being decomposed and providing the right conditions and decomposition "workers." Bacteria are the first on the job, followed by fungi and protozoa, and then such larger organisms as earthworms and beetles. At the end of the process, you will have a soil amendment that not only adds nutrients to the soil but also can help break up heavy clay soil and improve the capacity of sandy soil to hold nutrients and water.

For more information, see the ATTRA publication Composting—The Basics. This publication provides a good discussion for beginning composters, addressing such topics as the materials that are needed to begin a compost pile and techniques for successfully managing the composting process. It includes a troubleshooting list describing common problems and how to address them. The publication also contains an introduction to composting for small agricultural operations such as market gardens. It is available at



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