1. Chop the stuff up as best you can.
2. Put it in a pile.
So when The Complete Compost Gardening Guide arrived from Storey last week, I wondered: Is composting really this difficult? Do we actually need 318 pages–printed, by the way, on glossy, probably-not-recycled paper–to tell us how to compost?
I’m not so sure. If you are a complete novice, and you’re going to jump right in and plant a very large, ambitious garden, you probably need to school up on compost quick. This book will tell you everything you will ever want to know, but it might overwhelm you, too. We are talking about rotting muck, after all.
The book, written by garden writers Barbara Pleasant and Deborah Martin (no blog, exactly, although there is a blog-ish update page here) covers the basics: the benefits of compost, how to build a bin, what goes in a pile, worm composting, compost tea, cover crops, soil biology, etc.
There’s not much new here, and it seems like the authors, realizing that, came up with new names for familiar techniques. Sheet composting (already re-branded as Lasagna Gardening ten years ago) becomes "Comforter Compost"; worm composting is called "Catch-and-Release Vermicompost", and a hot compost pile is called a Hospital Heap. There are lots of other names: Pits-of-Plenty, Composter’s Conduit, Cathole Compost, Honey Hole (no jokes, please), Pampered Pit (OK, now you’ve got me doing it), and so on. There are chapters on tools–it even covers buckets–and on plants that grow especially well in compost (tomatoes, beans, etc), but those chapters feel like filler. It’s not enough information to make this a comprehensive guide to gardening, but more than a book on compost really needs.
As a person who felt perfectly justified in giving the world 223 pages on earthworms, I feel a little funny suggesting that this hefty compost guide is overkill. It’s reasonably priced at $19.95 and it really and truly will be the only book on compost you’ll ever need. But I could do without the gimmicky names, and if some of those extraneous chapters had been tossed on the compost pile, it could have been whittled down to an even more reasonable $14.95 for a smaller, less overwhelming treatise on what has always been, for me, the most simple, rewarding, and interesting part of the garden.