Tony O’Neill, gardener and author of the popular “Composting Masterclass” and “Your First Vegetable Garden,” combines lifelong passion and expert knowledge to simplify the art of gardening. His mission? Helping you cultivate a thriving garden. More on Tony O’Neill
Compost is just a mixture of organic materials that you can use in place of soil to grow plants. You can combine organic materials such as leaves with manure, hay, straw, and water. It might sound strange initially, but compost has many benefits over traditional soil.
You can use compost instead of soil to boost your plant’s growth. You can also mix both to reduce waste. It also aids in increasing soil fertility by providing nutrients for plants. Using compost as soil reduces the need for chemical fertilizers and pesticides, which research has proven to cause environmental harm.
More about the comparisons of both and which would be better to use in different situations will be discussed in great detail in the following sections.
Comparing Compost and Soil
Compost and soil are two different things that are often mistaken for one another.
Compost is a mixture of organic substances such as grass clippings, leaves, dead plant material, and manure, while the soil is the ground where vegetation and other organic substances grow.
Below are some of the more stark comparisons between compost and soil:
|Composting is a natural process used at home using organic waste. Home composters come in many shapes and sizes, from the traditional three-bin system to the more modern tumbler or even an indoor worm composter.||Soils can come in many different colors, textures, and weights. The soil quality varies from place to place, but it is a great way to grow plants.|
|Composting is an environmental process but has many benefits for the gardener. It can improve soil quality and fertility, add nutrients, and suppress troublesome weeds.||Some soil is better for certain plants than others. For example, sandy soil is usually best suited for cacti and succulents. Clay soil is best for vegetables since it holds more nutrients and moisture than other soil types.|
|Composting helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions and landfill waste by using organic material as fertilizer rather than sending it to a landfill for decomposition.||Soil preparation can also differ depending on the plant you are planting it in and in what season.|
|Compost has more nutrients due to its makeup’s amount of organic waste. It also breaks down faster than the soil, which helps plants take up nutrients more.||Soil may only have specific nutrients, especially depending on the area. They also break down slower as compared to compost/|
Would it be possible to use one or both for gardening purposes? The answer is yes.
Using both compost and soil in the garden
While you can substitute compost for soil, you can add both to each other as other gardeners do! This can be done as the base usage of compost is, after all, using it as fertilizer to add to the soil.
People often only do complete substitutions of compost rather than soil in situations like container gardening or if you do not have good soil but want to grow something.
However, there may be instances where one places too much compost into the soil. To ensure this does not happen to you, I recently created an article on adding compost to the soil and how much it can be too much. It covers details such as types of compost, which would be best to add in soil, and how much compost would benefit your plants, so do check it out if you are interested.
What Are the Benefits of Using Soil Over Compost?
Soil is an alternative to compost since it is more nutrient-dense and has a diverse blend of microbes. It also promotes healthy disease management and plant growth.
Soil – the lowdown
Soil is the natural, nutrient-rich material covering the Earth’s surface and is a supporting medium for plant life.
Out of the long list of nature’s gifts to man, none is perhaps so utterly essential to human life as soil.Hugh Hammond Bennett
Soil holds water and nutrients for plants to take up, and it helps them upright. It is also for aerating the plant roots to provide oxygen throughout the root zone while protecting them from external factors such as excessive sunlight, drought, and frost.
A 2014 study by the University of Minnesota found that planting in soil instead of compost increased the yield of tomato plants by 25% and growth rates by 10%.
While compost can benefit growing vegetables, the soil has many advantages. Compost comprises decomposing organic matter, whereas soil contains the most mineral content with a few microorganisms. Compost also lacks necessary nutrients such as calcium and potassium found in soil.
What Benefits Does Compost Offer Over Soil?
Though soil has the added benefit of being all around us, there are also benefits to making a process and effort while creating compost, which are listed below:
Compost prevents Global Warming
When you compost organic wastes, they break down and release carbon dioxide into the air, like any other material that bacteria break down.
However, because decomposition takes time, composting releases fewer greenhouse gases than if the waste was placed in a landfill or treatment plant and rotted without oxygen.
Compost Builds Soil and Strengthens the Roots of Plants
Making plants, vegetation, and food scraps into compost is beneficial for our environment because it reduces the amount of garbage we produce and helps our plants grow better.
It helps other plants by providing them with nutrients and reducing the need for soil amendments such as fertilizer.
Compost Addresses Nitrogen Deficiency
The composting process releases nitrogen into the soil, which can help with certain deficiencies.
When organic matter breaks down, it releases nitrogen that helps to fertilize crops.
Nitrogen is essential for plant growth and is necessary to make chlorophyll.
Compost can be used for Mulching and Weed Prevention
Composting can be a practical and cheaper solution to mulch. It eliminates the need for mulching materials such as wood chips or leaves.
Composting also helps with weed prevention by reducing the amount of water the soil needs and limiting the amount of light reaching weeds.
Compost Is Not Just for Organic Gardeners
Composting provides many benefits for both the environment and gardeners.
Compost improves soil quality, reduces landfill waste, and increases biodiversity. It also sequesters carbon and reduces greenhouse gas emissions.
Composting is a perfect solution for those who do not have enough space to grow their plants. Most people are surprised to learn that you can compost indoors and outdoors.
Is Compost Worth the Investment?
Composting is another great way to dispose of organic matter that would otherwise have to go into landfills. You can check this recent article on composting for beginners to aid you in the making. It covers tutorials and videos on how to do the composting process, the considerations for making it, and the different ratios of material you can add to create the best compost.
Composting may require some work up front, including ensuring enough materials for the worms and bacteria to break down your food waste-but does provide many benefits in return.
All in all, it just depends on your goals! Investing in compost is a good idea if you need sustainability or economic savings.
How to Build Your Composter
Here are the things you need to build your own:
What Materials and composting containers Do You Need?
The materials you need for composting vary based on the type of composting method.
|Pile or bin composter||Tumbler-style compost|
|With a pile or bin composter, all you need is a container and some organic matter to add to it. You can also add shredded paper, grass clippings, leaves, fruit peels, and eggshells to provide more nutrients for your compost.||With a Tumbler-style composter, all you need is the machine itself, some organic matter to get started, and additional materials over time as the material reduces in size. Features include an easily accessible crank handle, facilitating faster, easier composting.|
While you can choose the pile composting process so there won’t be a need to buy compost bins, it will still need space, and the next section will cover that.
How Much Space Do You Have for your compost?
Space is a crucial factor in deciding how much composting you can do. If you have lots of space, it is possible to start composting on a grand scale.
The more space you have for composting, the more waste you can process. However, it might not be practical to grow your food if you do not have much space or any access to land.
What Size Should your compost Be?
You can determine the compost size by the material type and the moisture amount.
The optimal compost pile is about 3 to 4 feet high, but this varies depending on what compost type and how you built it.
Calculate your pile size based on a volume of about one cubic yard, which means you need a 3-4 feet high, 4-5 feet wide, and 8-10 feet long. I have written an article about compost bin sizes to aid you in this process. It contains information about considerations and even computations on how you can create the perfect compost bin for your needs.
Where Should your compost Sit?
Some people might like to compost in their backyard. If you have enough space, it can work. If no trees or shrubs are nearby, the compost’s natural heat can damage as it decomposes.
I am sure you have many questions about composting, which is why I filmed the video below, which will walk you through the entire composting process so that you get perfect results every time.
How To Protect Your Compost From Pests
There are a few easy ways to prevent pests from ruining your compost.
You can stop pests and animals from smelling or tasting your compost using a heavy lid.
You can also disguise the smell by adding mint or citrus fruit peels. The best way is to build a wooden frame around your compost bin for protection against animals and insects.
How To Grow Your Garden With the Help of Compost
Now knowing the benefits of compost usage, let us move on to the actual application within the garden.
Sow Seeds or Plants Directly when using compost.
Compost is a medium for growing plants, whether you want to grow them indoors or outdoors.
It is rich in nutrients, so if you need to make your compost at home, start by gathering materials. If you are ready to jump into composting immediately, sow the seeds directly into the finished compost.
Plant Close – 1-2 Inches Apart when utilizing compost
Plants need to be close, but not too much. The optimal distance is 1-2 inches apart. It prevents crowding and helps plants grow to their full potential.
Add Mulch Around Plants with Compost.
Adding mulch around plants in composting is an effective way to keep the environment cool.
You can do mulching with sawdust or straw, but it needs to be kept away from the stems of plants.
It also prevents weed growth because it blocks light and air.
Use Compost to Retain Moisture and Keep Weeds at Bay
Covering compost piles with a tarp will help retain moisture and keep weeds at bay but also helps to ensure that no animal or insect has access to the pile.
Compost Should Be Moist, Not Dry
It is necessary to ensure the compost pile doesn’t get too dry because this can result in a fire hazard. As well as making sure that it stays moist, it’s also necessary to keep the pile aerated so it can decompose well.
Add a New Layer of Compost Every Few Weeks
It helps to improve soil fertility, structure, drainage, aeration, and water-holding capacity. To maximize these benefits, you should carefully monitor and manage the right balance of nitrogen and carbon.
Conclusion on why you can’t use compost as a soil
The idea behind composting is to decompose organic materials into a soil amendment. If you don’t have enough mature compost at hand to use as a medium all on its own, you can always mix it with the soil from your garden to further boost your plant’s growth.
With the world thankfully focusing now on reducing, reusing, and recycling agendas, composting is becoming a more popular way to get rid of organic matter without throwing it in the trash, resulting in pollution. Hopefully, the information above will help you decide if you are up to making your compost to boost soil capabilities and doing your part in saving the planet, bit by bit.
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