Compost, Powerful Soil Additive!

Jul 17, 2020

By Penny Pawl, UC Master Gardener of Napa County


Napa County Master Gardeners had many compost classes planned for last spring. Then the shelter-in-place order came through. We still wanted to tell people about the importance of composting, so we decided to collaborate with the City and County of Napa to do a public workshop via Zoom.

I had no idea what an undertaking this would be. We met to discuss how to do this event, where to produce it, what the script would be and what props we would use. We had to research our presentations and gather materials to show.

Because we would be doing the presentation from a home garden, we had to figure out where the sun would be during the live workshop so we could situate the presentation table properly.  

To test our setup, one Master Gardener managed the camera outside while another was inside checking on how the workshop would look when we went live. A third person was in an off-site office monitoring the picture and sound.

We reassembled one more time to rehearse so that the webinar would go smoothly. Prior to that, we sent an event announcement with a Zoom reservation link. Luckily, we had an audience.  

I have given a hundred or more compost presentations during my years as a Master Gardener, but I have to admit I was nervous about this one in a new-to-me format.

New Master Gardener Lonnie Payne-Clark opened the session with the argument for why people should compost. The short answer is: to enrich our gardens and keep organic matter out of the landfill. I once read an article about a study in which workers had drilled several feet deep into a New York City landfill. They came up with a 25-year-old newspaper wrapped around a hot dog. The newspaper was still readable. In a landfill, material is packed so tight that no air gets in. Without air, the material can't decay.  

Regular additions of compost improve the tilth, or texture, of the soil. Worm compost is a mild fertilizer that benefits all plants.

Following Lonnie, Master Gardener Sue Helms spoke about various methods of composting: hot compost, cool compost, the do-nothing “compost happens” method and the so-called lasagna method.    

I spoke next, about using worms to compost kitchen waste. Master Gardener Cindy Watter described how to build a pile for hot composting and other methods. She also discussed the types of bins used for composting and the various tools used to manage compost piles. We took questions at the end and then congratulated each other on a job well done.  

For help making this Zoom workshop happen, we thank Kendra Bruno from the City of Napa, Amanda Griffis from the County of Napa and Napa County Master Gardener coordinator Yvonne Rasmussen.   You can watch this workshop here.  

The following week we did a worm composting workshop and distributed worm bins to 17 people who had signed up in advance. During the workshop, we built a bin and put in a banana peel and 500 worms to get things going. The worms will be fed more once they settle in and the banana peel starts to disappear.

For further soil building guidelines, click to find credible, relevant, practical (how-to) information to help you build and protect your soils, gardens, farms, ranches, environment!

Click here to view more Master Gardener online workshops on a variety of gardening topics.

Food Growing Forum: Join Napa County Master Gardeners on Sunday, July 26, from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m., for a free Zoom forum on “Watering, Irrigation and More.” This forum on food growing will continue monthly on the last Sunday of every month, with future topics announced soon. To receive the Zoom link for the July 26 forum, register at

The UC Master Gardeners of Napa County are volunteers who provide University of California research-based information on home gardening. To find out more about home gardening or upcoming programs, visit the Master Gardener website ( Our office is temporarily closed but we are answering questions by email or phone. Send your gardening questions to or leave a phone message at 707-253-4143 and a Master Gardener will respond. Please include your phone number in your e-mail or voice message.