If you’re an organic gardener, even a beginner, I can almost bet you’ve heard of and/or read about compost.
Have the articles that you’ve read given their definition of compost? You can’t assume that their definition of compost is the same as the one you have in your mind.
It’s important to have the same meaning or description of compost as the writer. Otherwise, your brain can “file” the information incorrectly and at some point in the future you’ll have to readjust what you thought you knew.
With that in mind here are my definitions of compost-terms used in this article:
- Compost is a mixture of decaying organic materials.
- To compost means to convert to compost (or decaying organic materials).
- Finished compost is compost that has finished decaying and has stabilized (meaning, it is unlikely to change further).
As much as it’s promoted, it would be easy to consider finished compost the magic elixir that guarantees success in the garden.
Whether it does or not, would depend on how you use it.
Energy from Organic Residues is Needed for Soil Improvement and Fertility
Soil scientist Robert Parnes documented invaluable information for us in his book Soil Fertility. And it’s information you usually don’t see elsewhere.
The book came out of the research at Wood End Laboratory, a soil testing facility in Maine. Originally published in 1985, it was updated in 1990 and then again in 2013. It’s available to the public for free online.
As mentioned in a previous post, Parnes states that energy from organic residues is required to maintain soil fertility and there is no substitute.
What Are Organic Residues?
Organic means they’re derived from living matter.
Residues are things that remain after a process — such as growth or decay. Grass clippings, your kitchen scrapes, straw, vegetation from a harvested crop, compost, etc.
How to Achieve ALL the Benefits from Organic Matter
Parnes explains that in the process of decay, organic raw materials pass through several stages. Each stage has a unique effect on (or contribution to make to) the soil.
The amount of biological activity (from all the soil organisms involved in decay) is determined by how much energy is available from the organic residues. If residues are already partly or totally decomposed (like compost) then you have lost energy.
Parnes puts it this way: “ — the lost energy has been exchanged for beneficial organic by products.” For example, with compost its “value lies in the nitrogen and minerals it contains, which eventually become available” to plants.
Another example would be shredded leaves. Certainly they will still benefit your garden, but you will lose a stage of the decay process which would contribute to the soil in its unique way.
It’s important to understand that it’s the high biological activity (during the decay process) that actually
- improves the physical condition of the soil,
- improves its drainage,
- gives it the ability to hold water,
- promotes aeration and,
- provides food for the soil organisms.
Then the soil organisms can
- fix nitrogen from the air,
- form symbiotic relationship with roots of plants,
- produce vitamins and growth hormones,
- prey on plant pathogens, and
- all the other things that benefit your plants that scientist don’t yet know.
Diversity and high activity by soil life is necessary to achieve all the benefits of organic matter (starting as raw organic residues) in the soil.
After hearing what this noted soil scientist documented, you may want to rethink what you expect from or how you use finished compost.
I know I did.
You may also find it beneficial to review the two posts I’ve linked to under Related Posts below.
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