What Compost Is (and isn’t)

We often hear various definitions about what compost is and more so, what exactly it does. On one hand, there is general agreement that compost is decayed organic matter. And, nearly all gardeners and farmers agree that compost is desired and used for the purpose of amending soil to create better growing results. Here is the definition of “compost” given by Wikipedia.

Compost (pron.: /ˈkɒmpɒst/ or /ˈkɒmpst/) is organic matter that has been decomposed andrecycled as a fertilizer and soil amendment. Compost is a key ingredient in organic farming…..Compost can be rich in nutrients. It is used in gardenslandscapinghorticulture, andagriculture. The compost itself is beneficial for the land in many ways, including as a soil conditioner, a fertilizer, addition of vital humus or humic acids, and as a natural pesticide for soil.  Wikipedia.com 

So what are the benefits of compost?  The short answer is there are many. As an amendment, compost can assist with any number of soil issues. Compost does all this and more:

  • Improves clay soil by enhancing soil absorbancy and drainage, with repeated applications of compost over time.
  • Facilitates moisture retention in sandy soils by adding more organic materials.
  • Provides some nutrients to the soil.
  • Adds beneficial organisms into the soil and provides food for other beneficial organisms including earthworms.
  • Adjusts and stabilizes soil pH.
  • Helps reduce soil erosion

However, we temper the common urge to call compost fertilizer.  While compost does contain and add micro-nutrients to the soil, compost is not and does not replace fertilizer. A good quality organic compost can improve the soil’s ability to retain and absorb nutrients used by plants.  Compost is rich in nutrients, but its nutrients don’t feed plants as directly as fertilizers that are designed for specific types of plants.  Compost is used primarily to improve the condition of the soil, which in turn improves the healthiness of plants, often in combination with fertilizers.

In addition, if you are planning on buying compost, most states would require labeling of guaranteed levels of nutrients for commercially produced compost. And, if you are among the growing number of garden composters, you will likely not be using compost alone to provide the ideal levels of nutrients for optimal plant healthiness and results. In other words, the primary reason to use compost is to create and continuously improve your organic garden soil for organic vegetable gardening and/or for your trees, shrubs, and flowers. While compost absolutely enhances plant growth and healthiness, adding fertilizer directly feeds plants and generally has little to no effect on the condition of the soil itself.

Green Planet Naturals loves making and providing compost for home gardeners and organic farmers.  Compost is our signature ingredient in all of our organic potting soils and garden soil mixes.  We think adding compost in all of our planting mixes makes the very best potting soil.

Linda Brown, General Manager, Green Planet Naturals

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