A common gardener’s belief is that a garden is only as healthy as its soil.
What is compost?
Fundamentally compost (or humus) is decomposed organic material. It happens through a process of degradation or transformation of organic material fueled by microorganisms. Compost contains many of the nutrients needed for healthy plant development and is sometimes referred to as “black gold”. Not only does compost contain the nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium you normally think of as necessary for soil fertility, but it also adds texture to the soil that helps promote healthy root development and contributes to the ability of soil to retain moisture.
Soil is made from ground up rock, air, moisture, and flecks of organic material. A typical soil sample contains mostly inert, non-living substances with a small amount of organic material present, ideally 3-5%. This organic material or humus transforms sterile dirt into “live” fertile soil. It is teeming with living microorganisms that accelerate the natural decomposition of decaying leaves, grass clippings, and dying plants.
What is the composition of healthy soil?
A balanced compost pile contains organics that supply carbon (often referred to as brown materials) such as dried leaves, pine needles or wood chips forming the majority of the pile. The second most abundant material is organics that supply nitrogen (referred to as green materials) such as grass clippings or kitchen garbage. A healthy ratio is in the range of 20-30 parts brown materials to 1 part green materials. Other necessary ingredients include water, oxygen, and microorganism to promote the transformation process. Microorganisms are present in the organic material added to the compost, but adding more will speed the process. Dirt or re-cycled compost can be added to boost the microorganism concentration, as well as commercially mixtures purchased from garden centers. Periodically turning the pile (adding oxygen) helps to speed the process, and can shorten the time for compost development to less than one growing season. Compost that isn’t actively managed can take as long as two seasons to develop.
Create a task force of volunteers interested in compost management for each garden site. These volunteers will help in actively managing the compost bins during the summer, and in educating other gardeners on the process. If you’ve already mentioned that you have an interest in composting, you’re probably already on a potential list of volunteers….if not please let us know of your interest.
Click HERE for the Soil Amendments One-Pager