The Joy of Composting

I have written before about composting weird things. If you read that, you would have picked up that I am passionate about composting. Why? Because it is the closest thing you can get to alchemy in the garden. 

In case you didn’t know, alchemy was the old pseudo-science of turning the dull metal lead into brilliant, valuable gold. With the knowledge of modern science and chemistry we know that isn’t possible – to turn an uninteresting set of ingredients into something priceless. Or is it…

Composting is Gardening Alchemy

Think about how compost works: you take lots of waste products from your garden and kitchen – potato peelings, grass clippings, and dead plant material and pile it in a big heap. Then you add water (maybe a bit of your own wee – seriously, read my earlier column), wait a few months, and what do you get? More on this later.

Composting and the Wider Mission of Sustainable Living

Right now, we’re thinking about how we can live more sustainably. I think about this a lot – I even wrote a book about it! COP26 in Scotland was a great opportunity to think about how we live and the resources we use. While global governments and corporations may have their part to play, what about our individual responsibility? What small changes could we make to our lives to live more sustainably and treat our planet with a bit more love?

Composting has to be part of that story. Every year, tons of domestic food waste ends up in municipal tips or landfill. In Scotland, this alone equates to 70 kilograms for every man, woman, and child in the country. Imagine if more of us diverted a proportion of that into our home compost heaps: would our planet be better or worse off for it?

A compost heap doesn’t need to be some fancy modular treated wood design you saw on Amazon for £150. My first heap was just a pile of stuff on the ground. My heap system now (yes I have a ‘system’) is made from scrap bits of wood and a few nails. All you need is the desire to make a small change to your habits and start to compost. 

Back to My Alchemy Experiment

If you were a farmer, where would your value be? It’s in the soil. And as a gardener you’re no different. So imagine being able to make more soil. That’s what you do when you make compost: you are making humus – the organic component in soil. You’ve taken scraps and waste and turned it into one of the most valuable raw materials on this planet – live, giving, breathing, organic soil. If that’s not real alchemy, I’m not sure what is.

Neil M. White lives in Perthshire with his wife and three children. He has worked in horticulture as a landscape gardener and in a tree nursery. Now a ‘hobby’ gardener, he spends most of his time growing fruit or veg. Juggling gardening, family life, and a day job, Neil also finds time to write – his latest book on gardening ‘The Self Provisioner’ was published in April 2020. Catch up with Neil on his Twitter feed.

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