Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Building Better Compost through Avoidance

There is never enough compost in the pile out back for all the garden beds that need it, so there is always a big temptation to take all the old garden foliage from plants that are no longer producing and put it in the compost. This would be a mistake.

Any plant that has merely died of “old age” can go in the compost, but plants that show signs of disease should not. The risk of spreading disease all through the garden is too great. To be safe, I never put tomato-family plants into the compost, even if they look healthy, just in case.

Remains of the squash-family plants from my garden also go to the landfill rather than the compost pile. These almost always have some kind of mildew. I know that the plants are going to get it again next year, no matter what I do, but I like to think that my keeping it out of the compost gives next year’s plants an extra week or two. Note, however, that there is no scientific basis for this thought.

Other plants that should stay out of the compost include grass clippings from any yard with an unknown history. I used to pick up bags of grass clippings from around the neighborhood to use in my compost, then one day I dumped out a bag of clippings and a jug of Roundup fell out onto the compost pile along with the grass. This made me think of all the other chemicals that are used on lawns.

I know that grass clippings are a great source of nitrogen for a compost pile, but they could also be a source of pesticides and herbicides that are not approved for use on food gardens. A very brave gardener, or a determined one, might knock on the door of a house and ask what products are used on the lawn. This could be socially awkward, a bit like asking a date about his or her disease history, but it could similarly help to preserve a gardener’s own health.


  1. One positive that has come out of this recession is that our landlord has stopped his four times a year spraying of all grassed areas. Before that, I would watch for the spray company to start making their rounds and I'd get out there and wave them away, telling them not to spray anywhere near my raised beds. Still it took several mowings after the spraying stopped before I started adding the clipping to our compost.

    Added bonus, I have birds and butterflies visiting our yard now that I didn't before.

  2. I'm glad to know that a Supermom is so vigilant in protecting her family's health!

    It is also good to hear that the local ecology has started to recover so quickly.

    Thanks for letting us know!



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