60 lb Pumpkin grown with only a Seed, Compost & Water

Composting is so hugely valuable for your plants (and your ability to show off your green thumb!) that I want to make this post as simple as can be.

A working (hot) compost pile needs only a few things to get started:

 NITROGEN – in the form of animal manures, greens and/or kitchen scraps

  • NEVER include meat, dairy or the manures of humans or meat eaters in your compost pile!
  • For a “hot pile” that works quickly (and burns off weed seeds) use chicken droppings                                          or a bag of cow manure to provide extra nitrogen

CARBON – think of dried leaves, dried weeds (before they go to seed!) and straw

MOISTURE – water hose

OXYGEN – aeration from turning every three days or so



Layer nitrogen materials and carbon materials.

Toss to oxygenate while you moisten with a hose to the point of a moist sponge.

SIZE – the pile should be 3-4′ tall and wide to heat up properly



Large pieces of weeds and small tree branches can decompose if let to sit in a pile for a year.

Smaller pieces, turned regulary, with the right amount of water can actually make great smelling earth in as little as three weeks!



When the pile has the right amount of water and air, there should be no odor!  The pile should also shrink to half it’s size in a few days when the pieces are small.  These are signs that you are doing it right.



The fresh scent of earth is the best test to show that the compost is decomposed enough for your garden.



Quality compost:

  •      Repels pests
  •      Feeds plants and
  •      Nourishes people!

Why Compost is Important

For a deeper understanding of the value in a compost pile, try to get find the classic book by JI Rodale, Pay Dirt.  In the intro he says that, “a fertile soil is the foundation of healthy crops, healthy live stock, and last but not least healthy human beings.”

Albert Howard wrote the forward to Pay Dirt and brought up that JI Rodale started the journal, Organic Gardening.  He found it refreshing that this magazine had overcome the “fragmentation” that Howard considered the disease of civilization, “by which such intimately related subjects as agriculture, food, nutrition, and health have become split up into innumerable rigid and self-contained little units, each in the hands of some group of specialists.”

Beneficial Bacteria 

One of the memorable take-aways from this book, to me, was learning how soil is alive – not just alive, but “teeming with life”.  “It is very much alive and dynamic.  It teems with bacteria, actinomycetes, fungi, molds, yeasts, protozoa, algae and other minute organisms.”  Soil is alive with both tiny plant and animal life.  There are “good guys” and “bad guys” – just as in the human microbiome – that live together in a delicate balance.  Yes, even “bad guys” serve a purpose, but they are kept in check by the “good guys”, just like in our gut when it is healthy.

Healthy soil may have nitrogen-fixing bacteria that works with the roots of the legumes that fix nitrogen from the air to feed plants that are hungry for nitrogen (like corn).

Rodale says that, “for growing crops the more microbial life in the soil the better.”

He also says, “Practically all investigators agree that the application of organic manures stimulates and increases the biologic life of the soil to a much greater extent than chemical or mineral fertilizers.”  He makes a compelling case that part of the problems with conventional agriculture, fertilizers and pesticides is the destruction that they cause for the beneficial microorganisms inherent in healthy soil.”



Or consider digging into Acres USA’s books for a classic by Dr. William A. Albrecht, Ph.D, The Albrecht Papers.  This book makes the case for the importance of nourishing the soil to nourish the microbes, plant life, insects, birds, herbivores, omnivores, carnivores and ultimately nourishes man. 

He brings out the important fact (that research is now confirming) that a vegetable has only as much nourishment as the soil it was grown in.  Compost has nourishment in a form that allows the plants growing in it to uptake more nourishment.

A few years back there was a news article quoting research that said there was not much difference between organic (likely grown in compost) and conventional produce after looking at 344 studies.  I thought that can’t be true, so I dug up the article and, sure, enough, when you looked deeper the journal article said that organic produce contained more “other nutrients” and when you look up the other nutrients, they were vitamins and minerals, antioxidants and anti-inflammatories!

Pretty important nutrients.  Vitamins and minerals are so named because we can’t live without them – there is a deficiency disease attached to NOT having them!


It is truly one of my favorites for understanding how beneficial bacteria overcomes the bad guys in a compost pile – just like in the human body!


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Questions?  Suggestions?  Email CynthiaC@SoCalGardenHealth.com