Spring has sprung and for green thumbs, that means one thing: it is time to plan and plant the garden! This is always an exciting time of year, and while the growing season might always seem too short, there are various ways to increase your produce yield in the amount of time our Minnesota climate provides. Of those, the best, most sustainable way is compost! Whether you are a novice or a veteran gardener, it is always important to remember the many benefits of using compost.
According to Olmsted County Department of Environmental Resources (OCDER), compost by definition is “an organic matter resource that has the unique ability to improve the physical, chemical, and biological properties of soil or growing media that are critical for plant growth and development.”
Through a biological process involving microbes, oxygen, and moisture, organic matter decomposes from its original state and is sanitized through heat. After 60 to 90 days in an industrial compost pile, the result is a wonderful dark, rich, earthy matter. That matter is perfect to use in garden soil, as mulch around shrubbery and trees, on lawns, and as a potting soil additive.
OCDER describes a number of benefits in using compost, including helping soil hold water and retain nutrients, control weed seed germination, moderate soil temperature, and help reduce erosion during heavy rains. Additionally, compost adds beneficial microorganisms to soils, encourages strong roots, and helps plants with nutrient uptake.
All plants can benefit from yearly compost application. The macronutrients in compost promote leaf proliferation (nitrogen), strong root development (phosphorus) and environmental stress mitigation (potassium). It is important to note for vegetables, compost does not have as high of nitrogen levels as fertilizer, so those crops may benefit from additional fertilizer additives.
Bags of compost can be found at virtually any home goods and gardening store. However, a new product is now available in the area that provides both the environmental and sustainable benefits of compost, as well as providing social and economic benefits to the region.
Through a partnership between Olmsted County, The Alternative Learning Center (ALC), and Workforce Development, a non-profit called Growing Home of Olmsted is working with students in alternative learning programs to offer education and training opportunities through urban agricultural ventures. The first step in this venture: bagging compost!
Inspired by Will Allen and Growing Power of Milwaukee, Growing Home originated out of the desire to offer employment and training to homeless and highly mobile youth living in supportive housing settings. That population expanded to alternative learning programs after students at the ALC showed much interest in their own composting program and their urban garden. In 2015, Growing Home and ALC began working with students to bag, distribute and sell the excess bulk compost from the county compost site. This is a crucial first step for the program, creating a cash flow in order to expand agricultural ventures with the students and other homeless and highly mobile youth.
Bags of compost are currently for sale at the ALC as well as at the People’s Food Co-op. All proceeds from the sales of compost going to Growing Home.
Items to compost include
- Fruit and vegetable waste
- Dead flowers and plants (non-diseased)
- Hay and straw
- Ashes and wood
- Shredded cardboard
- Corn stalks
- Shredded newspaper and other paper
- Pine needles
- Shredded stems, twigs, hedge clippings
- Coffee grounds
Items not to compost include
- Pet waste
- Coal ash
- Inorganic material (aluminum foil, plastic, metal)
- Meat, bones, fish, fats and dairy
- Synthetic chemicals (pesticides or herbicides)