By Rod Tyler, GardenSoxx
Photographs courtesy of GardenSoxx
Compost is one of the oldest and best soil amendments to add to your garden. It improves drainage, increases moisture retention, breaks up clay soil, and increases nutrient retention. There are over 4000 commercial operations across the U.S. that make great organic compost. Many of these facilities have it available for delivery in bulk or have distributors near you. Locally made compost has a lot of great living organisms; you can also find bagged compost at large garden centers and big box stores.
Why is compost better than peat moss, coconut fiber (coir) or manures? In one teaspoon of compost the are more organisms (good ones) than there are people on the planet! Those organisms help bring depleted soils back to life. Peat moss and coir do not. Peat moss and coir simply add moisture-holding capacity but do very little to add beneficial microbes and nutrients.
The nutrients in compost are slowly available to plants. Pouring water through compost does not leach nutrients, in the way conventional chemical fertilizers leach out through water. The nutrients in compost are only released when the proper temperature and moisture of the finished soils allow the natural nutrient cycling to occur. In fact, the release rate of nutrients from compost is similar to the bell curve of plant nutrients required during the growing seasons. In other words, the nutrients from healthy soil release daily and plants use nutrients daily, causing very little nutrient loss from leaching.
Composting happens naturally when piles are created with the right carbon to nitrogen ratio – generally, three parts brown, one part green. Browns are leaves, twigs, wood chips, straw, sawdust, or other carbon-based materials. Greens are grass clippings, manure, food waste or other high nitrogen materials. These are the same materials generally collected at curbside across the U.S. to be used as feedstocks for commercial compost operations. The green, high nitrogen materials need the browns to aerate the pile with porosity to keep the composting process aerobic.
What should you look for when purchasing compost? Ask for test results that show some level of quality control. The U.S. Composting Council (USCC) has a quality assurance program for these composting facilities to make sure product is tested properly, so when you purchase, look for STA-Certified compost. STA is “Seal of Testing Assurance,” and if your compost is certified, you can use it for all the applications established by the compost use guidelines at USCC:
Composting properly kills weed seeds, diseases, and insects by breaking their cycle through intense heat. Temperatures in commercial compost piles often reach 150 degrees for 60-90 days while being turned three to five times. Turning the piles helps aerate them, ensures that outer material is mixed into the center to heat up, and makes the product that homogenous black gold we all love. Composting also populates the finished material with highly beneficial microbes, which is why compost helps fight disease in your soils or potting mixes.
Some general use guidelines for compost
If you’re planting garden beds, add 1 to 2 inches compost and mix or till thoroughly to 4”-6” depth.
If you are topdressing or reseeding patches in your lawn, add ¼” compost and rake in appropriately. This practice can be combined with core aeration or over-seeding to maximize impact.
One of the other popular ways to plant a home garden is using Gardensoxx®: www.gardensoxx.com. GardenSoxx are flexible mesh planters you can fill with compost and plant nearly anywhere. GardenSoxx breathe much more than traditional containers or regular soil because the mesh is porous on both sides and the top. Adding drip irrigation allows for the GardenSoxx to stay moist. The mesh used for GardenSoxx helps prevent weeds from blowing or dropping into loose soil.
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