Connecting with nature in the garden is nurturing, therapeutic, and fun! From preparing our garden beds on the first day that the soil can be worked to garden cleanup in the fall, we look to one of the gardeners’ best friends – COMPOST!

We now know that a strain of bacterium in soil, Mycobacterium vaccae, has been found to trigger the release of serotonin, which elevates mood and decreases anxiety. On top of that, this little bacterium has been found to improve cognitive function. So get out there, kneel down, dig in, and reap the benefits!

What is Composting?

Composting is the natural process of decomposition actively managed in order to accelerate the process and provide a contained valuable soil amendment. Decomposition returns nutrients to the soil, improves soil texture, and supports new plant growth. We can speed up this natural process by composting food and yard waste in a managed backyard composting bin. The finished product is dark and crumbly, bearing no resemblance to the original components Composting enlists the use of decomposers including microorganisms to break down organic material in the presence of oxygen to a point where it can be safely stored, handled and used. Compost piles are habitats for both chemical and physical decomposers. These include bacteria, fungi, actinomycetes, mites, centipedes, springtails, nematodes, worms and many others. We provide them with shelter, warmth, food, air, and water and they, in turn, provide us with a sweet, invaluable product known as finished compost.

Composting is an essential part of reducing household wastes. Easy to do, composting can be practiced by every household. The reward is having homemade, finished compost to use in any number of ways to benefit the environment as a natural soil amendment for use in the garden, landscape, or farm.

Soil is the basic building block for a healthy, productive garden that yields nutritious food – with no worries of contamination in the form of chemical pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, and GMOs. Good garden soil is teeming with life – a living, breathing community of micro and macro organisms essential to healthy soil and vegetation. According to Oregon State University researchers, “one teaspoon of good garden soil to which compost has been added contains 100 million bacteria and 800 feet of fungal threads!” Soil is comprised of roughly 25% air, 20% water, 45% minerals and 4-7% organic matter. That 4-7% of organic matter is what supports life on his planet. That’s compost! Organic matter in our soil provides the nutrients that make plants grow. The organic matter found in compost introduces vital nutrients to the garden, including macronutrients like nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium, as well as micronutrients like manganese, copper, iron and zinc. Even if you don’t garden you are doing the earth a service by composting. Spread it on the earth, the lawn, under a tree or bush – anywhere that the nutrients can return to the soil. You’ll be feeding the earth and reducing the amount of material ending up in landfills.

Why should we compost?

According to the Pennsylvania DEP’s Bureau of Land Recycling and Waste Management, Division of Waste Minimization and Planning, “grass, leaves, and other wastes from lawns and backyard gardens account for an estimated 18% of the annual municipal waste stream. During the summer, grass can comprise up to 50% of municipal waste. Leaf waste can account for as much as 60-80% in the fall. This massive, seasonal volume of yard wastes can put a strain on municipal garbage collection systems.”

If everyone were to compost we could reduce the amount of material we’re sending to our landfills by 25%. (Recycling reduces it by an additional 50%) That’s significant considering that a typical landfill is the size of 100-200 football fields and its construction destroys habitat and unleashes the potential for environmental consequences such as the release of the greenhouse gas, methane, and leachate, a toxic liquid.

Finished compost has numerous uses in the lawn and garden. It adds nutrients to the soil, improves soil friability (crumbly structure), aids in water retention and drainage, helps to control weeds, reduces erosion, and over time improves the structure and texture of clay soil. It can be worked into the soil at planting time or added as surface mulch any time. In addition, compost use results in healthier plants that are better able to ward off disease.

Healthy plants come from healthy soil. Do yourself, your garden, and the earth a favor by building some healthy soil in your own garden and backyard. To learn more about how to set up and maintain a backyard composting system as well as how to use that compost, attend a PA Resources Council’s Backyard Composting Workshop. Participants receive their own 80-gallon, rodent-proof Earth Machine composting bin.


Worm your way into composting with one of nature’s most efficient recyclers, the lowly earthworm. Worm composting is an easy way to recycle organic kitchen waste into a valuable and nutrient-rich soil fertilizer.

Vermicomposting, or worm composting, is a system of composting using Red Wigglers to convert food scraps into a rich fertilizer said to be 30 times stronger than backyard compost which is a soil conditioner rather than a true fertilizer. Red Wigglers, also known by their Latin name, Eisenia fetida can eat ½ to their full body weight daily. This makes them super-efficient at turning kitchen scraps almost magically into something quite valuable.

Soil scientists and organic farmers have long known the value of earthworms in recycling organic materials into a valuable soil fertilizer. In fact, some farmers consider the earthworms in their soil to be as valuable as a good work crew or tractor.

The benefits of indoor composting with Red Wigglers are many and varied. Red Wigglers are surface dwellers who travel mostly in a horizontal pattern so they’re perfect for inhabiting a box. All that they need is food, warmth, moisture, and air – a lot like any living creature. They will eat anything that used to be alive so they’ll even eat their bedding (commonly shredded newspaper) if the food supply is exhausted. Worm boxes (vermiculture systems) are odorless when managed properly. They also take up very little space so it’s a great way for apartment dwellers and those with limited yard space to deal with food waste in an environmentally conscious way. The worms can be ignored for 2-3 weeks without worry so go ahead, throw in some food scraps and additional bedding and go on vacation. They’ll get along just fine while you’re away.

When you attend PRC’s Vermicomposting Workshop you will learn how to create and manage a complete vermiculture system, and how to use the worms’ amazing finished product.