Composting and using finished compost may be one of the best ways for individuals to help the climate. And, since compost is incredible for your garden, this lets your garden and the environment grow good together.
Readers of our blog know that I think using compost and mulch are two of the most important things that gardeners can do for their plants and soil. That’s because compost and mulch help keep your topsoil (and therefore plants) healthy in the near- and long-term.
But composting and using finished compost are also really good for the environment: it benefits the land, air, and sea. Personally, I think that this is a really powerful way for individuals to help address climate change.
Land: Boost soil health and plant growth
Plants need organic matter to grow. Compost not only adds organic matter to the soil for near-term use, but also adds important aerobic microorganisms that help make your soil healthier in the long-term. Where fertilizers help feed your soil, compost is like teaching your soil to fish. Additionally, compost adds important structural elements to your soil, so that plants roots have the room, air, and water that they need to grow.
In fact, a five-year agricultural study published in Food Research International looked at how different vegetables grew in soil. It found that when compost was added to the topsoil each year, vegetables not only grew larger in size and quantity, but they had more nutritional value than the vegetables that just grew in normal topsoil. Plants, trees, and shrubs use soil nutrients each year to grow and these soil nutrients need to be replenished. In a forest, leaves fall to the ground and, as they decompose around the base of that tree, they add nutrients back into the soil for this future growth. Because we often cut off or pick up the dead stuff in our gardens, adding some compost each year mimics what is done in nature.
Lastly, we can save landfill space. Finding sites for new landfills is hard; composting any organic materials can help save landfill space for items that we don’t yet know how to recycle. Prince William County estimated that composting the organic materials that go into the PWC landfill would extend the life of the landfill by 10 to 15 years. And, our composting facility in Manassas, VA has enough capacity to be a regional resource for the greater-Washington DC area.
Air: Improve air quality
Food and yard waste that are put in a landfill release methane, a greenhouse gas up to 84 times worse than CO2 over a 20-year period. This is partly why there a lot of pollical attention on methane gas: it’s one of the biggest levers for society to combat global warming in a (our) lifetime. When organic materials (food and yard waste) are composted, they don’t release methane gas. This helps our atmosphere and also returns the food and yard waste nutrients to our soils.
Additionally, when there is compost in our topsoil, it can help store the carbon dioxide that plants pull from the air and put into the soil as part of photosynthesis. As long as the soil is not heavily disturbed (e.g. tilled), the soil will store this carbon dioxide for a long time. This is called carbon sequestration, and there is a lot of interest in finding out how to do this at a large scale to reduce the atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2). We can play a small (but helpful!) role by doing this in our garden while also growing better plants!
Water: Minimize water use and pollution into the Chesapeake Bay
Because compost can hold 20 times its weight in water, you don’t have to water your garden as much or as frequently. Instead of draining through the soil, compost will absorb some of that water and then release it to plant roots when the plants need additional water.
Compost also improves water quality by retaining and/or breaking down pollutants, like heavy metals, gas, and oils. As a result, compost is often used in bioretention facilities—these are basically gardens that are specially designed to capture and purify rainwater, especially as it comes off of concreate parking lots and roadways.
An increasing number of people are putting a thin layer of compost on top of their grass in the fall (topdressing a lawn). This not only helps the grass stay greener longer into the growing season but, because it now has compost that has worked its way down into the soil, the compost will help clean any polluted water that drains from nearby driveways and roadways.
Overall, compost boosts soil health and productivity, improves air quality, and minimizes water use and pollution. Combined with all of the incredible benefits that it provides to your soil, this makes using compost an easy win-win for a garden, wallet, and the environment.
We make premium and local compost, mulch, and topsoil in Manassas, VA. They are specially designed to increase the health and productivity of our local soils, and with our focus on sustainable practices, this lets the environment and your garden grow good, together. We sell bulk and bagged compost, bulk natural mulches, bulk and bagged dyed mulches, and bulk topsoil.