Image Caption: Compost barrel with compost and tools. Credit: Diego Grez/Wikipedia
Compost is fertilizer made from decomposed organic matter that is then tilled directly into the soil or used as an additive when transplanting seedlings. Composting can be very simplistic or complex, depending on the amount of compost needed. Compost is widely used in organic farming because of its high nutrient content and natural pesticide abilities.
Composting is simply piling, systematically, various organic matter of leaves, cut grass, and “green” food waste such as, egg shells, banana peels, and other non-meat, non-dairy foods. This material will breakdown with the aid of turning, which adds oxygen, and water. In a few weeks or months, (depending on the method) the compost will look like dark, almost black dirt, with a strong smell of earth.
How the compost is used depends on the volume of the composting. Compost can be tilled directly into the soil, or mixed with soil for container planting. Compost can also be used to help reduce erosion, used as landfill covers, and in wetland construction.
Properly maintained compost will have a carbon, nitrogen ratio of 30:1. Important ingredients to be used in composting consist of carbon which is brown, dry material, such as small sticks and dried leaves, along with nitrogen found in green, wet materials such as cut grass, green leaves, fruits, and vegetables. Oxygen is added by “turning over” the compost periodically. Watering is essential in order to breakdown the material — (Fecal matter, of any kind, should not be used in standard composting as it may contain parasitic worms which attract disease spreading house flies and blow flies). The compost will heat up to temperatures between 135o – 160o Fahrenheit as it rots; destroying any unwanted seeds as well as destroying any organisms that may cause diseases such as bacteria, fungi, or viruses. A properly maintained compost will create the necessary microorganisms needed to breakdown the materials into useable compost.
Compost tea is derived from “steeping” manure in water for 3-7 days and then using the liquid as a fertilizer applied directly to the soil or sprayed on non-edible plant parts as well as a surface spray to reduce the occurrence of organisms attacking the leaf surface of the plants. Compost tea has been lab tested and found to contain salts such as sodium, chlorides and sulfates. Compost tea is weak in nutrients such as nitrogen and potassium.
Red Wigglers are one the most commonly used species of composting worm, although earthworms and night crawlers may also be used. Red wigglers have a strong appetite and breed very quickly. Worm composting, known as Vermicomposting, is used as an indoor home composting method used in breaking down bedding materials, such as newspaper, vegetables and other food waste that does not include meat, dairy, fats, or oils. The end product is known as vermicast, or worm manure, and has a high carbon-nitrogen ratio that is lower in salt content making it more beneficial for plants. Vermicomposting has also been used in hospitals and other on-site institutions as it provides a quick way of composting organic materials.
The worms used to make vermicast, grinds and mixes minerals into their simplest form along with adding microbes, which are created in the digestive system, to help create a “living” soil environment for plants. Vermicompost is made up of water soluble nutrients making it easy for plants to absorb the nutrients. Vermicompost is an organic fertilizer and can be used as a soil conditioner. Vermicompost tea has been beneficial in causing plants to grow 1.7 times faster than those grown without the tea additive.
Worm composts have been found to be beneficial in cleaning up heavy metals in garbage. They have been known to remove metals such as lead, zinc, cadmium, copper and manganese as reported by researchers at the Pondicherry University in India.