Melanie Chasseur | Chippewa Luce Mackinac Conservation District
The world beneath the thick, white blanket of snow is still alive, active and going through natural processes that bring us such beautiful bounties that we daydream about in the warmer months. Having nutrient-dense, loamy, disease-free earth as a medium to grow our favorite foods, flowers, and forage for animals is essential to create bountiful harvests.
Did you know that in one teaspoon of soil, there are 1 BILLION living organisms!? Their job is to break down organic matter from plant and animal tissues, to ensure the soil has a healthy balance of nutrients that living plants absorb in order to grow. Not, only for the health of the plants or their nutritional value that we may eventually consume, but ultimately for the ecosystem of the soil to be balanced, alive, and thriving. Healthy, dynamic soil, rich with nutrients and beneficial organisms is the foundation of successful gardening and growing.
One of the easiest things you can do to reduce your environmental impact and to improve the health of the soil for houseplants, garden beds, or farms, is to compost. Layering and mixing together food scraps, plant waste, and other organic materials to be decomposed with help from microorganisms, is the process of composting. This rich fertilizer can be added to soils to improve the available nutrients and health of the soil. Not only is this a beneficial way to reduce kitchen food waste and other organic plant matter from being thrown into the landfill, but composting can dramatically limit the need for synthetic chemical fertilizers that have drastically increased in price due to manufacturing scarcity and demand. By creating and using your own compost, you can be sure to have a self-sustaining method and supply of nutrients to be used from harvest to harvest.
The recipe for creating a balanced compost mixture consists of a 1:2 ratio of nitrogen to carbon. Nitrogen-rich materials, often called greens include food scraps and lush plant materials. Carbon-rich materials, or browns, can be dried leaves, yard clippings, wood mulch, ash, nutshells, untreated paper products … and the list goes on! There are a few items that should be avoided in backyard compost piles, like meat, dairy, fat, oils, diseased plant material, invasive species, or anything treated with chemicals. Minimal amounts of grains like bread and rice can be composted but can cause a compost pile to smell and increase the risk of wildlife being attracted to the grains as a food source.
Recycling nutrient-rich food scraps and yard waste to break down and become readily available nutrients for plants through the magic of composting is an excellent way to minimize food waste from being sent to the landfill, lessen the use for synthetic fertilizers and create healthy soils to grow the foods and plants that sustain us and bring us life.
— Melanie Chasseur is a technician for the Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program’s Chippewa Luce Mackinac Conservation District.