Composting 101: The Missing Link in LIFE

Did you know that compost can not only be used to fertilize your garden soil, but can also be used to control soil erosion, suppress plant disease, filter stormwater, and generate heat and electricity?

Compost absorbs rainfall, thus preventing rainwater from washing your soil away. It’s also full of beneficial micro-organisms, many of them known for their biocontrol properties. Biocontrol organisms outcompete disease pathogens, and also attack them through antibiotics, antifungals, and parasitism. Coarse compost can be used in rain gardens to filter stormwater – toxic metals and inorganic acids are sequestered in humus (the end product of composting), allowing clean water to flow through.

If you haven’t heard of Jean Pain, you should absolutely check out his work on Youtube. He was a French innovator who produced 100% of his energy needs from his compost system. He collected storm debris and fed it through a woodchipper to build a giant pile. He built an infrastructure of water hoses through the inside of the pile, and installed an anaerobic digester in the center of the pile, which produced methane to run an electricity generator, his cooking elements, and his truck. Jean Pain’s innovative system is currently experiencing revived interest – more and more compost heat recovery systems are popping up all over the place.

If there’s anything in nature that embodies regenerative potential, it’s decomposition. In natural ecosystems, leaves, sticks, dead insects and photodune-761075-seeds-on-fertile-soil-smicrobes, find themselves falling onto the soil surface. A little water and a little oxygen spur to life an underground universe feasting vibrantly on the gifts of death. As bacteria and fungi feast, so too do larger micro-organisms like nematodes and protozoa feed upon them – the soil food web stretches from single-celled bacteria to multi-celled insects and even larger animals like earthworms and gophers. It’s the activity of all of these soil organisms feasting and excreting that releases the nutrients once locked up in a single leaf cell into the soil, making it available once again for plant roots to take in and grow tall.

Often in permaculture, we allow the excess leaves, flowers, fruits, and sticks to simply fall in place, allowing it to decompose right where it was growing, creating a lush bed of mulch while also replacing those nutrients previously locked into the growing plant. But there’s also a great way to use that excess biomass and participate in one of the greatest gifts of nature – compost.