Why would we need to know how to make compost?
First, let's talk about soil.
Think about the last time you went into a forest ... the spongy soft feel under your feet, the damp smell, the quiet humidity. A forest can support all those trees because of its soil.
Soil is more than just something to set plants into -- it's a combination of minerals from broken-down rock, decomposed organic material (also called humus), and living things such as bacteria, fungi, roots, worms, and insects.
Good garden soil needs all of these components in order to support plant life: the minerals and decomposed organic material provide support, moisture and trace nutrients, and the living creatures burrow through and make tiny passages which open up the soil, as well as provide much of the decomposed organic material.
When plants grow in the wild, their fallen leaves enrich the soil. When you plant in a garden for a harvest, you remove that nutrition, and if nutrition isn't returned to the soil somehow, your garden soil becomes depleted.
So as you can see, the biggest challenge for the edible landscaper is to make and maintain soil fertility.
You could use chemical fertilizers in your garden. However, artificial fertilizers have several significant problems:
The over-use of chemical fertilizers leaves soil compacted, dry and dead. To try and solve this problem, people do things like tilling to open up the soil, and adding more fertilizers and amendments to provide lost nutrients, but it becomes a vicious cycle. If for some reason you can't buy fertilizer or can't till your garden, nothing will grow.
Composting replicates the process of decomposition found in nature, but in a controlled environment, and forms the basis of organic gardening.
(If you feel you must use fertilizer, I recommend organically based fertilizers that won't harm your beneficial insects, fungi and bacteria.)
Now, you could buy compost, either from a garden shop or your recycling center. This can be a good way to get started in areas with already-depleted soil (a lot of suburban tracts are built on used-up agricultural land).
But there are some drawbacks to buying compost:
The alternative is learning how to make compost.
Want to know a secret? Once you know how to make compost, you can make it anywhere in your garden, bin or no bin.
So here we go:
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