What is compost? Compost is organic matter that has been decomposed and recycled as a fertilizer and soil amendment. Organic matter is transformed into compost through the work of microorganisms, soil fauna, enzymes and fungi. Now that you know what compost is you may be wondering how it works and what the benefits are. Compost provides soil structure, a balanced source of plant nutrients, and garden insurance by stimulation of beneficial organisms. The success factor in composting is maintaining a balance between carbon (brown) materials and nitrogen (green) materials. A productive compost pile should have roughly two-thirds carbon materials and one-third nitrogen materials. A few examples of nitrogen materials are freshly pulled weeds, fresh grass clippings, over-ripe fruits and vegetables, kitchen scraps (coffee grounds are a popular choice), and other moist green matter. Some examples of carbon materials are dry leaves, straw, rotted hay, sawdust, shredded paper, cornstalks, and ash from wood fires. The carbon-rich materials provide aeration speeding up the process while eliminating foul odors, producing a fluffy finished product. By not providing the optimum environment decomposition will still occur, but it may take several months to several years. To produce an abundance of compost in a short amount of time (about two weeks), the key is to balance the following four things:  

  • Carbon. Materials rich in carbon are the energy food for microorganisms.

  • Nitrogen. Materials rich in nitrogen provide protein-rich components that microorganisms use to grow and multiply.

  • Water. Moisture is very important in the composting process but be sure not to allow your compost to become soggy. A rule of thumb for compost moisture is to keep your material as moist as a well-wrung sponge. Covering your pile will help maintain the correct moisture level.

  • Oxygen. Microorganisms need a lot of oxygen to work most efficiently. The combination of nitrogen and carbon in your pile is like a fire and fires need oxygen to keep burning. You can achieve this by turning your pile so that it does not become sluggish. This can be strenuous manual labor but there are aeration tools that can be bought to easily get the job done.

Compost is the perfect product to spread when creating a new garden, seeding a new lawn area, or planting a new tree. Unlike fertilizers, which need to be applied at certain times in certain amounts, compost can be applied at any time and in any amount. You cannot over-apply compost because plants use what they need, when they need it. Most gardeners don’t start with the best soil and even if they are lucky enough to have great soil, it cannot be expected to stay rich without replenishing the nutrients absorbed by plants. If you are interested in starting your own compost pile call the DR for help. (404) 205-9335