Posted by admin on September 22, 2010
Whether you are an ordinary gardener, or an organic gardener which doesn’t use of any sort of chemical additive for fertilization or pest control, a quality compost becomes one of the most important factors in determining the ultimate success of your garden. Compost is one of nature’s best mulches and soil amendments. With a good quality compost there is no need to use any sort of commercial fertilizer, and one of the best features of compost is that it can literally be made without spending a dime.
What Exactly Is Compost
Compost is the remnants of any organic material that has been aerobically decomposed. Compost is often also called humus. In earth science “humus” is defined as any organic matter which has reached a point of stability, where it will break down no further and can remain essentially as it is for centuries, or even millennia. So both words, for practical gardening purposes, basically mean the same thing; the end product of decomposed organic matter. It is also important to note that this decomposition is a result of a aerobic process as opposed to an anaerobic process. For example, vegetables placed in an airtight plastic bag will still decompose but will do so in an anaerobic manner since there is limited oxygen available. Anaerobic decomposition is what produces the foul odor that most of us are quite aware of.
The Compost Decomposition Process
The decomposition of organic matter is actually a process of repeated digestions as organic matter repeatedly passes through the intestinal tracts of soil animals or is attacked by the digestive enzymes secreted by microorganisms. Compost is the end product of this complex feeding pattern involving hundreds of different microorganisms, including bacteria, fungi, worms, and insects. In reality composting simply replicates nature’s natural system of breaking down materials on the forest floor. But fortunately for us, the organic gardener, this process results in a product that significantly improves soil fertility and helps keep the soil in a healthy balanced condition where nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus will be produced naturally.
Although almost any organic material can be used for compost pile, caution should be used when backyard composting as most backyard systems will not reach high enough temperatures to kill pathogens or deter vermin. So generally pet feces, non vegetarian animal manure, meat scraps, and dairy products should not be used unless you can be sure that an adequate temperatures will be reached.
To ensure proper composting your compost pile needs the right mixture of carbon rich “brown matter” and nitrogen rich “green matter”. Brown matter can consist of such items as dried leaves, straw, sawdust, wood chips, and even non-inked paper and cardboard. Green matter can include green plant material such as grass clippings, fresh cut hay, weeds, animal manures, fruit and vegetable table scraps, seaweed’s, and coffee grounds.
The Composting Process
This speed by which the composting process will occur will depend to a large extent on amount of effort you desire to put into creating the compost. Passive composting obviously takes the least amount of effort on your part. You simply mix the materials together in a freestanding pile and allow them to sit and rot on their own. This process may take a year or two but eventually you’ll have compost.
However, by actively managing your compost pile, you can often get finished compost in as little as one month. You can actively decrease the amount of time it takes to create compost if you’re willing to take the time to chop up your materials since shredded organic materials can heat up more rapidly and decompose quickly.
Heat is an important factor in effective composting. Hot composting allows aerobic bacteria to thrive. The ideal condition is for pasteurization to occur in a hot compost. Pasteurization will occur when the temperature reaches 55° Celsius (131°F) or more for three or more days. This will kill most pathogens and seeds. Pasteurized compost is valuable to the home gardener since the pasteurization process is otherwise both expensive and complicated, and adding chemicals to produce pasteurization is not an acceptable alternative for organic gardening.
For many gardeners, space is often an issue, and even you have adequate space in your backyard you may not want to have a large unsightly compost heap. Compost tumblers offer a reasonable and effective alternative to the compost pile. And while the claims of some compost tumblers to produce compost in as little as 13 days may be slightly exaggerated, they do offer several benefits over the standard compost heap and they actually can accelerate the decomposition process because of their convenience.
There are a number of benefits of compost tumblers. First, they are generally easy to use and come in a number of sizes and styles that make the turning of your compost piles much easier. Second, because they are fully enclosed they are pest proof from such common pests as squirrels, raccoons, rats and dogs. Also, because tumblers are in a closed environment it’s much easier to retain moisture so your compost doesn’t dry out. Also in wet weather it won’t get too soggy. The enclosed environment also keeps unpleasant orders inside the compost tumbler (however if you’re keeping your compost properly aerated by proper turning there should not be any unpleasant odors).
Whether you garden by more modern means, or are a strict organic gardener, one thing is certain; healthy plants come from a healthy and nutritious soil. By making your own compost (a.k.a. gardeners black gold), not only are you being environmentally friendly and very economical, you’re producing your own natural black gold for your vegetables, herbs and flowers and providing healthy, safe, and great tasting food for your loved ones.
Katie Collins is a gardener, mother and writer. For more great articles and advice on gardening please visit our websites at Great Vegetable Gardens [http://www.greatvegetablegardens.com] and Better Organic Gardens [http://www.betterorganicgardens.com/blog]
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