The Permaculture Approach to Composting and Soil Health

Permaculture is fast becoming a popular way of approaching sustainable agriculture.

It involves thinking of ecosystems as a whole system working together, rather than individual plants or animals.

In this blog post, I will outline how permaculture principles can be applied to composting to promote soil health and plant growth.

By incorporating these principles into your composting practices, you will be able to reduce waste, improve soil health, and grow healthier plants.

Let’s explore how to achieve this.

The basics of composting

Composting is the process of breaking down organic material into a nutrient-rich soil amendment. It is a natural process that occurs in nature, and it is one of the most effective ways to recycle organic matter to help maintain healthy soil. Composting works by combining organic materials like kitchen waste, yard waste, and other plant materials together in a pile or bin. Over time, naturally occurring microorganisms, bacteria, and fungi break down the organic material into compost.

Composting can be done at home or on a larger-scale, and there are many different ways to compost. Home composting can be done in a backyard using a simple pile or bin, while larger-scale composting can be done on farms or in industrial facilities using specialized equipment and techniques.

Home composting is a great way to reduce the amount of waste that goes into landfills, while also providing a natural source of fertilizer for plants. It is a simple and effective way to improve the health of your garden, while also reducing your environmental footprint. To start composting at home, all you need is a bin or a pile, some organic material, and a basic understanding of how the process works.

Composting requires a good mix of “greens” and “browns”. Greens are materials like kitchen scraps, fresh grass clippings, and other plant debris that are high in nitrogen. Browns are materials like dried leaves, straw, and twigs that are high in carbon. Mixing greens and browns in the correct proportions is important for creating a compost pile that will break down efficiently. Generally, a ratio of 3:1 (browns to greens) is recommended to achieve the right balance.

In addition to greens and browns, a good compost pile also needs air, water, and heat to work properly. Turning the pile regularly to introduce oxygen will speed up the composting process and help prevent odors. Adding water to the pile will keep it moist, which is important for the microorganisms that break down the compost. Finally, the pile should be kept in a warm, sunny spot to help provide the heat necessary to break down the material.

In summary, composting is a simple and effective way to reduce waste and create a nutrient-rich soil amendment for plants. To start composting at home, you will need a bin or a pile, some organic material, and a basic understanding of how the process works. Remember to mix greens and browns in the correct proportions, keep the pile moist and aerated, and place it in a warm, sunny spot to help speed up the composting process.

Benefits of Composting

Composting is an excellent way to improve the health of your soil and plants, while also reducing your carbon footprint. By composting, you can recycle organic waste into a nutrient-rich amendment that can be used to improve the structure and fertility of your soil.

As organic matter decomposes, it releases nutrients that are essential for plant growth, such as nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus. These nutrients are released slowly over time, which allows plants to absorb them as they grow. Additionally, compost improves soil structure by increasing its water-holding capacity and reducing soil erosion.

Composting also helps to reduce the amount of waste that ends up in landfills, which are a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. When organic waste is buried in landfills, it decomposes anaerobically, which produces methane, a potent greenhouse gas. By composting, you can help to reduce the amount of organic waste that ends up in landfills, and in turn, reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Finally, composting is a cost-effective way to improve soil fertility, which can lead to healthier plants and increased yields. By creating your own compost, you can avoid the expense of purchasing synthetic fertilizers, which can be both costly and harmful to the environment if not used properly.

Permaculture principles applied to composting

If you’ve ever heard of permaculture, you know that it’s an approach to sustainable agriculture that seeks to integrate human systems with nature’s ecosystems. Composting is an essential component of permaculture, as it fosters the natural processes of decomposition and nutrient cycling that are necessary for soil health.

The principles of permaculture can guide us in creating a more sustainable compost system. One of the central ideas in permaculture is to view systems as interconnected and mutually supportive. In the context of composting, this means using diverse inputs such as kitchen scraps, yard waste, and manure to create a nutrient-rich soil amendment.

Another permaculture principle that can be applied to composting is to observe and interact with natural systems. This means paying attention to the microbes, insects, and other organisms that are present in the compost pile. By understanding these organisms and their roles in the decomposition process, we can refine our composting practices to create a more diverse and balanced ecosystem.

Permaculture also emphasizes the importance of using renewable resources and minimizing waste. In the context of composting, this means using locally-sourced materials instead of purchasing bagged compost from a store. It also means using the compost that we create on-site to minimize the need for synthetic fertilizers and other inputs.

By applying these and other permaculture principles to composting, we can create a more sustainable system that supports the health of our soil, plants, and overall environment.

Composting in Permaculture Systems

If you’re looking to develop a more sustainable and self-sufficient home garden, incorporating permaculture principles into your composting system is a great place to start. Composting is an essential part of any permaculture system, as it provides a natural source of fertilizer for plants and helps to regenerate the soil.

One effective way to integrate composting into a permaculture system is to create a food forest. A food forest is a low-maintenance, sustainable garden system that mimics the structure of a natural forest. In a food forest, different tree species are planted together in order to create a diverse ecosystem. The trees work together to provide shade and nutrients for crops and other plants.

Composting is an essential part of a food forest, as it provides a natural source of fertilizer for trees and other plants. When compost is added to the soil, it slowly releases nutrients over time, providing a sustained source of food for the plants. Additionally, compost can help to improve the water retention capacity of the soil, which is particularly important in dry or drought-prone areas.

Another permaculture system that lends itself well to composting is a swale. A swale is a small ditch or depression that is used to capture and retain water. The idea behind a swale is to slow down the flow of water across your property, allowing it to filter into the ground and nourish your plants.

Composting is an important aspect of the swale system, as it helps to maintain the water-holding capacity of the soil. In order to maximize the benefits of composting, you should aim to create your swale in an area where there is a lot of organic matter, such as fallen leaves or grass clippings.

Finally, composting can be used in natural building as a way to improve soil quality. When constructing natural buildings, it’s important to use materials that are sustainable and renewable, such as straw bales or cob. Composting can be used to provide a natural source of fertilizer for crops that are grown around the building. This can help to improve the overall health of the soil and ensure that the building remains an integral part of the surrounding ecosystem.

In conclusion, composting is an essential part of any sustainable home garden, and it can be integrated into a wide range of permaculture systems. If you’re looking to improve the health of your soil and create a more self-sufficient garden, incorporating composting into your permaculture system is an excellent place to start.


If you’re a fan of composting, you’ll love vermicomposting, which is composting with worms. One of the benefits of vermicomposting is that it produces a richer fertilizer than traditional composting. Worm compost is richer in nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, as well as other micronutrients. The worms also help break down and decompose materials at a faster rate than traditional composting.

Starting your own worm bin can be a fun project to do with kids or as a personal hobby. Worm bins can be made of plastic bins or wooden boxes; they can be purchased pre-made or made from scratch. The ideal setup is a container with holes for ventilation and drainage at the bottom to avoid drowning the worms. You can then add bedding made of shredded newspaper or dry leaves. Once the worms are introduced, you can feed them kitchen waste such as fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, and eggshells.

If you’re using worm compost in your garden, it’s important to let it sit for a few weeks before using it on plants as it can be too strong in raw form, and could burn the roots of your plants. The nutrients in the worm compost are ideal for starting seedlings indoors.

Worm composting is a great way to use kitchen scraps and avoid sending organic waste to the landfill while also producing nutrient-rich compost for your garden. With a little research and some basic know-how, you can start a worm bin in your own home.

Utilizing compost in permaculture

If you do not already compost, it’s time to start! Compost can be incorporated as a soil amendment, added to mulch, or used in potting mixtures. When compost is used as a soil amendment, it can help increase soil fertility. As a mulch, it can help reduce soil erosion, reduce evaporation, and suppress the growth of weeds. Compost has the added benefits of improving soil structure, moisture retention, and nutrient availability.

One of the easiest ways to use compost in a permaculture setting is to use it as a mulch. Applying a 2-4 inch deep layer of compost around plants can improve soil fertility, reduce weed growth, and promote soil moisture retention. Compost can also be used to create a lasagna garden bed, where it is layered on top of cardboard or newspaper to create a raised garden bed that doesn’t require tilling.

Compost can be used to make nutrient-rich tea that can be added to irrigation water or sprayed directly on plant leaves for quick absorption. This is especially helpful in drought-prone areas or during times of water scarcity. Compost tea can easily be made by steeping compost in water for 24-48 hours and straining out the solids.

When planting new perennials or fruit trees, digging in compost with the backfill can help provide the plants with a rich source of nutrients and organic matter. For annual vegetable gardens, adding a few inches of compost to the topsoil every year can help improve soil fertility, water retention, and overall plant health.

Companion planting is another way compost can be utilized in permaculture systems. Certain plants grow better together when they share space in the garden. For example, legumes are nitrogen-fixers, meaning they convert atmospheric nitrogen into a form that can be used by plants. By planting nitrogen-fixers like beans or peas near plants like tomatoes or peppers that require high levels of nitrogen, the soil can stay richer in nitrogen without the need for additional fertilizers.

Overall, composting and permaculture go hand-in-hand. By using compost to improve soil health and structure, you can create a more sustainable and resilient garden that requires fewer outside inputs.

Common mistakes in composting and permaculture

Composting is an art and science, and there’s no doubt that mistakes can be made while doing it. Even experienced composters make mistakes from time to time. Here are some of the most common mistakes people make when composting and how to avoid them.

First, avoid throwing in meat and dairy products into your compost pile. These types of products can attract unwanted pests and will take longer to decompose, leading to an unbalanced compost pile. Instead, stick to adding vegetable and fruit scraps, garden waste, and yard trimmings.

Secondly, another mistake to avoid is the failure to keep the compost pile moist. Ideally, the compost pile should be kept consistently moist, but not too wet. If your pile is too dry, it will decompose slowly. To keep the moisture at the optimal level, make sure to add water to the compost pile regularly, especially during dry and hot weather.

Thirdly, avoid adding diseased plants to your compost pile. If you do, the diseases can live on in the compost, and you’ll end up spreading it across your garden. It’s much better to dispose of diseased material elsewhere.

Lastly, avoid adding synthetic chemicals, such as herbicides and insecticides, to your compost pile. These chemicals can harm the microorganisms that are essential to the composting process. Using synthetic chemicals in your garden will also harm beneficial insects, so it’s best to avoid them altogether.

By avoiding these common mistakes, you’ll be well on your way to creating a healthy and nutrient-rich soil in your permaculture system.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, permaculture offers an effective and sustainable approach to composting and soil health.

With the right knowledge and techniques, it’s possible to create a closed-loop system that benefits the environment while also improving plant growth and soil fertility.

I hope that this post has given you a better understanding of the permaculture principles that can be applied to composting, and how to use compost in a variety of permaculture practices to enhance sustainability.

So, will you be incorporating permaculture-based composting into your gardening routine?

I would love to hear from you!

Send me a message with your thoughts or questions about this post.

And if you found this post valuable, please consider sharing it on social media.

By spreading the word, you can help others create more sustainable, healthy, and beautiful homes and gardens.

Author: Scott Sanders


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