Making Compost is Simple? Not!

Making compost is simple: vegetable waste + water+ heat = rot and (eventually) soil. The tricky part comes when we realize that what we put into the compost doesn’t always rot into something that’s healthy. ( School compost programs should think carefully about how to compost: see for example compost.css.cornell.edu/faq.html for examples of ways that compost can become a problem.)

To share my own story: when I first started composting I didn’t realize that the bins let the rats and raccoons in. I fed them, made my neighbors mad, and didn’t get much compost for my garden. There are other issues with compost: it needs to be really hot to kill some kinds of the fungi and plant bacteria that ruin our plants. Many home compost systems are just too small to get that hot.

So whose advice to take? It’s important to find information that is about the area where you live. Information from a University that’s in your part of the country is a good way to start. There’s lots of resources on the web but evaluating them is pretty hard – look for articles written after measuring and recording observations. I also try to find advice from local resources and publications which report information from evidence, or the critical evaluation of information and experience. And I ask knowledgeable neighbors: master gardeners – thanks for your advice!

Here’s some Pacific Northwest resources that I found:

Backyard food composting:
your.kingcouny.gov/solidwaste/garbage-recycling/backyard-composting.asp
Washington State University: such as Whatcom.wsu.edu/ag/compost/mrcprogram.htm (The WSU extension program looks objectively at the science behind the recommendation, and tests it to see how it works in the real world.)
Another link would be found at Gardening.wsu.edu — search “backyard composting” and look for publication EB1784E

Several local groups teach composting in the Northwest. I’d check the credentials of the program before signing up. (A shout-out to school and after-school programs teaching gardening, composting, and research. Deb and Rachel, thanks for asking, and for sending an article to review.)

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