The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Composting by Chris McLaughlin
Maybe you’re already a gardener, ready to plant some vegetables to reduce your grocery bill and gain some peace of mind about what additives you will not be putting into your family’s bodies. Or, maybe you secretly yearn for a yard filled with colorful flower blossoms from early spring until late fall.
If you see yourself in either of these scenarios, then The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Composting: Turn your organic waste material into black gold, is for you. No, this isn’t a book about planting a garden. It’s about how to nourish the soil you will use to grow amazing veggies and posies. And, I have to say, it’s even fun to read.
“The first thing you need to know is that no matter what you do—compost happens,” author Chris McLaughlin says. She sets out to educate, support, inform, and entertain her readers.
I’ve always been a kind of a sucker for the “idiot’s guide” type of book, since I don’t know all that much about anything. I’m not much of a gardener, but I started a compost pile 20+ years ago as an environmental gesture to remove organic waste from the garbage can.
McLaughlin is right, “compost happens.” I knew nothing. I did my composting with the most minimal effort possible. I created a designated spot in the far end of the backyard, put some landscaping logs around it, and began dumping all the kitchen waste there. (Even I knew enough not to put in any meat scraps.)
All I did was keep a covered bucket under the sink, then haul it to the backyard when it was full. Then I dug a small hole and poured it in and covered it up with some dirt. The microbes and worms did the rest. Simple.
Unfortunately, what I didn’t know about the valuable applications of the black gold I was creating has been a terrible waste. After reading this book, I realize I have been accumulating a pile of invaluable compost without actually putting it to use.
From “Idiot” to Composter
In this enjoyable, easy to read, and surprisingly thorough and diverse book, McLaughlin moves us from “idiots” to knowledgeable composters ready to create black gold with minimal effort and maximum results. She not only tells us how to make the stuff, but how to use it effectively and with ease.
Most environmentalists are aware of the rebound in “locavore” eating and the mushrooming of home gardening: community gardens, potted mini-gardens on apartment balconies, backyard gardens, plots shared with neighbors, and even indoor greenhouses to extend the growing season.
But we also are recognizing the urgency for using more sustainable methods. These are part and parcel of the composting process:
- eliminating synthetic fertilizers
- using natural weed control
- growing plants that are healthier and more disease and pest resistant
- conserving water
McLaughlin reminds us that “composting is sustainability at its finest.” It’s good for our gardens, good for us, and good for the earth. She quickly addresses the issue of common myths and bad reps about composting, such as it attracts rodents, or it stinks, or it requires lots of time and effort and is very complicated or expensive. Nix on those. Read on.
Composting Made Simple
The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Composting is well organized, succinct, and rich in information, helpful hints, and DIY instructions. I particularly enjoyed the iconic little sidebar boxes in each section that address potential problems, provide definitions about terms and techniques, offer fun facts, and afford opportunities to “dig deeper.”
Perhaps most encouraging is the admonition: “Ignore anyone who tells you it has to be a certain way. Use a system that fits your lifestyle.” Yes!
The Basics of Composting
Here are the nuts and bolts (or shall we say, “the humus and mulch”) found within the 193 not-dense pages:
Part 1 – “The Dirt Beneath Your Feet”
- Learn what makes soil healthy and fruitful, and discover the benefits of composting.
- Find out how it works and the four main things every compost pile needs.
- What to compost and what to avoid.
- The difference between a “hot” and “cold” compost pile, and how to do it.
- Inexpensive do-it-yourself methods of building your pile.
- How to shop for commercially available bins.
- Troubleshooting if necessary.
- How to use the gold, once it’s ready.
Part 2 – “Worm Wrangling 101: Vermicomposting”
You can do without the worms, as I have for 20 years—or read it and then decide. You’ll definitely be better informed. This chapter covers:
- How to harness the power of worms for particularly potent composting.
- Everything you need to know about housing and feeding worms.
- What to do with all that rich worm poop
Part 3: “Creative Composting: Beyond the Bin”
- Bed, Sheet or Sandwich Composting (you’ll have to read it, I’m not telling)
- Grasscycling for keeping grass clippings where they belong – on your lawn
- Mulching is composting, too
- Planting cover crops for adding nutritional value to your soil
- Taking compost into the community as a way of sharing the wealth and building community
I told you this book was thorough and diverse.
Three Additional Resources
In the back of the book, McLaughlin gives us these helpful resources:
- Appendix A: A useful glossary of terms for easy reference
- Appendix B: The “Resource Appendix,” with helpful websites and blogs on composting, a list of retailers selling composting supplies, other books on composting, a list of university extension offices, and some composting organizations
- Appendix C: “Compost and Worms in the Classroom,” a fun resource for teaching kids, complete with activities and classroom planning
A Gift to the Earth
If you are or are going to be a gung-ho gardener and composter, this book is invaluable. If you are a new or casual gardener, this book is invaluable. If you are no gardener at all and just want to expand your horizons, this is also valuable and fun to read. If you want to help the planet and cease from putting your organic material down the garbage disposal or in the garbage can, by all means, take a look.
The truth is, I don’t feel like I’m as much of an “idiot composter” as when I began reading. And McLaughlin supports whatever composting efforts I decide will fit in my lifestyle. That’s a gift for me, my garden, and the Earth.
The Fine Print
Blue Planet Green Living received a free copy of the book reviewed in this post. No other compensation or incentive was provided.
Blue Planet Green Living’s policy is to review only those books we feel merit overall positive comments. If we do not like a book more than we dislike it, we do not review it. We are not influenced by free books and provide our honest opinions. For more information, please visit the Policies tab on the top navigation bar.
Blue Planet Green Living has an affiliate relationship with Amazon.com. If you purchase this book or any other products through Amazon by clicking on our affiliate link, Blue Planet Green Living will receive a very small financial compensation from Amazon, which we use to sustain this website.