For many people, compost is a smelly pest-attracting heap of old food, but this is not true when done right. A proper compost will have no traces of the original materials, has the same temperature as its environment, will not smell rotten and looks like fluffy soil. There are dozens of composting reviews on www.growveg.com citing the success and failures of people creating composting heaps around the world. The problem with most compost heaps is that they are opened too soon or do not have the proper decomposition conditions for the raw material. The presence of earthworms and small insects indicates that the compost is done while a hot compost with an ammonia stench is not ready to use.
Even when it does look done, a compost heap needs to rest anywhere from 2-4 weeks before the breaking down process stabilizes and it can be safely used around plants. Otherwise, the compost can begin to degrade the plants they were meant to be nutrition for or unbalance the nitrogen content in the plant’s soil. A clear indication of this is a plant with retarded growth and germination characteristics showing signs of yellowing in the leaves amongst other more detrimental signs.
One of the main uses of compost is using it as a mulch, a natural top layer that prevents the soil from drying out. Mulching is unsurprisingly seen in nature where fallen leaves accumulate around plants year after year. This serves as a protection for the roots, inhibits the growth of weeds and maintains a quite steady soil temperature throughout the year. Homemade compost can also act as a mulch when used properly.
Another great benefit of compost is its role in the improvement of undernourished soils. This process is called soil amending and is a recommended process for soils everywhere. By covering the first couple of inches of the garden bed with compost and turning it over into the native soil, the nutrients sink into the soil and make up for the initial lack of them. This may be difficult if the garden is already filled with established plants, but a new garden can benefit from amending. Compost can also be blended with potting mixes for a more organic splurge of nutrients. It will also help counteract many of the harsher chemicals in store-bought potting soil.
Even the runoff from composting has its own benefits. Compost tea is made by steeping compost in water for a couple of days and using the ‘brew’ to nourish smaller, younger plants. Call it the old fashioned liquid fertilizer method, but this method has the advantage of leaching out all the minerals from the solid compost with repetitive use, making it a nutrient rich supply.
Not only does compost benefit the plants, but it keeps soil health at an optimum. It balances the pH of the soil and retains moisture to prevent erosion. It encourages the growth of beneficial critters that keep the soil lose and aerated as well as prevents the buildup of heavy metals. A well-constructed compost is not only a benefit to the garden but keeps kitchen wastes to a minimum and is overall healthier for the environment.