Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Compost: The Natural Way to Make Food for Your Garden

This may seem like an odd book to spend time with. After all, how much can one possibly write on the subject of compost? You’d be surprised. I’ve toyed around with the idea of a compost pile for a while. There was even one very short-lived attempt at it. Let’s just say climbing into a pit of smelly waste with a pitchfork to turn all of it was not top of my to-do list. But now with a better garden than I’ve ever had before, and plans to expand, I decided it was something I needed to think about again, with the hope of finding an easier way of doing it. Really, with the amount of waste the average household can produce between the house and yard, there should be more than enough material to work with and make a success out of composting. But how to accomplish that?

Compost by Ken Thompson is the best and most simplified explanation of the process I could ever have hoped for. Many nonfiction books on topics like this read as though they were written by some grand horticultural scientist sitting in his state-of-the-art conservatory, judging all other gardens like his own. This was nothing like that. This was much more like an average (though knowledgeable) gardener sharing what he knows with other average (though less knowledgeable) gardeners.

It is not an instruction book so much as a guide. He manages to explain the biological processes that take place in a compost pile in a very simple and thorough way, while even managing to make it appealing. After outlining conventional composting advice, Thompson takes it apart element by element showing how it sets you up to fail from the beginning. But he doesn’t stop there. He explains what does work, and several ways of accomplishing happy results.

Whether you have lots of kitchen waster, garden waste, prunings, etc., he has advice and clear instructions on what to do with all of it. He factors for different budgets and personalities having different abilities or styles. Purchased compost bins, DIY bins, and open piles are all laid out, explained, and the reader is shown how they can make any of them work best for them and their particular situation.

Aside from the content, this is also just a beautiful little book. Thick, rich paper, every page a different color/pattern, lovely full-color photographs every couple pages, the whole presentation makes composting exciting…as nerdy as that sounds.

I don’t consider myself an ecologist, a greenie, a “crunchy”-anything, or any other popular term for naturalists. However, the idea of composting is something that can appeal to every gardener. Who doesn’t like taking something they would throw away and turning it into something useful, and something that can, in the long run, save you money? As Thompson says:

Most waste is incinerated or ends up in a landfill, yet about half of all household waste could be composted. At the same time, every year gardeners around the world buy millions of tons of growing media, soil conditioners, and mulching materials…A high proportion of this could be replaced, free of charge, if gardeners started recycling what they now simply throw away.

This book is an excellent introduction to the composting process. It is very thorough without being overwhelmingly scientific, preachy, or obnoxiously tree-huggy. If you think composting is too hard to bother with, but it still sounds interesting, or if you’ve tried and failed badly in the past, or if, like me, you want to start, but you aren’t sure where to turn first, definitely give this book a try. If nothing else it is very beautiful to look at.


  1. Does your city offer free compost bins? Our does and it works like a dream.

    It's probably much more nasty than I think it is. I'm not the one who goes to dump our waste out. :D

  2. Does your city offer free compost bins? Our does and it works like a dream.

    It's probably much more nasty than I think it is. I'm not the one who goes to dump our waste out. :D

    1. I checked, and couldn't seem to find anything along those lines. I wish they did. I'll look a little deeper, but I'm still pricing some, and found some that weren't too terrible online.