What Is Composting?
We’ve talked before about the value of organic matter in your lawn or garden’s soil. A key way to add organic matter to your lawn or garden is by composting. Composting can be an inexpensive way to help your lawn, but there is a science to it beyond saving your leftover food scraps in a compost pile.
Compost is a natural mixture comprised of leaves, grass, vegetable scraps, and wood chips. Microorganisms break these down into nutrients for the soil. To put it simply: things rot. Scientifically speaking, four components have to work together in the proper amounts for the microorganisms to effectively compost.
- Oxygen – The oxidation of carbon is what causes the decomposition process. Properly turned and fluffed compost will have air pockets throughout.
- Water – The microorganisms involved in composting need water to survive. Too much water cools down the pile and too little water makes it too hot and slows down decomposition.
- Nitrogen – This is what the microorganisms use for building proteins and cell structure. “Greens” (grass clippings and other green compost materials) and animal waste are rich in nitrogen.
- Carbon – This is the fuel for the microorganisms while they do their job. “Browns” are dryer compost materials that are brown in color and rich in carbon.
While the microorganisms are breaking down the materials in a compost pile, the pile will heat up and release water as steam or water vapor. A healthy balance between temperature and water is important to maintain by keeping the pile moist and fluffed. Plus, hotter temperatures require more water and air. The proper temperature for breakdown of materials is around 135 to 160 degrees Fahrenheit.
The process of breaking down these compost materials into the good “black gold” that is so good for your soil involves both carbon and nitrogen, but not in equal parts. In fact, the ideal carbon to nitrogen ratio is actually about 30 to 1. Fresh lawn clippings have an average ratio of about 15 to 1 and dry leaves about 50 to 1. It takes careful experimentation and mixing to get the proper mix for healthy composting.
If you want to buy premade compost instead of composting at home, Omaha Organics uses CQA (Compost Quality Assurance) Certified granular compost. This means it is the best of the best with a seal of approval from an independent organization called the Compost Council. In addition, our bulk compost is homemade from leaves and lawn clippings from our customers’ lawns.
Why Is Composting So Beneficial?
Compost improves soil by providing nitrogen in a form that does not leach away quickly. It creates reserves that release nutrients slowly over time, so unlike fertilizers it is safe to apply plenty of compost at one time. Depending on the ingredients used in a compost pile, compost can also be a valuable source of phosphorus, potassium, calcium, sulfur, and other micronutrients.
Compost can also help soil stick together into aggregates that are harder to wash away. Preventing erosion has the added benefit of improving water infiltration and helping preserve fertilizers and herbicides so they have to be applied less often. Adding compost to sandy soil helps it preserve water and adding compost to clay-heavy soil prevents against compaction.
Composting (and more importantly the microorganisms involved in it) also can help prevent the risk of pests and plant diseases.
Whether it’s homemade or purchased compost, there are a variety of ways to apply the product to your lawn or garden. There are spreaders that you can purchase, or you can lay the compost down by hand and then distribute it evenly with a rake or leaf blower.
Here are some general guidelines for applying compost:
- For lawns, bulk compost can be added about 1/8 to ¼ of an inch thick. Granular compost can be added about 1/16 of an inch thick.
- The amount added for new gardens depends on what soil you’re dealing with. Soil lacking in organic matter (generally lighter in color) can get more compost, about 4 to 6 inches. For soil already rich in organic matter (generally dark brown or black soil), about 1 to 3 inches of compost will do.
- Existing gardens should receive about 2 to 4 inches of compost that is tilled into the top 8 to 10 inches of soil.
- Compost should be applied before beginning of each growing season. For those of us in the Midwest, this means partially broken down compost can be laid down before freezing starts in the winter and it will be ready for your lawn or garden in the spring.
When it comes to taking care of your lawn or garden, it is important to start from the ground up with good soil. Healthy soil comes from organic matter, and compost can be an excellent source.
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