World Wildlife Day is March 3, 2023 (the US specific day is in September). I thought it would be interesting to see if and how compost supported local wildlife.
Since I was running short on time for this blog post, I invited a guest contributor: Chat GPT. I’m impressed by what it gave me!, but I don’t think it will be winning any debate team contests either.
Based on its output, I gave its argument a little bit of structure and some minor edits.
Compost supports wildlife in three ways. First, and most directly, compost supports an intricate web of life in and around our soils. While these microorganisms and small insects aren’t the typical poster child for the World or US Wildlife Day campaigns, I think it’s an important element.
Second, and less directly, compost supports plants; native plants are particularly important for the local ecosystem and wildlife.
Lastly, and perhaps least directly, compost helps create a sustainable local environment. These are the typical, macroenvironmental arguments for composting and using finished compost.
Please note, I have not checked Chat GPT’s output for complete accuracy, so facts beware! Of course, please flag anything wrong and/or other ways that you can think of in the comment suggestion below! I did think that some of the directional thoughts were interesting.
Compost—Supporting Soil Life
Composting is the process of breaking down organic matter, like food and yard waste, into a nutrient-rich amendment (compost) that creates healthy and vibrant soil. Not only is this process beneficial for gardens and yards, but it creates a healthy ecosystem for microorganisms, insects, and small creatures.
As organic matter decomposes, it releases nutrients that support the growth of and living environment for microorganisms, like bacteria and fungi. There is more life in a handful (maybe even spoonful!) of healthy soil than there are people in the world. These living microorganisms are critical for making healthy soil and, in turn, healthy plants, trees, and shrubs.
Moving up the food chain (or at least size chart), the decomposition process also supports things like earthworms, beetles, and spiders. Earthworms, for example, live off healthy soil and, in turn, help aerate the soil and create channels for water and air to flow through.
Earthworms also break down organic matter into a form that can be more easily absorbed by plants. Beetles and spiders are important predators of other insects, which helps to control pest populations and maintain a balanced ecosystem.
Composting also provides food and shelter for larger wildlife, such as birds and small mammals. The insects and microorganisms that thrive in compost piles are an important food source for many bird species, such as robins, wrens, and bluebirds. These birds help to control insect populations and spread plant seeds throughout the region. Small mammals, like mice, shrews, and voles, can also make their homes in compost piles, using the rich, moist environment as a source of food and shelter.
[At our composting facility in Manassas, VA, we have come across snakes in the compost pile. We’ve even had geese lay eggs on top of piles! While we discourage geese from making a nest on our piles, we do protect it once it happens!]
Compost—supporting native plants
Native plants are plants that naturally occur in a particular region. They are an essential component of local ecosystems because they provide food and shelter to wildlife. I’ll walk through some of the various points.
Food source: Native plants provide an abundant and diverse food source for wildlife. First, they attract a variety of insects, which are a critical food source for many bird species, such as chickadees, warblers, and thrushes. Second, native plants also provide fruits, nuts, and seeds for many mammals, like birds, squirrels, deer, and rabbits.
Habitat: Native plants provide important habitats for wildlife, from shelter to nesting sites to hiding places. They also Native plants also support a diverse range of insect and bird species, which in turn attract predators such as hawks and owls. Many native plants also provide important breeding habitats for amphibians and reptiles, which are essential for maintaining healthy ecosystems. [This seems more coastal vs being directly applicable to us in Manassas, VA!).
Biodiversity: Native plants are essential for maintaining biodiversity. They provide a diverse range of habitats, food sources, and breeding sites, which support a wide variety of wildlife species. Biodiversity is important because it ensures the resilience of ecosystems and helps to protect against the impacts of climate change, disease, and other threats.
Low maintenance: Native plants are often low maintenance and require less water and fertilizer than non-native species. This makes them an excellent choice for sustainable landscaping, as they reduce the need for inputs such as water, fertilizer, and pesticides. [Fewer fertilizers and pesticides is good for local wildlife…]
Cultural significance: Native plants have cultural significance for many indigenous communities, who have used these plants for food, medicine, and other purposes for thousands of years. By planting and protecting native plants, we can support the cultural heritage of these communities and promote greater understanding and appreciation of their traditions.
In addition to their benefits for wildlife, native plants have many other benefits for sustainable living. They help to conserve water, reduce the need for synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, and improve soil health. They also support sustainable agriculture by providing important habitats for pollinators and other beneficial insects.
There are several ways to incorporate native plants into your landscape. One option is to create a native plant garden, which can provide a beautiful and diverse habitat for wildlife. Another option is to incorporate native plants into your lawn or other landscaping features.
In conclusion, native plants are a critical part of local ecosystems and provide wildlife with many benefits: diverse habitats, food sources, and breeding sites. Native plants are also low maintenance, culturally significant, and have many extended benefits for living sustainably. By planting and protecting native plants, we can support local wildlife, protect biodiversity, and promote sustainable living practices.
Composting and using finished compost—making a favorable climate.
As a third category, composting reduces the amount of waste that ends up in landfills, which has a positive impact on the environment. Landfills are a major source of greenhouse gas emissions: as organic materials decompose without oxygen, it releases methane gas.
Methane is a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. By composting organic waste instead of putting it in a landfill, we can reduce the amount of methane released into the atmosphere and help to mitigate climate change.
Composting also reduces the need for chemical fertilizers and pesticides, which are harmful to wildlife and the environment. Chemical fertilizers and pesticides can kill off beneficial insects and pollute the soil and water. By using compost instead of chemical fertilizers, we can provide plants with the nutrients they need to grow without harming the local ecosystem. A healthy soil ecosystem often doesn’t need pesticides!
In addition to supporting local wildlife, composting has many other benefits for sustainable living. Composting reduces the amount of waste that ends up in landfills, conserves water by improving soil health, and reduces the need for synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.
Composting is also an important part of sustainable agriculture because it helps maintain soil fertility as well as reduce the time and money spent on synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.
There are several ways to compost at home, from using a simple pile or bin to using a worm composting system. Simple piles or bins can be made from materials such as wood pallets, wire mesh, or even cinder blocks. It’s best to put these piles or bins in a sunny area with good water drainage. They should also be turned regularly to ensure that the compost is evenly broken down.
Worm composting systems (vermicomposting), use worms to break down organic matter into nutrient-rich soil. These systems can be used indoors or outdoors, and are a great option for people with limited space or who want to compost inside (instead of outside).
In conclusion, composting is an important aspect of sustainable living that supports local wildlife and helps to create a healthy ecosystem. Composting reduces waste, conserves water, reduces the need for synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, and helps to mitigate climate change. By providing a rich, diverse environment for microorganisms, insects, and other small creatures, composting supports the growth of many different types of wildlife, from earthworms and beetles to birds and small mammals.
Composting is also an easy and accessible way for individuals and communities to make a positive impact on the environment. By diverting organic waste from landfills and using it to create nutrient-rich soil, we can reduce the amount of greenhouse gas that is released into the atmosphere.
However, it is important to note that not all materials are suitable for composting. When composting at home, foods like meat, dairy, and oily foods should be avoided since they can attract pests and slow down the composting process. It is also important to ensure that the compost pile is properly maintained, with regular turning and proper moisture levels so that the organic matter breaks down evenly and efficiently.
In addition to home composting, many communities have composting programs that allow residents to drop off their organic waste for composting. These programs often provide composting bins or bags, and the resulting compost is used in community gardens or sold to local farmers. These programs can be a great way for communities to reduce waste and support local agriculture.
Overall, composting is a simple and effective way to support local wildlife and create a more sustainable local community and future. By providing a rich, diverse environment for microorganisms, insects, and other small creatures, composting helps create a healthy ecosystem. Composting also reduces waste, conserves water, and reduces the need for synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. Whether through composting at your home or participating in community programs, composting is an accessible and meaningful way for individuals and communities to positively impact the environment.