Benefits Of Composting – Why Use Compost In Your Garden

There are many benefits of composting and using it in your organic garden.

Compost is organic matter that has been broken down my microorganisms. Although there are many benefits of composting, there are three that stand out to me. We use compost to quickly increase the:

  • number and diversity of beneficial microbes and small animals,
  • organic matter content,
  • and nutrients in our soil.

…all of which are often low because of past gardening or other land use practices.

Obviously, I don’t have time to show you how to compost today. You get advanced lessons on making it in the Smiling Gardener Academy.

Today I’m just buying it. When buying compost, it should smell good, not like garbage, and I don’t use compost that has been made with sewage sludge because that contains toxins that aren’t all removed during the composting process. It should look like dark, rich, fluffy soil, and should contain earthworms.

To make a new organic garden bed in a soil without much organic matter, dig 2 inches of the compost into the top 8-10 inches of soil. That’s generally too much compost to use more than once in the same garden, but for a soil that is low in organic matter, it’s useful to get that in there in the beginning before there are plants in my vegetable garden.

The second source is coming up after I prepare the bed.

Did I leave anything out about home composting and organic matter that you want to know about? Feel free to ask below.

Benefits Of Composting Video Transcript

Today’s video is about the benefits of composting.

I talked before about how one of my main goals is growing food – nutrient-dense food.

And I also want to get flowers growing in here and I want trees and shrubs and I really want to get a bunch of diversity, but one thing I really want to make sure I have is food.

The food that’s coming out of our industrial, conventional agriculture is getting to be very poor quality, 60-70% lower in nutrients than it was before this whole green revolution started in the last century.

So, I want to grow food that has a lot more nutrients in it than that. During that time we’ve increased pesticide use by 1000% and that we’re still getting crop loss from insects alone, crop loss has doubled.

So the pesticides aren’t working every well and they’re contributing to this loss of nutrients in our foods.

If you’ve read my blog you know that I don’t really like to spend to much time complaining about it. I certainly have spent time about being down about it, especially when I was first learning about all this stuff.

But then I started to realize that we can make a difference starting in our own organic gardens.

We can grow nutrient-dense food, we can restore the topsoil that’s been degraded, we can clean out the water in our area, capture rain water from the roof and we can really create these inspirational gardens that are beautiful and provide us with really healthy food if we learn how to really get in there and build up the soil and all that stuff.

That’s one of my main goals and compost is just one of the most important tools to make that happen. There are really two sort of organic matter tools that I focus on in my vegetable garden and the first one is compost.

Obviously I can’t show you how to make compost today, that’s going to take a month or two. I get into that into detail in the Academy.

What I want to talk about today is that often when I’m in a new place when I’m starting a new organic garden, I’m just going to have to buy compost.

What I’ll do here is maybe zoom in on this compost here and show you a little bit about how to buy it and how to use it, because that’s going to be an important thing, especially when you’re just getting started when you haven’t made your own compost yet.

So, when you buy compost, you want it to be nice and dark like this. You want it to be, you don’t want to be able to discern the raw materials too much, and here I just have to do this so I can see.

You know, a little bit of woody material is okay, this happens to be kind of a rough compost. The reason I’m okay with it is because I know the guy who makes it. I know the materials that go in it and I’m happy with it. So I don’t mind it being a little rougher. I could screen it out if I wanted to.

But when you want compost, when you’re looking for it, you want it to smell good. You want it to smell really nice like a forest floor, like really rich. You want it to be dark, fluffy, moist and you don’t want it to have garbage in it or anything like that.

You don’t want it to have been made with any sewage sludge – that’s definitely a no-no. And, it should just smell and feel good and you know, ideally you would kind of ask what goes in it and you don’t want to have toxic waste or any kind of weird stuff that often gets into compost piles.

So, just go for that really nice dark stuff that hasn’t been made with paper mill waste or sewage sludge or any of that kind of stuff.

Then when it comes time to use it, one thing that I like to do even if I don’t need it yet. I bring the compost onto my property as long as I, a month or two or three, then it will cure a little more than perhaps it did at the composting facility.

I like to have that curing time. So then what I’m going to do is you’ll see that when I prepare the soil, I’m going to take at least a couple of inches, a couple inches of this, put it on my soil and incorporate it in there with the rototiller or with the pitch fork or somehow.

I don’t like to do too much tilling of my soil in the long run. When I’m making a new bed, especially one that slow in organic matter, I want to incorporate that compost in there as deep as I can really.

And I know that’s actually going to hurt the soil a little bit when I’m tilling or when I’m digging like that, but I need to get that organic matter in there in the beginning.

So, I will show you how to that when I get doing it. And I’ll talk about the other organic matter material when I’ve installed some stuff.

So, compost, really useful to learn how to make it but until then it’s useful to know how to buy it. You definitely want to use that.

I guess I kind of skipped an important step there, because some people don’t know exactly the benefits of composting. Maybe I’ll put the camera back up here and talk about that because that would be a good thing to talk about, wouldn’t it?

So, what compost is, is its organic matter that has been broken down by microorganisms largely, they do the work of breaking down the organic matter and that can be manure, it can be grass clippings, leaves, straw, any kind of, anything that was once alive.

What happens then, is the reason we use it, there are kind of three main reasons.

1. We want the organic matter because we want some of that to turn into humus in the soil and that does a lot of things. It holds water and holds nutrients and allows for air in the soil and it just does a lot of good stuff for us.

2. Also, it’s going to have nutrients in it because when the microorganisms broke down these foods scraps, manures, leaves, all that stuff has nutrients in it and so it can’t be technically called a fertilizer but you can kind of think of it like that. It’s a broad spectrum organic fertilizer that has a lot of different nutrients in there. Especially if it was made with a lots of different sources of organic material.

3. But then the third reason is, people are starting to talk about it more but to me it’s the most important or certainly up there, is  the microorganisms are still in here and we need them in our soil because they do so much. I’ll even make another video on them because they’re just so important.

So, were inoculating our organic garden with these beneficial bacteria and fungi and protists and even little animals, even little worms, insects, we want all of them in our vegetable garden because they do everything to make the soil healthy and alive.

So maybe I’ll talk about that more when I talk about microorganisms but that’s why we want to use compost in the soil, so I hope you will get into composting and using it as soon as you can.

81 Comments

  1. JonathanBrown20 on October 7, 2011 at 4:27 pm

    Please comment on moisture in the compost and in the garden. How do you tell whether you have enough moisture? Too much moisture? Should it be variable or constant? Does the moisture level depend on the season? In the off-season, shoul you gear the moisture levels to keep the microbes alive, for example, when temps are about 40, does it make sense to moisturize the microbes to keep them alive, even though they may be close to dormant? Are there amendments other than compost and mulch that can create the right moisture environment for microbes? For example, biochar?Thanks.

    • Phil on October 7, 2011 at 11:57 pm

      Compost should be moist like a wrung out sponge. Soil should be moist as well, but it’s more difficult to describe that. The water shouldn’t puddle, but the soil shouldn’t be dry. If you’re somewhere in the middle, you’re probably okay. The soil can dry out in between waterings, but not entirely. It should still be at least 50% saturated, which basically means it shouldn’t be dry to the touch.The moisture level definitely depends on the season. The hotter it is, the more the microbes and plants need water. So you really don’t have to water much when the temp gets down to 40, but you still don’t want it to dry out, as many of the microbes are still doing their thing.Compost, leaves and other mulches are the best because they are local and plentiful. There’s a product called water-lok that can be very helpful if you’re on very sandy soil, but even still, I gravitate to compost.

      • Pete on March 18, 2014 at 2:02 pm

        I tried the composting in the ground and what it did was create worms and I live next to the delta in central calif. we’ll now I have a mole problem so I have gone to container gardening.Do you have any good ways to remove moles ?

        • Phil on March 18, 2014 at 8:00 pm

          I’ve never had to deal with them in any serious way. Perhaps someone else can weigh in? Update: https://www.smilinggardener.com/organic-pest-control/how-to-get-rid-of-moles-and-voles/

          • Tee Billingsley on June 1, 2018 at 4:57 pm

            Cats and dogs will gather them to bring to my door. There are special traps sold at Farmers Coops and farm stores.Ca



          • PlantWhisperer on August 2, 2018 at 5:20 pm

            Blood meal keeps away gophers, moles, volrs



        • ellen on August 15, 2014 at 1:30 pm

          put a broken bottleneck with the good side down in the ground in de little hill of loose ground were the moles make there exit. the wind makes a whining sound underground and chase the moles away. the wind makes a whining sound underground and chase the moles away. a bevelled bamboo pole with a diameter of at least 2 3 inches also works, you put the stick diagonally in a exact angle in the molehill the diagonally cut side facing the wind. There are also electronic devises on the market that scare moles away but they cost course money

          • Phil on August 15, 2014 at 9:10 pm

            Cool idea – I’d never heard of this. Thanks!



      • Anna on May 30, 2018 at 9:22 pm

        Is water-lok available to purchase through your website?

        Is there a complete list somewhere of products you have available for purchase?

  2. Lindsay on October 8, 2011 at 12:10 pm

    Can I make compost on a small urban property?

    • Phil on October 8, 2011 at 10:26 pm

      Definitely. You only need 10 square feet for an outdoor compost pile, plus another 10 square feet in front of it for access. Or you can even get into worm composting inside, which is a lot of fun and makes some really nice compost once you get the hang of it.

      • Merryj on August 3, 2012 at 4:56 pm

        I’m an urban gardener and composter.  We have a strip of dirt about 2.5-3′ wide running between our driveway and the fence. We have two 3′ cubic cedar bins side by side sitting on that dirt strip.  When we turn the pile, we use the driveway to pull everything out and then put it back.  We have two, because one bin is either cooking or holding ready-to-use compost, and the other we are adding to and building.  When it’s nearly full, we make a run to the city yard for wood chips and to the beach for seaweed.  We pull the whole pile out and layer in the yard and kitchen waste that’s been building up with the fresh wood chips and seaweed into a lovely layer cake that completely fills the bin.  We let that cook for a few weeks until the internal temp drops to ‘warm’ or we have time, whichever comes later, then pull it all out again and re-layer it.  After THAT cooks, it’s usually done.  If not, we turn it again, or just let it sit.  Our lot is about 6000 sq feet with about 200 sq feet in vegetables; the 2 bins fit our needs nicely.  3′ cubic is the minimum size for an outdoor pile.  If your raw materials or compost needs are smaller than that, vermicomposting is the way to go.  We find that, to balance out our kitchen scraps, we need to add more bulk than we can produce on our property.  Our city makes wood chips from tree-trimming, and residents are allowed to use them, which is awesome.  When the currents are right, we get bountiful harvests of seaweed at the beach – if we can get to it before the beach-cleaning machine does.  And occasionally, we score a good bag of material from our neighbors’ yard waste bags.  Incidentally, the yard waste bags themselves make nice ‘lids’ for the pile – water gets through, but it reduces evaporation.  Though burlap sacks from our local coffee roaster work better.  They last about a year before the pile eats them.  Sod, grass down is great, too.  We used that when we first dug in our vegetable garden.  It functioned as a lid for about 3 months before it became part of the pile itself.

        • Phil on August 4, 2012 at 6:14 pm

          Great tips. Thanks Merry!

  3. Mary on October 8, 2011 at 6:59 pm

    Thanks for describing what compost should look like.   The bags of compost I’ve bought definitely don’t look like what you describe.   Other than a private source like you have, do you have any general recommendations for where to go to buy good quality compost?Thanks

    • Phil on October 8, 2011 at 10:29 pm

      I’ve hardly ever found great compost in the few cities I’ve lived. I’ve gone to garden centers, recycling centers, soil/mulch providers and municipal compost facilities – it’s really hit or miss. The best is to start with what you can find and eventually make your own, or if you can’t do that, get into mulching and cover cropping, which are both excellent ways of increasing organic matter.

  4. Susanhenkel on October 16, 2011 at 6:53 pm

    Thanks for the video on compost.  A good point you made that you probably didn’t even realize is how nice good compost is to touch.  I could tell you were enjoying it.  I had to chuckle because I am the same … when we sift our own homemade compost, it’s hard to stop picking it up and letting it run through your hands.  A definite sign of good compost :).

  5. Willowwater on October 24, 2011 at 2:10 am

    Any thoughts on bagged compost. Are all of the beneficial microbes and other good stuff still intact in these products. I’ve been using Black Kow and Black Hen and they seem to work well.

    • Phil on October 24, 2011 at 12:55 pm

      It is definitely possible to get good quality compost in a bag. And it’s even more common to get poor quality compost. If it smells bad, don’t use it, but if it smells and feels great, it’s probably okay. Even if it’s good compost, the aerobic microbes may be dormant, but they’ll spring back to life again in your garden.

  6. RJoyce47 on November 16, 2011 at 7:53 pm

    organic composting has become a new field of work here in Maine.  The composts have a lot of sea waste and restaurant and natural garbage.  it has been a successful line of work for many who lost jobs and took cutbacks, but the compost is great and so needed.   i’m ashamed to think how i’ve taken for granted the loveliness of nutritious food by throwing garbage waste to the trash when it rightfully belongs to the ground.  i am turning a new leaf as i learn from you.   you are bringing me a new awareness and i thank you.

  7. Christian 'Mots' Kuhasz on December 31, 2011 at 5:53 pm

    Hey Phil,I have a local community garden/free range chicken farm in my area. The women that owns the property makes her own chicken manure compost, and she stated that it is an excellent source of nutrients when it comes to compost. What are your thoughts about using chicken manure compost?

    • Phil on December 31, 2011 at 9:56 pm

      Yes, it should be good stuff. Chickens in big commercial operations may be fed arsenic and their manure may have been treated with alum – you don’t want either of those things, but if it’s from a small community garden, it’s probably pretty organic and very useful. If you have doubts, test it in just a small area for the first season.

  8. Frankyeo92 on January 7, 2012 at 9:38 am

    Very thoughtful, detail, & plenty of depths. I love it, thanks so much Phil.

  9. payday2222 on January 18, 2012 at 5:51 pm

    How do the microbes in garden soil differ from the microbes in a container containing mostly potting soil and perlite?

    • Phil on January 21, 2012 at 1:02 pm

      Potting soil and perlite are often sterilized, so you won’t have many beneficial microbes in there. Your container medium should be somewhere around 1/3 quality compost to bring those microbes in.

  10. David on February 15, 2012 at 4:54 pm

    Last year we brought in a couple inches of compost from a local landfill. It was fairly dark but had quite a bit of chipped wood in it. Our garden didn’t do as well as we would have thought, but I think part of the problem was the chipped wood. Doesn’t that tie up much of the available Carbon as it breaks down? If this is the best choice for compost in your area, can we just add extra Nitrogen sources to balance it out?

    • Phil on February 16, 2012 at 10:23 pm

      Hi David, yes, you can balance it out with fish fertilizer. You could also buy a few yards and compost it yourself for a year before adding it. And I would also just not add too much of it at once. Maybe just 1/8 inch.

  11. John on February 29, 2012 at 2:51 am

    I compost myself and add 2-4″ of good compost to the top 10″ of my vegetable beds every year. Is that too much to add every year? Can there be too much compost. My plants have not been huge or doing great, could it be because of too much compost? I don’t fertilize enough  and I could probably do better with watering since the soil is on the sandy side. If I was to add Neptunes fish fertilizer how would I add it? Just pour it onto a wheelbarrow full of compost and mix it in before spreading it on the beds?

    • Phil on March 1, 2012 at 5:55 pm

      Hi John, yes it’s possible to add too much compost. A soil nutrient test will tell you if you have too much of certain minerals as a result of this, such as phosphorus and potassium. I kind of doubt you need fish with that much compost, but if so, it’s best to mix fish with water and put it onto the soil and plants with a sprayer or watering can.

      • Merryj on August 3, 2012 at 5:01 pm

        Too much compost over time tends to result in super-high levels of zinc.  We spread compost as John did for 5 years, but this year, we put in almost none – the soil is so rich already, it didn’t seem to need it.  We only mixed in compost with bone meal for our tomatoes & peppers.  All the rest of the compost we made last year was used just for the potting mix for seedstarting.

        • Phil on August 4, 2012 at 6:12 pm

          Ya, in the long run, I mostly used mulches and cover crop for soil improvement. Compost is mainly for the first couple of years in the garden and then for planting and potting/seeding mixes.

      • Jules on January 19, 2015 at 10:16 pm

        HI Phil, is there a magic number to follow how much compost to be applied in or on the soil the very first time? This is always the question crop up whenever we discuss fertilizing with compost our garden or farm. Should we just spread them on top of the soil, or we have to incorporate them with the soil? Thanks so much.

        • Phil on January 21, 2015 at 2:28 pm

          The Luebke’s, who developed Controlled Microbial Compost on their organic farm in Austria recommend 10-12 tons per acre to start and then down to 3-8 tons for maintenance. Elaine Ingham recommends a maximum of 10 tons per acre and more like 1-5 tons per acre for maintenance. By my math, 12 tons per acre is only about 2/5 cubic yard of compost (1⁄8 inch thick) per 1,000 square feet and 1 ton per acre is only about seven gallons of compost (1/90 inch thick) per 1,000 square feet.As for incorporating the compost, there are different ideas about that, but in the end it will depend on your soil situation and your goals.

          • Jules on January 24, 2015 at 10:00 am

            Thank you so much Phil. I will do my arithmetic also from here. More power.



  12. Toni Forbes on March 12, 2012 at 8:22 pm

    Hello,Phil!I am just completing the Organic Master Gardener course (Gaia College) with Catherine Dale here in Burnaby, BC. Yourvideo lessons are a wonderful review and inspiration.  Many thanks for your offering!  Toni 

    • Phil on March 13, 2012 at 7:54 pm

      Thanks, Toni. Glad to have you here.

  13. Chking1950 on March 23, 2012 at 9:09 pm

    There is a horse stables near me.  I can get trailer loads of what is mucked out of the stalls.  I appears to be a lot of saw dust and a little horse manure.  What would I need to add to make this into good compost?  I am in the process of building some raised beds about 9 inches deep.  Could I fill the boxes half full for fresh stall muckings and the rest with top soil and have a good setup for most vegetables?

    • Phil on March 26, 2012 at 3:58 pm

      For compost, you want about 3 times as much carbon materials (sawdust/straw/leaves) as nitrogen materials (manure/fresh grass clippings), by volume.I think half and half is good for the raised beds. It would be best to let that sit for a year to break down. Or if you’re using compost instead of fresh, just use 25% compost and you can plant pretty much right away.

  14. laughingyard on April 4, 2012 at 7:13 pm

    I put all my garden and yard trimmings in my compost.  All my fruit rinds and veggie waste -whatever cant be used for soup or pudding- I throw coffee grounds and tea bags out there too. I also include fresh grass clippings and old wet leaves. Its on the ground and in the open, so I get an occasional rabbit droppings.  I have lots of earthworms but also slugs!   My question is: is my grocery store produce adding poison to my soil?

    • Phil on April 5, 2012 at 6:30 pm

      In my estimation, it’s nothing to worry about. The microbes in the compost pile should take care of most of the toxins in non-organic food scraps. There are certain things I would never include in the compost, like sewage sludge, but I don’t worry about food scraps.

  15. Janie on May 28, 2012 at 8:37 pm

    These lessons are terrific. Thank you so much.Local stables give away horse manure mixed with straw in black plastic bags. I doubt the feed is organic. My questions are: 1. Is this any good for organic vegetables?2. If so, would you leave it in black bags to compost or add it to the compost bin?3. How long does it need to compost during hot summer months?

    • Phil on May 31, 2012 at 12:00 pm

      Yes Janie, this is great for vegetables, but should be added to the compost bin and composted until it looks like finished compost, which can often be done in 4-8 weeks with a few turnings. When it’s done and not heating up as much any more, it’s nice to cure it for at least a few weeks after that if possible.

  16. Rwalker on June 9, 2012 at 1:41 pm

    I read somewhere that in the fall collect your leaves [ all chopped-up ] store them in a plack plastic bag and they will rot to leaf mold.I realise that the transformation requires heat so the bagged leaves would have to sit until the fololowing summer……….true ?bob

    • Phil on June 15, 2012 at 1:19 pm

      Hi Bob, yes, a big will work, or you don’t necessarily have to put them in a bag – a big pile is fine. The warmth of summer helps, but if you pile them up in autumn and leave them through spring, you’ll have the beginnings of leaf mold that can be used in the garden or left to decompose longer.I actually prefer to put most of my leaves right into the garden in the fall to protect the soil over winter, but if you have extra, making leaf mold is great.

      • Vidya on January 21, 2013 at 9:08 pm

        Hello, regarding covering you beds in the winter with leaves, do add anything to them, like a compost starter? Then in the spring, do you remove them (what hasn’t decomposed) or continue to leave them all on as a mulch?

        • Phil on January 28, 2013 at 1:09 pm

          I often use a little compost at the same time, or spray them with a microbial inoculant such as EM and a biostimulant such as kelp or sea minerals. I do remove the excess in the spring from my vegetable beds, but I leave them under my perennials, fruit trees, etc.

  17. Tmollaun on August 31, 2012 at 3:50 pm

    I recently read that putting tomatoscraps in the compost is a bad idea. Is it true? Of course, I had already beendoing that.  

    • Phil on September 3, 2012 at 10:17 pm

      In my view, it’s a great idea. Many gardeners don’t like to put anything diseased in the compost, but I definitely do in order to breed the predators of those diseases. The diseases will be taken care of in a well-made compost pile.

  18. Bec on September 8, 2012 at 8:33 am

    thankyou.   why do you say not use paper sludge?, is news paper the same?

    • Phil on September 12, 2012 at 8:51 pm

      I may have been referring to the paper waste from a paper mill that has toxins in it.Newspaper isn’t entirely benign, but isn’t nearly as toxic and I do use it under a sheet mulch.

  19. Sherry on February 12, 2013 at 1:15 am

    Composting is great. I started with clay soil and over the years it is now rich black soil. I do have a problem with my compost bin. It is full of rolly bugs (pill bugs). Without using pestisides how can I get rid of them?

    • Phil on February 17, 2013 at 12:48 am

      You won’t get rid of them in the compost because they love the moist, dark area. But if they cause problems in the garden, you can control them with many of the same techniques that are used for controlling slugs: beer in a plastic container set down into the soil, 50:50 yucca extract and water sprayed onto the soil around plants, diatomaceous earth, etc. The DE and beer will kill some beneficials, too, so it’s always about finding balance. Of course if they aren’t hurting your garden, there’s no need to worry.

    • Swell stuff on July 20, 2014 at 6:02 pm

      Raise chickens. :^D

  20. Katie on March 31, 2013 at 2:36 am

    What is your opinion on mushroom compost? I have read that it is high in salts (K, Ca, Mg, Na), however other studies show it not to be a problem. Is it still advisable to mix 3-6″ of mushroom compost into a new bed? Should I opt out of using the calcitic lime you suggest in the next lesson? Thanks.

    • Phil on April 4, 2013 at 12:35 pm

      It is often very high in calcium – I’m not sure about the other minerals. And if it’s not from organic mushrooms, it’s often very high in pesticide residue, so I don’t recommend that. If you do a lot of gardening and have access to an inexpensive source, it would be worth sending a sample to a soil lab. I’d probably skip the calcitic lime if I were to use untested mushroom compost.

  21. Ian on May 2, 2013 at 3:15 pm

    if you are starting off a new garden would it not be better to double dig in tons of horse manure and straw over the winter and then use the expensive compost as a mulch, the sort of material you have in that barrow could spread as a mulch and let the worms incorporate it into the soil throughout the growing season, that way you are not disturbing the delicate ecosystem of the topsoil. Regards, Ian.

    • Phil on May 6, 2013 at 1:21 pm

      Yes, that’s a very good point. I happen to have access to pretty good compost for $22/yard, so I tend to use it a lot, but if you can get horse manure for much less money than compost, save the compost for topdressing and planting.

      • Barry Sahd on August 5, 2014 at 8:13 am

        Hi PhilI live in a rural area called Transkei in the E Cape South Africa. I have access to Cattle, goat and sheep maure. The animals are coraled evsry night and ths maunure is sometimes 2ft deep. I normally take the black compacted stuff at thd bottom which steams when I take it out, and mix it with a sandy loam 50/50 …. I use this mix in my 21sq.ft raised planters, for organic vegI also mulch with thatching grass. Can I improve my soil more? What about seaweed, ( I live 30m from the beach), and bonemeal?Thank you for your contribution to a healthier world.Barry

        • Phil on August 5, 2014 at 12:32 pm

          Sounds good – just be sure not to use too much manure, as it can cause nutrient imbalances. Just a very small amount each year is all you need, like 1/8″ or less. It’s best if it has time to compost or breakdown before planting into it. Seaweed is an excellent addition – makes a good mulch or compost ingredient. Bone meal can be useful if your soil is deficient in calcium and phosphorus, as long as it’s from healthy animals.

  22. april on May 23, 2013 at 2:33 am

    Hey Phil, Last year in my compost bin, I had white, thick worms. I didn’t know if that was good or bad, so I threw it all out. My question is, were those worms okay, and should, I have put then in my garden? Would they have eaten my garden?

    • Phil on May 24, 2013 at 11:43 am

      It’s hard to say without a photo. If they were grubs, some are good and some not so good. I don’t suppose you have a photo to attach here? In the future, I wouldn’t throw out the compost – I would try to figure out why they’re there and work on making a pile which dissuades them.

  23. Galactic Gardener on August 8, 2013 at 5:37 pm

    Hi Phil, I have a question about compost temperature. Can a compost get to hot?At what temperature do microbes die at?Can a compost heap catch fire? I know when its steaming or smoking, its a great sign, but wow, it looks as though it could burst into flames anytime. Thanks for your time and efforts to pass on your knowledge. You are a great speaker and teacher.I enjoy the way you explain things.I dig your logic. Of coarse logically, the microbes create the heat, so they will not compromise their own existence. I’m so amazed at the temperature created buy the whole process. I need a compost thermometer.My soil thermometer only goes to 150 and the compost heap is to hot to get a reading. Thanks again eh! I’m off to pick some Japanese beetles off my Tai basil. I wish the European Starlings would eat the European Earwigs. Do we have any Canadian bugs that go and harass gardeners around the world? I hope so.

    • Phil on August 12, 2013 at 3:04 pm

      You don’t want your compost pile to go much above 150. If it does, a lot of beneficial microbes die and more nutrition will be lost. To cool it, add more carbon materials and turn the pile. A compost heap could catch fire if someone just piled up a bunch of wood chips, but it would be rare. If you make a proper, moist, balanced pile, it won’t catch fire.

      • Galactic Gardener on August 12, 2013 at 3:15 pm

        Thank you Phil. I guess I need to store leaves this year for next. Love the site and tips.

  24. Stephen Jackson on August 16, 2013 at 3:45 pm

    Composting weeds: I have a garden weed problem with Portulacca (purslane) which will re-grow from any part of the plant remaining in contact with the soil.Any recommendations about re-introducing this huge source of green matter to the soil short of the method of pulling it whole, putting it on the road and driving over it repeatedly and parching the remains in sun to be sure it won’t spring back to life? I would rather compost it… any advice?

    • Phil on August 18, 2013 at 1:35 pm

      It’s a nutritious weed, great in salads. I’d say make it your friend.

      • Stephen Jackson on August 19, 2013 at 2:20 pm

        Thanks, Phil, we appreciate Portulacca as quite edible, we just can’t eat that much! I would like to feed it to the compost pile for the whole garden to enjoy.

        • Phil on August 22, 2013 at 5:28 pm

          I would think a hot compost pile would kill it, but it is a survivor, that’s for sure. By the way, your soil is probably low in calcium. If you can ever get a soil test from a good organic lab and then balance out the soil nutrients, you can decrease the purslane.

  25. JJM123 on August 27, 2013 at 5:58 pm

    Any comments/warnings on the 2 following?Most of my composting material comes from my tree leaves and grass cuttings (what I don’t leave on the yard) other than the cheap bags I buy. Prior to turning the soil I pile up as much as possible in my garden patches and then just bury it to let it decompose thru the growing season. The material collected during the growing season is used as mulch.I was just given a 55 gallon rotatable composting barrel which I filled with dead garden plants, tree leaves, fresh grass cuttings, crumpled newspaper and half dozen shovels of garden soil (to introduce microbes to the mix?). Adding kitchen waste (no meat, the dogs like that anyway). Since most was DRY material I soaked it, perhaps too much.

    • Phil on August 31, 2013 at 12:22 pm

      -I don’t like turning organic matter entirely under the soil in such a way that a thick layer of soil is on top of it, because it can cause water to not move down beneath it (not enough room to explain the science here), but lightly incorporating the material into the top few inches of soil is good if you want to hasten decomposition, although of course it can be very hard on the fungi and earthworms who get chopped up if the turning is more like a deep tilling.-Those rotating bins can make okay compost if enough air gets in there. I prefer a bigger, outdoor pile which allows more air infiltration and often more heat (due to the bigger pile size), which will kill weed seeds and pathogens.

  26. Sam on October 27, 2013 at 4:51 am

    Hi Phil.i need to know about Effective Microorganism making.would you please help me? thank,s a lot.

    • Phil on October 27, 2013 at 10:13 pm

      Do you mean activating EM from a mother culture that you’ve purchased Sam?

  27. Scott SE Fl. on January 26, 2014 at 3:09 pm

    Hey Phil, Occasionally I make cheese and have whey left over. Is this a good soil amendment?

    • Phil on January 29, 2014 at 1:22 pm

      Yes, it’s actually a great amendment. It contains lots of stuff, but especially protein that the soil microbes often desperately need. Feel free to water you plants with it. Not sure if diluting it is necessary, but you might as well mix it with some water (maybe 10 parts) and water more plants.

  28. Bear on March 17, 2014 at 7:02 pm

    Why do you avoid sewage sludge?

    • Phil on March 18, 2014 at 1:40 am

      I did a lot of looking into this quite a few years ago. Research shows that the toxins in sewage sludge are not removed even if they’re put through an 18 month composting process (which they generally aren’t). Unfortunately, a lot of toxic stuff gets put down sinks and toilets, not to mention how industry waste sometimes gets mixed in. We should definitely be recycling this stuff somehow, but definitely not on food gardens.

  29. Sol Rae on October 12, 2017 at 5:06 pm

    I live in a rainforest region where wild mushrooms are abundant. For my first garden, after applying cardboard for weeks, then tilling the area for the bed ( there were lots of big roots from surrounding ivy and vines and very rocky clay, hence the tilling), I introduced a truckload of black, organic, mushroom laden compost. I love the smell and taste of mushrooms, so the process was a pleasure, a heady experience. I was delighted with the garden’s first season growth months later. The worms, moles and slugs were, too! The lessons learned each year are immeasurable. Thanks for all of these wonderful tips, Phil and readers! The wealth of information here is treasured.

  30. Anna M. Enriquez on January 31, 2018 at 12:53 pm

    ☺Hi and Good Afternoon Phil! I live in South Florida–Fort Lauderdale. Your Smiling Gardener website is a Godsend! I am new to this, however… I realize that the area- Zone 10-has unique challenges. Will your lessons also include, or do I need to go to your online Academy? I look forward to your posts, thank you so much!

    • Phil on February 1, 2018 at 12:19 pm

      Hi Anna, I cover it a little more in the Academy, but even in there I mostly teach good organic gardening principles that are applicable everywhere, although yes, there are some modifications for different biomes.

  31. Evelyn Weekes on March 22, 2018 at 5:49 am

    Hi Phil: Thanks much for all the useful information that you provide. It really gives me a good foundation. By the way, Do you use the BoKashi composting method. I have just been introduced to it and plan to use it as it seems like a wonderful idea and much improved over traditional composting methods as you can include meat, dairy, bones which are not recommended in traditional outdoor bin method. It is also so much easier to produce without any turning, watering, etc. and takes a shorter time frame. Have you ever used this method? If so, do you have any feedback that you can share?
    Thanks a lot for all the effort and caring you seem to put into every thing you do. It is much appreciated.

    • Phil on March 26, 2018 at 12:13 pm

      I did a little bokashi composting perhaps 10 years ago, but a regular compost pile works nicely for me (I don’t eat meat/dairy and I have a LOT of leaves and plant debris to compost, so a big aerated pile works nicely there).

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