Complete Guide to Composting Book Review

Why buy bags of compost to help your gardening efforts when you can turn ordinary kitchen and yard waste into black gold?

I had the chance to talk with Chris McLaughlin for an article on compost tea I wrote for The Denver Post earlier this season.

Something Chris said during the interview stuck with me and I think about it every time I step into the garden:

“Compost is at the very heart of organic gardening. It’s literally the heartbeat.”

Taking kitchen and garden waste, watching it decompose and then returning it to the earth is a powerful gardening concept.

Compost is the answer to most gardening questions because it can be used to loosen clay soil or to add water-holding ability to sandy soil. Compost boosts soil fertility because it brings in the microorganisms that support all forms of plant and animal life, Chris said.

Every bit of kitchen and garden waste would compost eventually if it were just thrown in the garden and left on its own. But managing the process is what composting is all about.

In her new book, “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Composting,” Chris helps gardeners of all skill levels turn everyday household waste into rich, crumbly material for improving soil structure and growing healthier plants.

Adding this organic matter to the garden means more soil animals, healthier plants, bigger crops and less need to water.

Chris starts by describing soil, introducing us to the decomposers you can and can’t see and what–and how–to collect the waste for the compost pile.

There are some nice touches added throughout the book, like the Wise Worm tips. This cute critter gives down-to-earth advice, like asking the local coffee house for its used coffee grounds or making sure to limit layers of yard clippings to less than 6 inches.

Other helpful features include “Prickly Problem” tips meant to help avoid problems before they start and “Digging Deeper” tips for putting compost techniques to work.

Chris gives a nice roundup of container options to fit just about any gardener’s needs including a wire hoop bin, three-sided picket-fence bin, garbage can bin, used tire bin, manufactured bin and no bin at all.

A clever idea to camouflage a wire bin is to grow a vine crop on it with beans, peas or mini pumpkins.

One chapter that’s sure to be a big help to beginning composters is Chapter 6:  “Zen and the Art of Compost Maintenance.” This chapter has a problem-solution format to make it easy to find ways for solving common composting dilemmas.

“When it comes to compost, there isn’t anything that can’t be fixed,” she writes.

Chris encourages gardeners to get creative with their composting efforts, like using sandwich or sheet composting, grasscycling, adding mulch and planting green manures and cover crops. All of these are excellent additions to an organic gardening program.

I paid particular interest to Part 2 of the composting book, because it deals with Worm Wrangling. Being a worm farmer is something I’ve had an interest in, but haven’t taken that first step. I love finding worms in my garden, but I’m not sure how I’d feel about seeing them in my basement.

However, after reading her step-by-step guide to vermicomposting, and how worms are the easiest pets to take care of, I think I might give it a try.

If you’re interested in reading more from Chris, visit her website or follow her on Twitter @Suburban_Farmer.

Please Note: I received 2 free review copies of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Composting from the publisher.


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I agree on the “heartbeat” comment… I pulled 6 wheelbarrows full of rich black compost out of one of my piles this past weekend, and it went straight to a new vegetable bed. Astounding stuff, full of decomposers (earthworms and dynastes beetle grubs). Tomatoes and peppers grown in this have needed almost no fertilizer of any sort, and my tomato vines are nearly 6 feet tall and have produced hundreds of tomatoes this season already.

Thanks for your great blog, Jody!

I have always been afraid to compost because I don’t know where to start, and am afraid of causing problems with my neighbors. This book would be a good place to start.

I just started composting late last fall. We were lucky enough to finally be able to purchase the lot next door after a house was demolished. Needless to say, the dirt is horrid- and I am in Iowa! So I began my fumbling effort at composting.
I did web searches and became more confused-all I knoew is brown/green etc.
It did enrich the land a bit- BUT I have volunteer squash going nuts out there and no idea besides we ate acorn/spaghetti and some other squash I composted in -funny actually!
I would love to learn about worms. I kept throwing them into the ‘garden’ area-I dont know if they ran away or stayed!

Jodi ~ Thank you for the wonderful post! You’re very kind.

Kay-Jay and Ellen ~ If you do pick up my book (or win it), I’d love to hear your thoughts (duchessofdirt at yahoo dot com).



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