When someone talks about compost! What comes to mind? I discovered my love of compost after experimenting with growing food. I had used potting compost before to start my seeds off but not really explored it more than that up until I started researching permaculture and natural growing methods like Korean Natural Farming (KNF).
So what really is compost and why is it important? The first thing to mention is that I am a compost enthusiast and I am passionate about producing the best compost I can. And like that compost I am prepared to adapt to stay on top of my game. Compost is decaying organic matter that was once living and over time bacteria and fungi along with other micro-organisms break down this matter to form compost.
The quality of the compost is down to what inputs of organic matter we use and the process we follow. There are three main composting methods; Mouldering compost is the pile you may see at the allotment or garden, Vermi-compost, which is the manure from worms, and Hot composting (Thermophilic) which is a method that enables compost to be produced in a month rather than season.
That mouldering compost pile, full of grass clippings, weeds, dead branches from pruning, is decomposition at it’s slowest state. These piles are static and are infrequently turned, usually when more organic matter is added. Many allotment holders and keen gardeners will have or would have had one of these and you can get very good compost in just under a year. However, this is the method where you have the least amount of control and input and the longest wait. This is what I call Lazy Compost and the results reflect what you have put in. This compost has its place and can be a constant amendment to your soil, however the results can change dramatically and it’s harder to control disease or fungal infection.
Vermi-compost is essentially worm manure (technically speaking, all compost is the waste products of life itself). Worms are great decomposers. Through the decomposition of organic matter, worms feed off the nutrients that are released, as this passes through a worms 3 stomachs it is recycled into more nutrient available elements, which is stored in the waste matter, which can then be used to fertilize plants. Although this method is now a viable business and a relatively easy method to compost, there are a few rules that need to be followed to produce an environment that the worms will thrive in. What you feed your worms, you inevitably feed your plants and yourself. Personally I only feed my worms organic produce, or food I have grown myself. The onion family, citrus and meat and dairy are not good to feed your worms, nor are large amounts of tomato products. The worms as you may guess don’t have very big mouths, so they need the food to be in fairly small pieces. Ideally we want to keep the worm home at a neutral Ph level, hence why we keep acidic foods out of their diet. Red Wrigglers are one of the best, having 5 hearts and up to 120 ring like muscles, and a huge appetite, these worms will feast on all your kitchen scraps, make amazing dark coloured compost and also produce worms castings, as their population expands and worm tea, which is the moisture from their manure. Vermi-compost is in a league of it’s own in the natural process and gives us an idea of just how important the connection between animal and soil is.
(Thermophilic) or Hot Composting is a method which is becoming more popular with gardeners, especially those that follow natural and permaculture principles. This is a method, which uses the process of heat to generate an environment that allows thermophilic bacteria to thrive in large numbers, by keeping a consistent temperature which enables the bacteria to grow in your compost and at the same time kill any pathogens that may be in the pile. The pile also needs to be turned on a strict and regular basis, or it can gas off nitrogen and become anaerobic, which doesn’t make good compost. The method recommended by Dr Elaine Ingham is designed in such a way that the decomposition can happen equally throughout the pile. Temperature and moisture checks need to be made on a regular basis and adjustments made accordingly. Whether that be adding more nitrogen, more water, manure or just turning it. With this method, although we have to invest time and effort in to this, it does produce great benefits. And theoretically will give you around 700-900 litres of great compost.
There are other methods, like the Johnson-Su Bioreactor or EM Composting, all of these have been tried and tested and proved to produce amazing benefits for the Soil Food Web. The genius behind these methods has really come from the desire to really understand how nature works and to replicate the methods she uses.
Quite simply compost, at least good compost is produced by the most natural methods and passion for creating a great product. In my opinion, making compost is one of the best actions a gardener/grower can take. It not only nourishes our soil, it also nourishes our soul.