Why Should I Use Compost?
When it comes to buying a house, it’s all about Location, Location, Location
When it comes to buying (or making) the best thing for your garden, it’s Compost, Compost, Compost.
If, like many new gardeners, you think that all those people pushing compost are just after making money and that it’s all just a marketing ploy – think again.
Compost is the single most important thing you should have in your garden to ensure success, regardless of what you’re planting in it.
You could easily go out and spend fortunes on plants and bulbs and hard landscaping, only to have it all fall down because your soil just hasn’t been augmented.
So before you start digging holes in preparation for planting, dig some compost in.
Why do you need compost?
Think of it like this. Compost is food for the soil. Fertiliser is food for the plants. Plants are food for your soul.
So to feed yourself, you first need to feed your soil.
Just adding fertiliser to your soil and plants is not going to be enough. Most of them have only specific nutrients, and may be nitrogen rich. But you’re looking at getting balanced soil and compost fills this need as it contains a balanced organic matter mix.
Putting loads of compost into your garden doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t feed your plants. Sure, there are a lot of nutrients in the soil and compost, but many plants are heavy feeders and will suck all the nutrition out of the soil lickety split. The thing to keep in mind is that compost is a limited source of nutrients, but it does help retain nutrients in the soil.
It's not just about feeding plants
You also have to think about feeding more than just your plants. Feeding good microbes and good bacteria, fungi, and earthworms is a must when it comes to getting the best out of your soil. All those life forms in the soil convert the organic material in compost into nutrients. Earthworms, in particular, excrete substances that continue to help build the soil’s fertility, while their burrowing aerates the soil with the oxygen vital to the root systems of plants. One reason you want to actively work towards ensuring these organisms are living happily in your yard is that they will compete with diseases.
(One way of checking how good your soil is, dig up a spadeful and see how many earthworms there are - they multiply really well in soil that has adequate organic matter and is well aerated.)
Composting is essentially the way that the Natural World recycles. It’s Nature’s way of using dead and decaying matter to create something that plants and the soil can use, something known as humus, which provides channels for air and moisture to get into the soil and other gases to get out. This is the way to add nutrients to your plants and help retain soil moisture.
Another way to retain moisture is to use a mulch. Compost is the best type of mulch to use in your garden as it not only regulates temperature but it also provides the bulbs with the nutrients they need to grow well. To find out more about mulch, check out our mulch bog here.
When do you need to add compost?
The short answer is – always!
When you’re starting out, you’ll need to improve your soil’s fertility, especially if it’s a garden that is being started on a building site, or the soil is depleted. Whatever kind of soil you have – even that with loads of humus and great tilth – it will benefit from a healthy dose of this ‘black gold’.
If your soil is particularly sandy soil, compost will help the soil to retain moisture and build up the nutrient supply. If you have clay soil, which is generally poorly draining, it will benefit from adding compost for a few seasons. But not too much!
Before using your compost, make sure that it is actually ready to be used. The best way to do this is to put some on your hand. Compost that is ready is dark and crumbly. You should not be able to see any of the previous materials that were added to the compost heap.
Composting for the environment
Composting will also reduce the need for too much fertiliser, and reduce methane emissions from landfills, lowering your carbon footprint, if you make your own.
This is also very kind on the environment. Food scraps and yard waste together currently make up more than 30 percent of what we throw away, and could be composted instead. Making compost keeps these materials out of landfills where they take up space and release methane, a potent greenhouse gas.
How much should you use?
Putting in too much is never a bad thing, but a little will go a long way. Many gardeners cover their entire garden with an 5 – 10cm of compost, using it as a mulch between plants and in bare spaces (see our blog on why you should mulch here), some gardeners will only use a spadeful in each planting hole and around the plants once they’re established. Ultimately, it boils down to how much space you’re working with – and what your budget is.
However much you use, USE IT. It’s the best choice for the long term health of your garden, your plants, and your soul.