Organic compost is one of the most important components in organic gardening. But what exactly is organic compost? It is any organic matter rich in carbon that has now decomposed, either naturally or through processing. As a result of decomposition, it has broken down to become a brown or black soil-like substance that is rich in nutrients and other elements essential to plant growth and development.
Others define organic compost to be the product of a process by which fertilizer is made using natural ingredients. These naturally occurring materials include a wide variety of things such leaves, branches, tree bark, corn husks, grass trimmings and other organic matter. When the process is complete, the original materials become unrecognizable and turn into humus that looks similar to soil and contains a lot of plant food such as organic acids, elements, hormones, etc. Nature’s ability to break down organic matter to be recycled and used as compost to help our plants grow is a truly fantastic phenomenon. Instead of dead matter going to waste with no apparent use, it turns out to become the best medium to improve soil condition allowing plants to thrive.
While nature churns out organic compost to a limited degree, we can help the composting process by turning the material, and adjusting oxygen, moisture, sunlight and heat exposure until decomposition is attained. In reality, organic composting is a type of recycling that puts back into the soil what has been taken out.
The availability of different materials for composting to a large extent determines the quality of organic compost you will have. You also need a temperature range that promotes the growth of beneficial organisms that aids in the decomposition process. These microorganisms that are soil-borne consume and process these materials and turn it into a totally natural fertilizer that has a rich earthy smell. Decomposition needs air and is a crucial component while composting. There is a need therefore for occasional turning of the materials to give aeration to as much of the material as possible. During dry seasons, it helps to add water to the pile as moisture aids in the decomposition of the organic matter. It must be noted that the correct amount of moisture is important while composting. When you squeeze the material, it should stick together with no water dripping; otherwise, it’s too wet. Heat is also an important factor. Heat must also be present (either generated by the decomposition itself or sourced from the surrounding environment) for the process to work. This can be tested by feeling some matter from the center of your compost pile – if it is damp and warm, this is a good indicator that the process is underway.
Having the right blend to produce organic compost depends largely on the ratio of carbon-to-nitrogen in your pile. Brown material such as leaves, wood shavings, sawdust and hay, are rich in carbon, while kitchen scrap and garden trimmings are nitrogen rich. The ideal ratio to aim for should be 10 to 30 parts carbon-rich materials to 1 part nitrogen-rich materials. When your compost pile emits a foul odor, this means that there is too much nitrogen-rich material, to which you can add carbon-rich or brown material to get the right balance. There is a long list of suitable materials for composting but an easy way to determine what works is just to find out what breaks down easily in nature. Normally, your organic compost pile comes from plant and garden green waste but kitchen waste such as eggshells, leftover coffee grounds, teabags and vegetable scraps may also be used. As a general rule, add small material (eg. Don’t add tree branches or stumps) so that it can easily heat up and decompose. Also avoid adding wood ash to the pile if possible or use it sparingly as it can affect the acidity which can cause an imbalance and may hamper microorganism growth and development.
Organic compost that is ready for use is dark brown or black and has the appearance of rich soil. When all its original components can no longer be identified separately, then you are sure that it has decomposed thoroughly. It is a welcome addition as a soil enhancer that gives a lot of benefits such as good texture for root elongation and development, nutritional supplement, water retention and a host of other advantages.
Composting in organic gardening is a great way to increase the vital nutrients needed in your soil to grow lush, healthy plants, and can save you money as well. Have a look at the posts below for more handy tips on how to get the most out of your composting at home in your organic garden.
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