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Habitat at Home: Garbage to Garden

Healthy soil is vital to sustaining plants, animals, and humans. As humans we generate a great deal of waste, and we should be more mindful about what we send to the landfill. Rather than sending food scraps and paper towels to the landfill, we can return them to the ground as compost.

In nutrient cycling, microorganisms decompose organic materials. Our habitat relies on this process to liberate excess carbon and put valuable nutrients back into the soil for growing plants and sustaining other organisms. Beyond producing beautiful fruits and vegetables, rich soils also nourish the bottom of the food chain. Decomposition is the necessary process for all soil dwelling organisms. Bacteria, fungi, arthropods, earthworms, snails, and slugs, all break down organic matter by recycling it into nutrient-rich soil.

Compost enhances habitat for microorganisms by providing rich, living soils. Each organism receives energy and nutrients from transforming natural materials into humic substances, or compost. These nutrients can also persist in soil for centuries. Truly organic and unique, this combination of nutrients is key to preserving proper soil structure. It also offers the rich soils plants and wildlife need to thrive.

By improving your soil, not only do you enhance your garden’s output, but you provide a reserve for the microorganisms that build healthy soil and feed wildlife up the food chain. Salamanders, frogs, lizards, shrews, birds, bats, opossums, and raccoons all rely on these organisms for food. If the food chain becomes interrupted or lacking, an important link is lost and causes an imbalance in the ecosystem.

Rather than banishing everything to the landfill, we can ask ourselves if it makes sense to send out our leaves and trimmings. We can also find a permanent place for compostable waste in the corner of our yard and leave it to breakdown on its own. Not only does compost serve as nutrients for many beneficial organisms, but it also contributes to your entire backyard biome!

Habitat at Home is a monthly segment dedicated to providing you with tips to make your yard and home a better habitat for native plants, animals, and insects. Written by Rachel Hess.