Importance of Compost in Gardening

Importance of Compost in Gardening
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Do you know that women and not men started contemporary gardening or farming in the stone age? Interestingly, it all started with the concept of Compost of waste unintentionally. Karl Marx and other schools of thought have already established this fact through different theories. As per Karl Marx’s Societal Micro-Analysis, pregnant and lactating women, the elderly, and the children were vulnerable and weak. They did not accompany the hunters and gatherers into the forest in the era of “hunting and gathering”.

Evolution of Compost in Farming

The women who stayed back in the cave kept the cave clean and tidy and maintained hygiene. They collected and threw the waste, particularly the skin or fruit trimmings and seeds of the fruits outside the cave. And they noticed that the seeds germinated and grew into fruit-bearing trees. Over some time, these trees gave them the same fruits that they used to collect from the forest. 

Eventually, the women in the caves intentionally started to nurture the young plants to grow into fruit-bearing trees. This is how farming started and developed into full-fledged agriculture. In addition to ancient farming, women also probably started composting unintentionally in the same way. This is the reason perhaps women traditionally are more active in composting. Women contribute more to composting than the men in the remote villages to date. 

Agriculture has developed and so also the demand for organic compost. Composting is not only done for an individual household or domestic interest. It is also done for commercial purposes in the contemporary period. Organic composting is rapidly taking the shape in the industry and has a great demand across the world. Are you a gardener and in need of organic compost? You can make and produce organic compost yourself. Know what is compost and the other details of composting as mentioned below.

What is Compost?

The meaning of compost or composting refers to a process of biological decay or degradation of various organic materials. The biological decomposition goes through a self-heating mechanism ensuring controlled moisture and aerobic conditions in the compost pit. Finally, this biological decomposing process produces a stable material that can be used as organic fertilizer. 

Composting is an organic and natural way of recycling food waste, manure, and other green waste. This process produces nutrient-rich elements in the soil. This organic compost further increases soil fertility and causes water retention in the soil. Ultimately, fertile and nutrient-rich soil enhances plant health. The organic manure from the compost pit also produces beneficial bacteria. These bacteria break the organic matter leading to the creation of humus. Humus is the final recyclable nutrient-rich material that cannot be recycled further. Compost also helps in the moisturization of the soil and protects the plant from pests and diseases.

Things to Know Before Making Compost

Composting is basically a controlled decay or decomposition process that involves five important and primary areas. You need to first understand these five areas before getting to know about the different types of compost and how to make compost. Below are the 5 main components of composting.

  1. Maintaining Balance between Nutrients and Feedstock:- There are two primary materials used in the compost for decomposition. They are (1) green organic materials, and (2) brown organic materials. The green organic materials are food wastes, grass clippings, and other green materials that have high nitrogen properties. Similarly, brown organic materials are dry branches, leaves, wood chips, etc. The brown organic materials have a high amount of carbon and few amounts of nitrogen. You need to maintain a proper balance between these two organic materials namely the green and brown materials. It may require your patience and appropriate experimentation to achieve the best nutrient mix in the process of composting.
  1. Size of the Particles Used in Compost:- This is another important area for getting the best nutrient mix in composting. You need to grind or cut the green and brown organic materials into chips before feeding them into the pit. Always avoid feeding the compost pit with larger pieces. Shredding, chopping, and grinding of the feeding materials help increase the surface area. So that the microorganisms can grow and feed themselves easily in the surface area. In addition to this, tiny particles enhance pile insulation that maintains maximum temperature. Smaller particles also make a more homogeneous mixture in the compost. On the other hand, too small particles can potentially prevent free airflow into the pit. So, balancing between the smaller and average particle size is one of the major areas of how to make compost.
  1. Water for Moisture:- Appropriate watering is another area that ensures moisture in the compost pit. Enough moisture in the pit is essential for the survival of microorganisms. Rain is a potential source of water in the compost pit no doubt. But you need to be vigilant to know when you should water your compost pit and when not.
  1. Maintaining the Temperature in the Compost Pit:- A specific amount of temperature is essential for the microorganisms to perform the required activities. The temperature in the compost pit can raise up to 140-degree Fahrenheit naturally. In the case of inadequate temperature, the process of rotting occurs. But at an appropriate temperature, some harmful weed seeds and pathogens get destroyed. Adequate and appropriate temperatures also accelerate the process of composting.
  1. Free Flow of Oxygen:- The free flow of oxygen in the compost pit is essential for the decomposition of green and brown organic materials. You need to periodically turn the materials in the pit and also put aerobic materials like wood chips into the pit for free flow of oxygen. However, too much oxygen can dry the pit which is a potential danger. Therefore, you should be wise enough while choosing the size of the items required for making compost.

Different Types of Composts

There are primarily 3 types of compost namely the onsite compost, vermicompost, and aerobic compost. In addition, aerobic compost is further classified into 3 different types. They are the turned or aerated windrow compost, aerated static pile compost, and in-vessel compost. Know about these 5 different types of composting below.

Onsite Compost or Backyard Compost

Usually, people practice backyard or onsite compost on an individual household basis for the use of backyard or other use. In an onsite compost, you convert your food scraps and yard trimmings into compost. Since this is small-scale composting, one should not use large quantities of food waste and animal products in the compost. The use of animal products and food waste in large quantities may create odor. This may lead to the attraction of insects and animals.

Seasonal climate change usually does not affect the backyard compost as it is done on a small-scale level. You can further manage to take care of the onsite compost easily and conveniently in the rainy season. So, onsite composting is considered one of the most popular composting of waste methods everywhere.

How to Make Onsite Compost?

Making onsite or backyard compost is easy and depends upon your creativity. You just need to collect your domestic wastes, grass clippings, dry leaves, shredded newspapers, etc. Then deposit them in the place where you intend to do the composting. The home wastes can be kitchen scraps like vegetable and fruit trimmings, eggshells, etc. You should not use certain kitchen wastes for backyard composting. They are as meat trimmings or fat, grease, meat or fish bones, milk products, etc. You can add manure like the horse, cow, chicken, etc. as they have high nitrogen properties. But you should never use dog or cat feces for composting. Nevertheless, you must take care of a few things in onsite composting as mentioned below:

  • Make your onsite compost in a secluded area preferably nearer to the garden.
  • The place should have good drainage or be a bit sloppy so that the rainwater does not get stagnant.
  • A bit of shade should be a plus point to prevent the pile from getting dry faster.

Vermicompost

Vermicompost is a systemic, scientific, and advanced method for composting using earthworms. Vermiculture is also popularly known as “warm farming”. Earthworms live in the soil and feed themselves with organic waste materials. They produce excreta which are called “vermicasts”. The vermicasts have rich nitrogen properties and minerals like calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium. These are essential minerals for plant health for which vermicomposting is considered the best composting method.

How to Make Vermicompost?

You can make vermicompost following two popular methods, (1) bed method, and (2) pit method. In the bed method, you can just prepare the organic matter on a soil bed. The pit method is done in a cemented pit or tank. The pit method requires more attention to prevent waterlogging. The pit method also leads to poor airflow or poor aeration.

To start with vermicompost, collect composting materials like dry leaves, paddy straw, and weed biomass. You can also add cow dung, kitchen wastes, and green and brown organic materials in vermicompost. It is up to you to decide whether you will go for a pit method or a bed method. You can further use a large plastic bin instead of a cemented pit or tank in the pit method. 

Now, cut the biomass into small pieces after drying them adequately. Place soil at the bottom of the compost pit or bed. Now, place the green and brown organic materials, kitchen waste, cow dung, etc. Prepare a slurry using cow dung and sprinkle it over the organic wastes for quick decomposition. Then release the earthworms on the bed or pit under the organic materials and cover them with straws and wastes. Sprinkle water regularly to maintain moisture and protect the bed or pit from ants, lizards, etc. You should also protect the pit or bed from rain and direct sunshine. Within 25 to 30 days, you should get the result of getting the vermicompost.

Turned or Aerated Windrow (Aerobic) Compost

The turned or aerated composting is a type of aerobic composting that is also popularly known as “windrows”. People call it windrows due to the rows of long piles called windrows. This method of composting is done on a large scale at the community level. Besides this, restaurants and cafeterias also do this for commercial purposes. People either manually or by using machines aerate the entire piles in the windrows. Tractors with machines for turning the piles usually do the job and machines can also load the compost to trucks. The windrow method of composting takes about 3 to 9 weeks to produce compost at a large scale.

How to Make Aerated Windrow Compost?

Most people do windrow aerobic compost for commercial purposes on a large scale. So, there are many concerns to make the compost. One has to get legal permission and take utmost caution to make turned or aerated aerobic compost. The requirements for this method are many. You may need advanced mechanical equipment for the purpose. You also need large patches of land that are located at a safer distance from the localities. Besides, large-scale maintenance, labour supply, expertise in operating various experiments, etc. are essential for windrow compost. The method also involves risks like contamination of groundwater and surface water, addressing odor at a large scale, etc. But the aerated turned windrows compost produces a remarkably extensive quantity of high-quality compost and is a successful venture.

Aerated Static Pile Method of (Aerobic) Compost

The aerated static pile composting is also another type of large-scale aerobic composting. But you need to do them in one large pile instead of rows of piles or windrows. Secondly, the aerated static pile composting method uses a homogenous mix of organic wastes like large quantities of yard trimmings. Recycling municipal solid waste like paper products and food scraps on a large scale is usually done through this method. In spite of its advantages, this method is not suitable for composting animal by-products and grease.

How to Make Aerated Static Pile Composting?

Like the aerated Windrow method, another large-scale composting is the aerated static pile method. It requires much advanced technical equipment such as pipes, blowers, fans, sensors, etc. The aerated static pile system of composting process involves several layers of loosely piled organic materials. They include shredded newspapers, wood chips, etc. This process allows the air to pass from the bottom to the top of the pile. Sometimes the pile is placed over a systematic pipe network which provides air and draws out air from the pile.

In-Vessel Method of (Aerobic) Compost 

The in-vessel composting method is another large-scale composting system popular across the world. It is like the other two aerobic composting namely the aerated static pile composting and windrow composting. But it does not require large spaces like the windrow method. It can recycle animal by-products like animal manure, meat, fish, bio-solids, food scraps, etc. similar to the windrow method. In this method, you can feed the organic materials to a concrete drum or a trench, or a silo. This procedure does the job better in terms of effective control of moisture, temperature, and flow of air. This method uses various machines and mechanical equipment to turn and mix the materials and enhance airflow.

How to Make In-Vessel Compost?

In-vessel composting is for large-scale purposes and requires sophisticated mechanical operations. Therefore, it is not easy to do on an individual level. You need to invest a substantial amount of money in equipment and machinery. You can still use a smaller vessel or drum to make in-vessel compost but it may not be cost-effective. On the other hand, the in-vessel method of composting is comparatively risk-free in terms of climate and environmental concerns.

What are the Organic Items Required for Making Compost?

It all depends upon what type of composting method you are following for the composting of waste. Some methods like aerobic composting can accommodate meat, fish, bones, and other animal bi-products. On the contrary, backyard or onsite compost and vermicompost do not use them. Following are some of the items that can be used for backyard composting and vermicomposting.

  • Eggshells, fruits, vegetables, nut shells, tea bags, cardboard, paper, shredded newspaper, grass clippings, yard trimming, etc. 
  • Straw, hay, houseplants, wood chips, sawdust, leaves, ashes of the fireplace, wool rags, and cotton rags, etc.
  • Materials that should not be used in making onsite compost and vermicompost are leaves or twigs of black walnut trees. You should not use dairy products such as milk, butter, yogurt, sour cream, etc. in the backyard and vermicomposting. Many also restrict meat and fish scraps and bones, cat or dog feces, etc. to use in vermicompost.

Advantages of Compost

  • The benefits of compost are numerous both in terms of plant health and commercial investment. The world communities are already aware of the hazardous effects of chemical fertilizers and the only alternative is compost. Following are some of the important advantages of compost.

    Compost enriches the soil in terms of nutrients for the plants and retains water and moisture in the soil.

  • It is the compost that produces the beneficial bacteria and fungi. These beneficial bacteria and fungi break the organic matter and create humus. The hummus looks like dark and black soil and is essential for plant health. The humus cannot be recycled further.
  • Composting drastically reduces the emission of methane and carbon from landfills. As per the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), yard waste and kitchen waste together make up 28% of the combustion facilities and landfills. Composting reduces the foods people throw into the trash. In addition to plant health, compost also helps the health of human beings, animals, and the environment. Eventually, compost helps the overall atmosphere of the earth planet.
    As per the UN Environment Program (UNEP) Food Waste Index, every year 1.3 billion tons of food are wasted or lost. People can use this enormous amount of food for composting for the benefit of plants, human beings, animals, and ecology.

Composting and farming are two sides of one coin and are existing from time immemorial. Many things have changed at par with the advancement of technology and science. But some potential things including composting have never changed and are going to remain until hunger and health care exist. Therefore, the use of compost should be encouraged by everybody everywhere. Eventually, compost will benefit beyond plant health to the health of human beings, animals, and the planet earth.

Sukant Montry

Sukant Montry

Sukant Montry is a nature’s lover and has been involved in several regional and national campaigns for the protection and promotion of of wildlife and ecology. He writes Yoast SEO blogs and articles on plant health and gardening as well as on health and fitness. The author is associated with Odisha State, Government of India - Department of Women and Child Development (DWCD) sponsored “SHAKTI VARTA” HNWASH (Health Nutrition Water Sanitation and Hygiene) program. Connect with the author through: https://clearvoice.com/cv/SukantMontry

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