Composting for Organic Gardening: Boosting Plant Growth And Reducing Chemical Inputs

Gardening enthusiasts and environmentally conscious individuals are increasingly turning to organic methods for nurturing their plants. Composting, in particular, has gained significant popularity as a sustainable practice for enhancing soil fertility and reducing reliance on chemical inputs. In this article, we will explore the concept of composting for organic gardening and its numerous benefits.

Organic gardening involves growing plants in a way that promotes natural processes and avoids the use of synthetic chemicals. Composting, a key aspect of organic gardening, is the process of decomposing organic waste materials into a nutrient-rich soil amendment called compost. This natural fertilizer provides essential nutrients, improves soil structure, and fosters a healthy ecosystem for plants.

What is Composting?

Composting is a biological process that involves the decomposition of organic matter by microorganisms such as bacteria, fungi, and insects. These organisms break down organic waste materials, such as kitchen scraps, yard trimmings, and plant residues, into a dark, crumbly substance known as compost. This nutrient-rich material serves as an excellent soil conditioner and provides a range of benefits for organic gardening.

Benefits of Composting for Organic Gardening

Composting offers numerous advantages for organic gardeners. Here are some key benefits:

1. Improved Soil Structure and Fertility

Compost helps improve soil structure by enhancing its ability to retain water and nutrients. It promotes the development of beneficial soil organisms, including earthworms and beneficial bacteria, which contribute to a healthy soil ecosystem.

The improved soil structure facilitates root growth and nutrient uptake by plants, leading to healthier and more robust crops.

2. Nutrient-Rich Soil Amendment

Compost contains a balanced blend of essential plant nutrients, including nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K), along with trace elements.

These nutrients are released slowly over time, providing a steady supply for plant growth. Unlike synthetic fertilizers, compost nourishes plants without the risk of nutrient imbalances or harmful chemical runoff.

3. Reduced Environmental Impact

By adopting composting practices, organic gardeners can minimize their reliance on synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.

This reduction in chemical inputs helps protect the environment by preventing the pollution of waterways and minimizing soil degradation. Composting also reduces greenhouse gas emissions, as organic waste sent to landfills generates methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

4. Waste Reduction and Recycling

Composting offers an effective solution for managing organic waste materials. By diverting kitchen scraps, yard trimmings, and other biodegradable materials from landfills, composting reduces waste and promotes recycling.

It turns these materials into a valuable resource, closing the loop in the organic waste cycle and contributing to a circular economy.

Types of Composting Methods

There are several methods of composting, each suited to different space constraints, available materials, and desired outcomes. Some common composting methods include:

Backyard or Home Composting

Backyard composting is a popular choice for individual homeowners and small-scale gardeners. It involves creating a compost pile or using a compost bin in your backyard or garden. This method allows you to control the composting process and easily access the finished compost for use in your organic garden.


Vermicomposting utilizes earthworms to break down organic waste materials. It involves setting up a worm bin and introducing specific types of worms, such as red wigglers. The worms consume the organic matter and produce nutrient-rich castings, which are highly beneficial for plants. Vermicomposting is an excellent option for those with limited outdoor space or those looking for a composting method suitable for indoor use.

Bokashi Composting

Bokashi composting is an anaerobic fermentation process that uses beneficial microorganisms to break down organic waste. It involves layering the waste with a specialized bran inoculated with microorganisms. The waste undergoes fermentation, producing a nutrient-rich material known as bokashi. Bokashi composting is an ideal method for composting food waste and can be done indoors.

Community Composting

Community composting initiatives involve multiple individuals or households collectively composting their organic waste in a shared space. These initiatives can be established in neighborhoods, schools, or other community settings. Community composting promotes social engagement, education, and resource sharing, while reducing the overall carbon footprint associated with waste disposal.

How to Start Composting

Getting started with composting is relatively easy. Follow these steps to initiate your composting journey:

Choose a Composting Method

Consider your available space, the quantity of organic waste you generate, and your desired level of involvement. Select a composting method that suits your needs and resources.

Designate a Composting Area

Identify a suitable location for your compost pile or bin. Ideally, it should be easily accessible, well-drained, and located away from direct sunlight or strong winds.

Gather Compostable Materials

Collect organic waste materials such as kitchen scraps (fruit and vegetable peels, coffee grounds, etc.), yard trimmings, leaves, and plant residues. Avoid adding meat, dairy, and oily foods, as they may attract pests or slow down the composting process.

Layer and Moisturize

Begin by layering the compostable materials. Alternate between dry, carbon-rich materials (leaves, straw) and wet, nitrogen-rich materials (kitchen scraps, grass clippings). Add water as needed to maintain a moist but not soggy compost pile.

Maintain and Turn the Compost

Regularly monitor the compost pile’s moisture level and temperature. Turn the pile using a pitchfork or compost aerator every few weeks to promote aeration and accelerate decomposition.

Harvest and Use the Compost

After several months, the compost will transform into a dark, crumbly material with an earthy smell. It is then ready to use in your organic garden. Apply a layer of compost to your planting beds, mix it with potting soil for container gardening, or use it as a top dressing for existing plants.

Compost Ingredients and Ratios

Successful composting requires a balance of carbon-rich (browns) and nitrogen-rich (greens) materials. Use the following guidelines to achieve the ideal compost mix:

Carbon-rich (Browns) Materials:

  • Dry leaves
  • Straw
  • Shredded paper
  • Cardboard
  • Wood chips

Nitrogen-rich (Greens) Materials:

  • Grass clippings
  • Vegetable and fruit scraps
  • Coffee grounds
  • Tea leaves
  • Plant trimmings

Maintain a carbon-to-nitrogen ratio (C:N) of approximately 25-30 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen. This balance ensures proper decomposition and prevents unpleasant odors.

Maintaining and Troubleshooting

To ensure successful composting, follow these maintenance tips and troubleshoot common issues:

1. Monitor Moisture Levels

Maintain a moisture level similar to a wrung-out sponge. If the compost pile is too dry, add water. If it’s too wet, incorporate dry carbon-rich materials to improve aeration.

2. Ensure Sufficient Aeration

Adequate airflow is crucial for composting. Regularly turn the compost pile to introduce oxygen and prevent anaerobic conditions. If using a compost bin, choose one with ventilation or add air holes.

3. Manage Temperature

Composting generates heat as organic matter decomposes. Monitor the internal temperature of the compost pile. If it becomes too hot (above 160°F), turn it more frequently or add dry materials to cool it down. If it’s too cool, add more nitrogen-rich materials to stimulate decomposition.

4. Address Odor Issues

Unpleasant odors may indicate an imbalance in the compost pile. Ensure the carbon-to-nitrogen ratio is balanced, and avoid adding meat, dairy, or oily foods that can cause odor problems. If odors persist, turn the compost more frequently and add dry materials.

Using Compost in Organic Gardening

Compost is a valuable resource for organic gardeners. Here are some effective ways to utilize compost in your gardening practices:

Soil Amendment

Mix compost into your garden soil to improve its structure, water-holding capacity, and nutrient content. Incorporate a generous amount of compost into planting holes or spread it evenly across planting beds before sowing or transplanting.


Apply a layer of compost as mulch around plants. Mulching conserves soil moisture, suppresses weed growth, and gradually releases nutrients into the soil as the compost decomposes.

Compost Tea

Create a nutrient-rich liquid fertilizer by steeping compost in water. Use this compost tea to water your plants or as a foliar spray to provide additional nutrients and boost plant health.

Seed Starting Mix

Blend compost with potting soil to create a nutrient-rich medium for starting seeds. The compost provides essential nutrients for seedlings’ initial growth.


Composting is a valuable practice for organic gardeners seeking to boost plant growth and reduce their reliance on chemical inputs. By utilizing various composting methods and incorporating compost into their gardening practices, individuals can create nutrient-rich soil, improve plant health, and contribute to a sustainable and environmentally friendly approach to gardening.


  1. Is composting difficult to start?Not at all! Composting is a straightforward process that can be started with minimal effort and resources. With the right materials and a basic understanding of the composting principles, anyone can begin composting at home.
  2. Can I compost in an apartment or with limited space?Yes, you can. If you have limited space, consider vermicomposting or bokashi composting methods. Both can be done indoors and require minimal space.
  3. How long does it take for compost to be ready?The time required for compost to fully decompose depends on various factors, such as the composting method, materials used, and environmental conditions. Typically, composting can take anywhere from a few months to a year.
  4. Can I compost meat, dairy, or oily foods?It is generally recommended to avoid adding meat, dairy, or oily foods to the compost pile, as they can attract pests and slow down the decomposition process. Stick to composting plant-based materials for best results.
  5. Is composting only beneficial for organic gardening?While composting is highly beneficial for organic gardening, it can also be used in conventional gardening practices. The nutrient-rich compost improves soil fertility and structure, benefiting all types of plants.