by Darlene Markey, Owner—Sweetland Garden Supply
Last week my grandson and I were weeding my garden. It is currently overgrown with mallow, arugula, blade grass, and chickweed. We pulled the plants out to make more room for the in progress greens and carrots. As we pulled out the roots, I notice how dark, rich, airy and, well, delicious my soil is. Granted, I own a garden store and take home miscellaneous bags of worm compost, alfalfa pellets, worms, and soil. But still my soil is filled with life.
I know though, that my soil needs to be fed. It also needs, well to be a little anthropomorphic regarding microbes, a little social life. In other words, I need to add more compost to increase the food sources and add new microbes to the soil.
So, I start, of course, with a good organic compost. Covering the ground with about an inch of compost is enough to create an annual social. The party food will be in the form of organic matter and humus. Depleting populations of microbes and new microbes will have an opportunity to dance. The circle of microbial life renews. Like humans do at springtime festivals….
So how do I get the best compost for my garden?
The best compost I can use is the one created from my yard, kitchen scraps and wood chip piles. Often I am fortunate enough to do so, but not this year. I am a lazy composter and my wood chip pile did not get enough water so I will have to choose a commercial compost.
Bulk composts come from a variety of sources and vary in color, tilth, and microbiology. Good compost comes from properly composted wood matter, yard wastes, or food matter. The biology, mostly thermophilic bacteria, naturally heat up the pile, consume carbon rich waste and break it down. The result is organic matter rich in a diverse collection of micro flora and fauna.
The first rule of thumb in buying compost is to buy it early. Late season composts tend to be unfinished as compost makers hurry to rush the process. You cannot rush bacteria.
Most commercial compost today is green waste. Green waste is an ideal way for us, as a society, to deal sustainably with our wood waste. Green waste is all that wood matter we bring to the transfer station, generally yard waste, construction materials, old wood furniture, etc. Some green waste is collected directly from companies that bring a huge chipper to construction sites. Some is collected from roadside management crews. Chipped wood gets put into huge piles and is composted. Sometimes it is treated with biological teas to encourage proper composting. Sometimes it is tested for PH and biology present. If green waste, or any compost for that matter, is rushed, it can be “hot”-which means the bacteria is not done yet, or the PH can be off. Generally, good compost should have a PH between 5.5 and 8, ideally, 6-7.
Mushroom compost is a favorite compost used by many gardeners. I personally do not like Mushroom compost. Although it is nitrified with horse manure and it looks dark and rich I know that mushroom growers use salts to suppress unwanted fungi. So often mushroom composts are high in salts, which can be devastating to any garden and to microbes. If you wait a year though, the salts in mushroom compost leech out and then it is beautiful and safe to use. Gypsum can help mitigate the salts in a compost pile as well.
Wood fiber compost is my favorite. Compost created from unsprayed yard waste, sawmill dust, bark chips, coco fiber chips and even untreated wood allowed to compost completely is generally rich in the bacteria and fungi I want in my garden. This kind of compost tends to be acidic, so a lime product, such as Oyster shell or Dolomite can be added to help bring the PH up.
Bagged compost has its advantages and disadvantages as well. Most bagged composts are tested before they are put into bags. So of course it must be completely composted, or the product would smell bad! Some bagged composts are made from forest products, some from green waste. Often manufacturers add lime, gypsum, composted manures, worm castings or dry amendments to improve the compost.
So, before you buy ask where the compost comes from. Smell it, touch it or even test it yourself before you plant in it.
Once you have your perfect compost, mix it into your existing soil at a rate of about 1-2 inches cover. The new compost will add to the party. New microbiology will mingle with old. These exchanges between bacteria, fungi, arthropods, and ciliates are what feed your soil. And these exchanges leave exudates that feed your plants.
To learn more about Soil, soil biology, and compost tea attend a class held at Sweetland. RSVP needed for all classes. Classes cost $25 and last 1.5 hours.
Soil Health What makes a healthy soil and how can you use basic dry amendments to increase your soil’s fertility.
Offered March 14th and April 11th, Saturday, 10 am.
Compost Tea Learn how to make a backyard brewer and what it takes to add microbes into soil.
April 25th, 10 am