Using Compost – Your Reward for Your Efforts
So – when your first load of compost is ‘done’, your first bin of Bokashi, pickled or when your worms have done their duty – when you have a pile of lovely, cool, dark stuff, what then? Now you need to decide how using compost will be of benefit to you and your garden.
Your first task will be to screen it, in order to remove any materials that have not totally decomposed. You may find it easier to place your wheelbarrow (or whatever means of transport you are going to use) right next to the pile and to sieve your compost right there on the spot. Any chunky material may then be tossed back into the next batch of ingredients where it can continue to be processed. You will find bits of egg-shell, maybe some corn husks, twigs, even the odd bit of plastic, if you are a careless composter! This is quite normal, though and you may be surprised at how fabulous and professional your ‘black gold’ looks, once all the detritus has been separated out.
Using compost from your garden bin
As a soil amendment
Using compost as a soil amendment conditions your soil and improves it according to soil type. It increases the capacity of sandy soils to retain both moisture and nutrients. In clay conditions, it aids drainage, and by its action makes it easier for roots to penetrate the soil and to grow strong. Using your compost in this way, ensures that your soil is well-oxygenated, cuts down on the need to water, reduces the need for extra fertilizers. An added bonus is the protection provided against viruses and diseases.
A mulch is a cover which, when spread over your garden, provides protection from extreme cold and heat. It keeps the soil moist and cool in hot, dry conditions, and helps to prevents erosion in severely wet conditions. Using compost as a mulch prevents the growth of weeds and (some say) the growth of the seeds of the prevailing plant life, thus minimising the competition. (Think of that carpet of humus on the forest floor. An interesting theory, anyway)
There are many different materials that are used as mulches, bark, pebbles, or rubber chips, to list just a few. Particularly in this age of small, low-maintenance designer gardens, there are many varieties on sale, one or two with no relationship to the plant or animal kingdom at all. These are purely cosmetic and any advantages they have will be purely incidental. They will stop the growth of weeds and give some protection to the plant roots, but that is about all.
Using compost as a mulch is a great plan. It has the added benefit of amending the soil it is covering, of providing a perfect habitat for beneficial insects, worms and micro-organisms and, depending on its own ‘make-up’, it is an excellent source of fertilizer. It is important to soak your garden well before mulching and a good time to mulch is in spring or early summer, to take advantage of available the nutrients while the growing season is in full swing.
Of course, the big thing about using compost of quality, is its ability to provide nutrients in the best possible way. Remember the phrase, “Compost works on soil, fertilizer works on plants.” Compost releases essential minerals into the ground slowly, providing a long-term supply of food in a timely manner. In cool conditions, the release is slow, but as the weather warms up, the release speeds up, supporting the need for added energy. Be aware, though, your compost is only as good as the ingredients you put into it. If you use late growth, nutrient-deficient ‘greens’ as your main ingredient, your product will reflect this. You need to be sure that your ingredients are varied and packed with nutrients, ensuring a top-quality result.
Using compost in a mix for special tasks
As potting mix
Using compost alone as a potting mix is not really recommended, as it is usually too dense to use in a container. It needs the addition of something with structure, such as sand or grit to form channels to allow moisture and air to penetrate, and a few other items too. It is easy to find recipes, some of which are quite involved and which are often specific to the types of plants you are wanting to pot.
A typical recipe, taken from Nicky Scott’s “How to Make and Use Compost – the Ultimate Guide” is as follows:
- 1 part soil (loam)
- 2 parts sieved compost
- 1 part vermiculite
Note that some experts will advise that the loam should be sterilised in order to kill weed seeds. However, Scott says that is not really necessary unless you want to germinate seeds. This recipe is good for potting most vegetables until they are ready to be moved out-doors. Others are more suited to flowers and herbs, or window-boxes and containers.
In contrast, another recipe, this one from “The Compost Specialist” suggests the addition of
- ground limestone
- hoof and horn meal
- superphosphate of lime
- sulphate of potash
to loam, peat and sand or grit. (recipe for John Innes potting compost) Nowadays of course, in Britain at least, peat is well off the menu because of the damage to ecological systems that has occurred through the over-use of this resource.
As a medium for growing cuttings
Using compost to make a free-draining mix suitable for striking cuttings by adding it to an equal quantity of sharp sand is an excellent plan.
Using compost as a medium for growing seeds
The problem here is that you may not have managed to kill all the seeds in your compost and you do want a seed-free, open medium for this delicate operation. You would be better advised, according to the gurus, to use a soil-less mix, made with sphagnum moss, perlite and vermiculite, or both and dolomite lime. Recipes are easy to find on the internet. (see below) Using compost is not necessarily the best way to go, here.
Using compost as a top-dressing for lawns and gardens
When you want a top-up of fertiliser in your garden, just apply a thin layer of compost to the soil. The same applies to your lawn. Water well before application.
Using compost from your Bokashi bucket
Once your Bokashi bucket is full, leave it for about two weeks for the contents to cure. Bokashi is somewhat acidic at first and needs to be left to neutralise.
When it is ready you can:
Use it in your worm farm
There is always some discussion in forums (fora?) about worms and Bokashi. Some say the worms love it. Others say that their worms won’t go near it. The rest say that perhaps the first time the worms try it they are not keen, but later they begin to gobble it up. Give it a try, I say. It won’t kill them and you just never know.
Use it in your garden
Bokashi is great for digging directly into the soil. Dig holes or trenches about 25 cm deep, add the Bokashi, mix it with a little soil and cover with the remainder. Be careful not to bury it too near plant roots as there is a small risk of burning in the first two weeks or so. If it is a new garden you are making, do not plant anything for at least two weeks, as young roots are particularly tender.
Use it in your garden bin
If your garden is small and you do not have the room available to add your Bokashi to it, you can just toss everything into your conventional bin. It is magic – it will accelerate the action there – and those microbes will not know what has hit them.
Use it with your container gardens
Add it in equal quantities to regular compost and loam to make a good base for your established potted plants.
Using compost from your worm farm
In your garden and in your containers
It is readily acknowledged that worm casts (vermicompost) make the best quality compost available. It can be used purely as a fertilizer as it contains the highest level of nutrients of any type of compost and in a form readily available to the roots of plants. The worms are also able to nullify the effects of any chemical pollution from weeds that have been dressed with herbicides and pesticides and are able to destroy bacteria and many pathogens. Use it sparingly as a top-dressing in your garden and give all your pot plants a handful as a rare treat. Again, water well first.
In seedling beds
Use in liquid form to feed your seedlings and to protect them from bacterial and viral diseases. Dilute the leachate from your worm farm with at least 10 parts of water to 1 of leachate (it should be barely coloured) and sprinkle around the roots and on the leaves of your seedlings.
There are plenty of opportunities for using compost that you have been instrumental in making. I am sure there are more than I have listed here and I am sure that you will find them once you start your new project, reaping the great benefits of this cool way of having a fab garden while saving money!