The Compost Gardener

Compost - it's the cornerstone of an organic garden and even chemically inclined gardeners will find it a great ally. The more you know about it and the ecosystem it is, and provides, the more profoundly you'll appreciate it.

For me Ellie Schoenfeld's poem, Patriotism, is the perfect tribute to both soil and compost and captures my own feelings about this remarkable and humble servant to the garden.

by Ellie Schoenfeld

My country is this dirt

that gathers under my fingernails

when I am in the garden.

The quiet bacteria and fungi,

all the little insects and bugs

are my compatriots. They are

idealistic, always working together

for the common good.

I kneel on the earth

and pledge my allegiance

to all the dirt of the world,

to all of that soil which grows

flowers and food

for the just and unjust alike.

The soil does not care

what we think about or who we love.

It knows our true substance,

of what we are really made.

I stand my ground on this ground,

this ground which will


recruit us all

to its side.

from The Dark Honey
© Clover Valley Press, 2009
Published with permission. 

What Does Compost Do?

Compost is a remarkable substance resulting from the decay of organic material such as kitchen scraps, weeds, shredded paper, leaves, and other things we otherwise would just throw away.

  • Provides low, steady, balanced nutrition to plants. It holds nutrients in the root zone keeping them available for plants to use.

  • Raises the pH of acid soils and lowers the pH of alkaline soils. It helps keep soil pH in an optimum range for the plants to use the available nutrients.

  • Enhances soil structure. Clay soils get improved drainage and air pockets. Sandy soils have improved water and nutrient holding capacity.

  • Suppresses fungal and bacterial plant diseases.

  • Cleans up petrochemical and munition pollution including most herbicides, pesticides and fungicides as well as TNT.

How Can Compost Do All That?

Most of us see soil as a static nutrient holder and convenient anchor for plant roots. But whether or not our plants can actually use the soil nutrients depends more on the life in the soil than on nutrients the soil happens to have. Consider this:

  • A teaspoon full of soil holds billions of probably 10,000 or so species of bacteria and several miles or kilometers of fungi.

  • A teaspoon full of compost has even more soil life in it.

Compost in not a fertilizer, it is an ecosystem. It seeds the soil with billions of diverse life forms who work together to make soil function.

Compost works because it feeds and provides a habitat for the soil microorganisms. They are the true miracle workers making the nutrient cycles cycle and ultimately feeding us all - just and unjust alike.