Eco-friendly and zero-waste readers are likely very familiar with the concept of composting. For those who aren’t, compost is all-natural fertilizer that brings a host of microbial nutrients to your gardening soil. The process of creating compost is fairly simple and many types of compost can be made at home, but understanding what kind of compost is good for gardening is a bit more complex.
What is compost?
Compost could be easily described as “partially decomposed organic matter.” Many home gardening enthusiasts consider it to be the “black gold” of gardening, and rightly so. The best compost contains the perfect mix of four main ingredients: organic matter, oxygen, moisture, and bacteria. With all of these things in balance, good compost can make even the most unsuitable soils garden-worthy.
What kind of compost is good for gardening?
There are many varieties of compost out there but most of them contain the same base elements. They contain a good mix of carbon and nitrogen-rich waste, oxygen, and moisture. According to Harvest to Table, the best compost for gardening is aged compost. When ready, this compost — which is often referred to as humus — will be blackish-brown in color. It will be moist, crumbly, and uniform in texture.
Essentially, the compost that results from aged composting should look nothing like the elements that went into the compost bin. The reason that humus is so effective is that the nutrients it contains are the most accessible to plant roots. They are laid bare, bereft of any of the complex organic material they were drawn from. The best thing about humus is that you don’t have to go out and buy it, you can make it in your own backyard.
What other kinds of composts are there?
There are essentially two basic types of composting: hot composting and cold composting. Cold composting is named thus not because the compost itself is cold, but because it is a simpler, much longer process.
Cold composting involves you collecting eggshells, coffee grounds, fruit peels, and other types of nitrogen-rich waste products and throwing them in a bin or compost pile with carbon-rich items like leaves, grass clippings, or newspapers, and simply letting time do its thing.
Hot composting involves you taking a more active role, which speeds up the process significantly. Unsurprisingly, it also works best in warmer weather. You’ll need the same four ingredients for hot composting as you do for cold, with the addition of one more: movement. Frequent aeration or “turning” of your compost will allow for better oxygenation, which will feed the aerobic bacteria that assist in breaking the compost down into humus.
There is also a method known as vermicomposting, which involves composting with the help of earthworms. It’s an effective method and creates very nitrogen-rich compost, which plants really love. You can’t just go pick any old worms though, unfortunately. According to Gardening Know How the best types of worms are either red wigglers (Eisenia fetida) or redworms (Lumbricus rubellus). Both species thrive in a composting environment and can be purchased at some specialty garden supply stores.
In all fairness, any of these methods will eventually make you workable compost, even if the end result is not the all-important humus everyone keeps going on about. Composting itself is a great way to reduce waste and aid in soil conservation, so no matter how you do it, you’re doing the planet a favor.