What is Compost?

When organic materials decay, they break down in a process known as decomposition.  Then, the fully broken down material forms a substance we call compost. The decaying process occurs naturally, but a wide range of composting methods produce it as well. Because it improves the quality of existing soils, compost is a key part of many soil mixes.

Bacteria, fungi, worms, and other small creatures play a role in breaking down organic materials. When organic matter breaks down, it activates key nutrients for plant growth.  Compost holds on to these nutrients until the plants are ready to use them.  In fact, there are a variety of ways to use the nutrient rich compost. For instance, use it as a soil amendment, mulch, or potting mix. Also, soak it in water to create a compost tea, which is a beneficial liquid for plants.  Just apply the tea directly to the soil in order to feed and water your plants.

How Compost is Made

Organic waste from yards and gardens makes up the largest percentage of municipal solid waste in the U.S. Composting is a process that accelerates the natural breakdown of organic matter such as leaves, grass, and kitchen scraps. The end result is a nutrient-rich soil amendment that improves the health of gardens and landscapes.

Hot

There are three primary methods of composting: hot, cold, and vermicomposting. Hot composting is the quickest method, producing fully decomposed organic matter in as little as two weeks.  However, the challenging task is maintaining a consistent temperature between 130-160 degrees Fahrenheit.  Brown materials cool down the heap, while green materials heat it up.  Also, heat levels in the begin to drop if the pile gets too wet or too dry.  Furthermore, turning the compost pile regularly helps keep the temperature more even throughout the pile.

Cold

Cold composting is a slower process which takes several months to a year to produce finished product.  In fact, it is the simplest method of the three, and it requires little to no effort beyond adding organic materials to a bin or pile. First, chop or shred materials into small pieces before adding them to the bin. This helps speed up the decomposition process, and also makes up for the lack of heat needed to break down larger chunks.  Once you’ve built up your pile of organic material, let it sit for several months to a year before it’s ready.  Additionally, if you turn the pile at least once, then the decomposition goes much faster.

Worms?

Vermicomposting  uses worms to break down organic matter, and it is an ideal method for those with limited space.  For example, a small apartment is a perfect location for one of these setups.  You can purchase vermicomposting bin online or at many garden stores. To get started, first add bedding material (such as shredded newspaper) and food scraps to the bin.  Then the worms do the rest, which results nutrient-rich compost within a few months time.

Uses of Compost

Indeed, there are variety of ways to use fully decomposed organic matter.  For example, you can use it as a top dressing for gardens and lawns, or mix it into potting soil to improve drainage and aeration.  You can also use it to make compost tea, which is a liquid fertilizer that you can spray on plants. In fact, it is an excellent way to recycle organic waste.  As a result, it reduces the amount of solid waste that ends up in landfills.  As a effective soil amendment, it naturally improves the quality of your soil.

The Benefits of Using Compost

There are many benefits of using compost in the garden.  For instance, it helps to improve soil structure, increase water retention, and improve drainage. Also, it adds essential nutrients to the soil, which includes nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.  In fact, spreading nutrient rich soil in your garden or lawn helps to suppress plant diseases and pests.  Furthermore, it saves you money on fertilizer and water bills, especially if you make your own.  You get real value out of recycling your kitchen and yard waste!  On the whole, it is easy to do and the benefits are numerous.  So start composting today and see the difference it makes in your garden!

Written By

Erica Infanger

Disadvantages

There are very few disadvantages of composting, however you must understand them to see the big picture.  First, it takes a long time for the compost to break down and be ready to use.  Consequently, the heap takes about a year or more to decompose without any turning.  Second, compost sometimes attracts pests and rodents when not covered properly. Finally, heaps tend to emit a foul odor during the decomposition process, so try to set them up farther away from living areas if possible.

Compost Versus Fertilizer

There are a few key reasons why people think compost is better than fertilizer. First, organic matter is the main ingredient, rather than manufactured materials.  Therefore, the nutrients in compost feed plants more naturally than those in fertilizer. Second, it improves the structure of soil, making it more aerated and able to hold more water. Hence, it helps reduce the amount of water and fertilizer that healthy plants need. Finally, compost helps suppress plant diseases and pests, which further reduces the need for chemicals.

Compost Versus Top Soil

There are many benefits to using compost in your garden, including improved drainage, increased moisture retention, and added nutrients. Topsoil benefits plants by providing a base for the roots and protecting them from extreme temperatures. So, which is better? In brief, it really depends on your needs. If you are starting a garden from scratch, then topsoil is a good cost-effective option. If you already have a garden and are looking to improve the quality of your soil, then compost is a great choice. Both products have their pros and cons, so it’s important to choose the right one for your garden.  Of course, if you do a little research, then you often find the perfect solution for your needs.

Using Compost on a Lawn

Yes, using compost on a lawn is a good idea.  In fact, we recommend it!  By spreading compost on your lawn, you add nutrients to the soil and help the grass grow. Also, applying a layer of nutrient rich top-dressing keeps the lawn healthy and free of weeds.

The Best Way to Spread Compost

We already know that there are many benefits to spreading compost on your lawn or garden.  So, what’s the best way to spread it? While there are a number of ways to do it, we recommend using a Landzie Compost & Peat Moss Spreader. The Landzie ensures an even distribution of top-dressing over your lawn or garden. Also, it retains unwanted chucks in the basket for easy disposal.  Here are a few tips for using a Landzie Spreader on your lawn:

  • First, fill the spreader with top-dressing. We recommend using a medium-textured compost for best results.
  • Second, start spreading by walking a path around your lawn or garden.
  • Third, be sure to overlap each pass to ensure an even distribution.
  • Once you’re finished spreading, empty any remaining large chunks from the spreader and give your lawn or garden a good watering.

How Much Compost to Add to a Lawn

When it comes to amending your soil with compost, more is not necessarily better.  In fact, too much decomposed material actually does more harm than good, because it can smother the grass.  Therefore, it is best to start with a small amount and then gradually increase it over time as needed.  Additionally, a general rule of thumb is to add 1/4 to 1/2 inch of top-dressing to your soil each time you plant. If you have particularly sandy or clay-like soil, then you may need to add a bit more. And if your soil is already pretty rich, you may not need to add as much.

The best way to figure out how much compost your soil needs is to do a simple test. Take a handful of soil and mix it with an equal amount of compost. If the mixture looks and feels like rich, crumbly earth, then you have the perfect ratio. If it looks or feels too sandy or too clay-like, then you will need to adjust the amount of compost you add accordingly.

How Often to Apply Compost to the Lawn

How often you need to apply a top-dressing depends on how quickly your lawn is growing and how nutrient-rich your soil is. If you have a fast-growing lawn in nutrient-deficient soil, then you may need to apply it once every 1-2 weeks. In contrast, if you have a slower-growing lawn in nutrient-rich soil, then you may only need to apply it once every 4-6 weeks. Ultimately, the best way to determine how often to apply it to your lawn is to pay attention to your grass.  A yellow or unhealthy looking lawn is a sign that you should apply nutrients.  Compost is an excellent way to provide your lawn with the nutrients it needs to stay healthy and green.

When spreading compost, be sure to distribute it evenly over the entire surface of your lawn or garden. Additionally, you can use a Landzie Lawn Leveling Rake to help spread the it around and even out the surface.  Once your topdressing is evenly distributed on the ground, water the area thoroughly to help the nutrients work their way into the soil.

When to Spread Compost on Your Lawn or Garden

We recommend spreading compost on your lawn or garden in early spring, but before plants have started to grow.  Hence, this early preparation gives the compost time to work its way into the soil and provides nutrients for the growing season. You can also spread compost in fall, which will help to improve the quality of your soil for the following year.  Truly, how often you spread compost will depend on the needs of your lawn or garden.

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Using Compost in a Garden

Yes, you using compost in a garden is a good idea.  In fact, it is a great way to add nutrients to the soil and help plants grow.  Also, it improves drainage and aeration in the soil.  Gardening experts tout the use of compost, because many benefits go along with it. For example, Charles Dowding is a legendary gardener based in the UK, and a proponent of using compost over all other soil amendments.

Planting Directly Into Compost

Compost is a key ingredient in organic gardening, because it is used as a natural fertilizer to improve soil quality.  By feeding the soil first, it also provides nutrients for plants. When planting directly into compost, keep these few things in mind.  First, it is a good idea to mix it with soil before planting to ensure that you spread nutrients evenly.  Second, always use well-rotted organic matter, because undecomposed material will steal nitrogen from the plants. If you plant directly into compost, then be sure to water the plants regularly.  Also, compost helps retain moisture, but you should water regularly to prevent your plants from drying out.

Mixing Old Compost With New

In general, you mixing old compost with new is alright.  However, keep these few points in mind. First, if your old compost is very dry, you may want to add a bit of water to it before mixing it with the new compost. Second, find out if the old compost is from a different type of plant than what you’re currently composting.  If it is, then mix it in with the new material, because more variety is better.  Third, if the new organic matter is not well decomposed, then keep it separated.  If you’re not sure how your old compost will affect the new compost,  then use caution and mix a small amount in with the new compost to start.

See Charles Dowding set up a new garden bed using compost and carboard.

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