This is the second blog post of Geobunga’s series on easy composting at home. Part 1, The Total Beginner’s Guide to Composting At Home, is about making your own compost. This article is about what to do with your compost once it’s ready.
Compost is yet another one of nature’s ways of giving back to the Earth and our gardens. As we learned in Part 1, you can easily make your own compost in the comforts of home through the simple and sustainable act of recycling your household garbage.
Compost that has been through the full process of decomposition makes excellent, nutrient-rich potting soil for your garden. It provides good water retention for root systems as well as nutrients to balance the soil chemistry.
Using compost in your garden will help your plants bear more flower and more fruit. Plus it’s cool to use recycled waste material!
While it’s possible to make potting soil that’s 100% compost, many gardeners prefer to mix it into the surrounding dirt and/or with other ingredients such peat moss, perlite and natural fertilizers like manure and blood meal. Not only does mixing give you more soil to work with, it reduces the risk of waterlogging and chemical imbalance.
As mentioned in our previous post, organic matter in the process of decomposition produces heat. This heat kills seeds and harmful pathogens. The hotter your compost pile gets, the more seeds and pathogens it eliminates.
The minimum temperature needed to sterilize compost is 140 degrees Fahrenheit. This is where a simple and inexpensive compost thermometer can come in really handy (or even a meat thermometer if you don’t mind the shorter stem).
If your compost can’t reach 140°F, you will need to pinpoint the imbalances in the composting process. You might want to check the ration of carbon to nitrogen: maintain a 25 to 1 ration of dry waste (carbon) to food scraps (nitrogen). Moisture levels might also be imbalances (too wet or too dry). Be sure to read more about good composting techniques.
Adding a layer of fresh compost at the base of your plants, trees, shrubs, planter boxes and lawn combines all the benefits mentioned above:
More nutrients enhances soil chemistry, which means less need for fertilizer
Improved water retention will help keep plants more drought-resistant while reducing water usage
Fewer weeds means less time pulling weeds — more time to enjoy life!
In addition to that, top dressing with compost offers the added benefit of keeping your roots cool in the warm summer months. Plus your plantings will radiate a more natural, attractive appearance.
Top dressing is simple: just add an even 1/2-3/4″ layer of compost to the areas where plants or grass are actively growing (3-4″ for mulching around trees and shrubs), then water to let it soak in. The best time to top dress is in the summer.
Consistent application of compost in your garden will result in happy, healthy and abundant plants!