The “living” gold, the best fertilizer, and the backbone of organic farming …… Today, there are too many titles used when talking about the benefits of composting. In fact, it often lives up to its reputation as an indispensable fertilizer. But gardens and plants can only benefit from the right kind of compost. If you break the basic rules and regulations about composting and maturing, you will not be able to produce quality fertilizer. A lack of understanding of the process is often associated with conflicting advice, dubious suggestions, and the myths that have always surrounded composting and will continue to do so. To avoid making the same mistakes and to make the best use of compost, let’s try to understand the myths about composting. You will learn The 10 Misunderstand and Legends About Composting in the ThumbGarden article.
1. Composting is a very simple process
Composting is the most convenient and versatile method of producing high-quality organic fertilizer. For some reason, accessibility is often confused with ease of creation. Dumping everything indiscriminately in any pit will not result in good compost. This is not just composting of disintegrated plant trimmings and kitchen waste, which is how some people think of compost, but fertilizer made from disintegrated organic matter that undergoes some complex stages of fermentation and maturation. In order for the compost to regenerate and activate the soil, it must be made according to all the rules.
The ingredients are crushed (the finer the ingredients, the faster the process), uniform placement, ventilation, air entry, proper humidity without excessive wetting or drying, and contact with the soil are the conditions for effective fermentation. The layers of material are covered with soil, watered with biological agents, temperature and humidity are controlled during the maturation of the compost and regular mixing is ensured.
Composting is not just about decomposition. It goes through five stages of preparation.
- Decomposition, a period when bacteria and microorganisms are active and the temperature suddenly rises to 158 °F (70 °C).
- Fermentation, during which the temperature decreases to approximately 95 °F (35 °C) and a decrease in bacterial activity is accompanied by an increase in beneficial fungal activity.
- Synthesis – a moderate temperature stage of about 68 °F (20 °C), when soil animals and higher microorganisms “join” and begin to process organic matter into mineral compounds and humus (from this stage on, the compost becomes suitable for mulching).
- Maturation – declines to a temperature similar to that of the soil, completes decomposition, and acquires a fractured texture of the soil.
- Humification – Formation of composted soil by replacing worms in the manure with earthworms.
They are all important for the quality of the compost. It is impossible to exclude any of the stages and to achieve their effectiveness at different temperatures.
2. Compost can be made from anything – any kind of waste
100% natural and high-quality compost requires the same ingredients – and in the right proportions. For compost, only materials that can break down into humus and are organic natural waste from homes and gardens can be used.
Compost is not made from anything but a calculated ratio of brown (or dry, carbon) ingredients to fresh or green (nitrogen) materials that are layered in a pile. The optimal ratio is two-thirds green nitrogen feedstock and one-third brown feedstock. But in reality, organic waste together is only one component of composting. After all, air, water, and beneficial microorganisms are also needed to make it.
A wide variety of materials can be put into a compost pile.
“Withered” grass clippings.
Hay and straw.
The remnants of a healthy haulm.
Vegetable and fruit peels, tea infusions, coffee grounds, eggshells.
“Debris” left after pruning perennials, shrubs, and trees.
Shavings, and so on.
However, many are not all. Not all compost ingredients are good and acceptable. Anything artificial has no place in a compost pile. Glass, plastic, polyethylene, and metal are notable exceptions. But even with paper, only unprocessed and biodegradable paper can be used (for example, office paper is prohibited, and even more so printing paper and all types of specially treated decorative paper cannot be recycled).
Food waste that attracts rodents, baking residues, oils, cooked foods, meats, cheeses, and fish should also not be used. The exception is yogurt and fermented dairy products, which are perfectly fine to pour between the two layers, as this bacteria is useful for composting.
3. All diseases and pests are “burned off” in the compost pile
In fact, there is no place for leftovers and cuttings of infested plants in the garden. Infected leaves, shoots, and plant debris must be disposed of thoroughly, preferably off the property, and never used anywhere. During the maturation of compost, larvae, bacteria, and fungi die, but not immediately. And they will only “burn” if the process, temperature, and humidity are perfect, with every deviation increasing the risk of producing contaminated compost.
Mites, fly larvae, beetle larvae, nematodes, plant virus spores, and species-specific viruses are all surprisingly resilient. By the third stage of composting, most spores have died, although recent studies have shown that pathogens are increasingly resilient. Determining whether pathogens and larvae persist in compost is simply not possible without a specialized laboratory. Instead, the best strategy is to follow the rule of not using infested material at all times.
An exception is the fruit of plants shed in orchards. There are no traces of pests or diseases that could persist in the fruits shed in the first two stages. But the fruit is useful: by increasing the sugar content and “feeding” beneficial bacteria, the fruit drops act as a natural “enhancer” for the compost, a useful source of macro and micro nutrients, and accelerate ripening.
4. Weeds in compost – prohibited
The seeds of many weeds are partially burned during the first two stages of composting and their germination rate is reduced by half or three times, but the seeds of many weeds survive well and some will still germinate once they are in the right conditions. Therefore, weeds used for composting should be cut or hand-pulled off the heads before flowering. Not daring to use weeds that have been duly removed for composting means that you are giving up a large group of green plants that could be beneficial to your garden in addition to being harmful.
Weeds with very strong root systems are really not welcome in a compost pile unless they are dried separately for a long period of time, carefully chopped, and treated with a highly concentrated biological agent. Therefore, it is more reliable to avoid applying fresh wheatgrass roots.
5. You can put in the compost when you like
You can compost plant waste throughout the warm season, but the primary composting season is fall when there is an abundance of fallen leaves and plant debris. As the “material” comes in, you can always put it away separately or gradually fill the empty composters with a layer without having to do it all at once.
6. Compost is great on its own, and biologicals are already a luxury
The more beneficial microorganisms involved in creating compost, the better. Organic Composting and Accelerated Composting are both “produced” by using preparations that increase their concentration and thus accelerate the processing of organic matter to high-quality humus.
Ideally, any compost pile – even if you are prepared to wait for years – should be soaked, at least initially, with biological preparations containing beneficial microorganisms. The most common preparations will do, as well as the special compost preparations that are now available even in hardware and building stores. The main thing is to make sure that the ingredients are natural and do not contain surfactants.
7. Prepare the compost quickly
Within two weeks, uniform composting can only be achieved in a dream. High-quality composting actually requires a lot of patience and time; it is a long maturation cycle until a perfect texture is achieved. In many cases, there is no specific time frame: compost is only fully ready when all components are completely broken down and the compost has a uniform, moist texture and completely changes its appearance, color, and odor. The condition of the compost pile should be a guide.
The minimum time for composting is one year, and in most cases, several years, unless accelerated composting techniques are used to shorten the process to a few months. If you organize a closed cycle with three or four composters, one of which stores fresh material and the others mature at different stages, you can always get mature compost and ensure “continuity” for years to come.
8. After laying, you can forget about composting
No matter how well your composter is ventilated, no matter how well you ventilate it, you can’t just leave it like that for a year after you put it in the composter. Compost needs to be evenly oxygenated all the time to break up the compacted layers and to mix the material for more efficient fermentation and maturation. And the compost should be stirred frequently, every 1-2 months, whenever there is any doubt, such as any strange odors, signs that the optimum temperature is disturbed, etc.
The moisture content of the compost mass should also be checked regularly to “balance” between dryness (crumbling of the compost as it clumps) and moistness (release of excess water).
9. Compost will rot, so it must have a bad smell
Fermentation is not decomposition. While unpleasant odors are normal in the initial stages, as the temperature drops, any foul odor from the compost should be taken as a sign of impaired oxygen access, the need for agitation, or an imbalance of ingredients.
For example, an ammonia odor indicates a lack of nitrogen-containing green waste, a putrid odor indicates the need to add more brown ingredients, and odors like rotten eggs or sulfur-containing waste indicate a lack of air permeability. Odors are particularly important in determining the quality and condition of finished compost. If judged by odor, the compost must have an earthy or forest smell with a slight mushroom odor. Also, it should be lumpy, uniform, earthy, and moist.
10. Compost is an all-purpose fertilizer that is good for everything and always will be
The status of best organic fertilizer does not mean that compost is suitable for all uses. It is an excellent base for soil fertility and texture maintenance systems, creating ideal conditions for plants, but for some uses, compost is not the best choice.
It is better suited for use in early spring and as a ground cover than extracts and seasonal fertilizers. It contains a lot of nitrogen, and at certain stages of plant development – flowering, fruiting – it is better to use compost than other organic alternatives. After all, if you feed tomatoes with compost during ripening, you won’t get anything good out of it (but the opposite is true for ash).