Healthy soil is full of living microorganisms which must be nourished and replaced in order to sustain our food supply; adding compost does both. Compost consists of decomposed plants reduced to their elemental ingredients by billions of soil organisms. The resulting spongy, moist substance is called humus, and this is the lifeblood of productive soil. When added to soil, a compost rich in humus builds soil structure and texture, holds moisture, allows drainage, slowly releases nutrients, moderates soil temperature, encourages beneficial earthworms, and suppresses soil-borne diseases.
Master Gardener Howard Scheps describes a good compost as approximately two-thirds brown material (dry leaves, dead plants, pine needles, and straw) and one-third green material (grass clippings, non-woody garden prunings, spent organically grown flowers, and fruit and vegetable garden scraps). He suggests applying half an inch of soil between layers of brown and green material to “get the compost going.” These items are so easy to come by! If you live in a house with a lawn and a few trees, then you have access to everything you need.
Organic gardeners do not typically add flesh to compost, but veganic gardeners go one step further by excluding all animal products such as manure, egg shells, bone or fish meal, and dried blood. A veganic compost can include fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes. Anything left at the end of the day can go in the compost, such as coffee grounds, carrot greens, a watermelon rind, or the remains of a tofu lasagna. Scheps does not recommend dumping oil on the heap or adding food that is too sugary, as these items do not benefit the soil. He also advises against adding large quantities of salt as it could leach into groundwater.
Organic gardener Eliot Coleman found that hay can be effectively composted, although the timing of the cutting of the hay is a significant factor in how well it ultimately breaks down. He also discovered that a sprinkling of finely powdered clay helps it decompose. Anyone interested in the details of Coleman’s research on the composting of hay can consult his book The New Organic Gardener.
Veganic farms may include “hinterland” which Bonsa describes as land used as a source of nutrients and organic matter separate from that which is used to grow food. Examples include a forest, hay field, or field of grass. The home veganic gardener will most likely find everything needed right on the property such as grass clippings, fallen leaves and other outdoor debris.