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What Is Compost And Do I Need It?

By Anthony Tripodi

Some people think compost is a just a bunch of manure. Others think it's what happens to your body when you die and get buried: "My Uncle Joe died last year, and his body has been de-compostin' ever since."

Compost is defined in the dictionary as "a mixture of decaying organic matter, as from leaves and manure, used to improve soil structure and provide nutrients." That's a great definition, but it really doesn't tell the whole story. It should say, "Compost is the greatest thing ever!" Well, the dictionary probably won't ever say that — but I will.

The circle of life
Compost is created when yard and food waste decomposes. Micro-organisms and invertebrates (also known as little buggers) feed on the waste, live their brief lives, reproduce, die — and then they become waste, too. This repeating cycle is how the soil gets its nutrients replenished. Like Mufasa said, "We all have our place in the circle of life." When it comes to compost, it’s just a very small circle.

Compost will happen on its own without any help from man. Look down at the ground in a dense forest. The leaves fall from the trees and decompose. This creates a rich soil that in turn feeds the trees. Compost happens naturally and has been since the dawn of time.

But man has figured out how to speed up the process. By mixing the right ratio of greens (grass clippings, coffee grinds, food waste, etc.) with the right ratio of browns (leaves, hay, shredded newspapers, etc.) and keeping the pile moist and well aerated, you will create compost much more quickly than nature.

Why compost?
Are you still asking what's the big deal about compost? Add some of this stuff to your garden bed and you'll know. Your plants will grow bigger and more healthy. Sure, you could add fertilizers and get the same results — for now. You see, synthetic fertilizers eventually break down and after a few years will leave the soil salty. At some point, you won't be able to grow anything without lots of that fertilizer (they planned it that way to sell you more). It's like raising a crack baby at that point — well, maybe not that bad … But you get the idea.

Adding compost to the soil is creating healthy soil. You're doing what nature is already trying to do, but you’re doing it faster and more efficiently.

Compost is not only great for your plants, but it's great for your soil and even for the environment. It is said that in the United States, 30 percent of all garbage is lawn and garden waste. Instead of putting those leaves and grass clippings out at the curb, compost them. This would not only cut down on the space needed in landfills but make everyone's gardens grow bigger, healthier and less dependent on synthetic fertilizers.

Hopefully, you're ready to build or buy a compost bin and get started. Remember that nature is going to decompose your yard waste at its own pace anyway. Why not lend a hand and speed up the process?

© Anthony Tripodi

Anthony Tripodi is the webmaster of, The Compost Guide. Visit for more information about compost, including ideas and equipment.

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