What is Compost?
Compost is the product resulting from the controlled biological decomposition of organic material that has been sanitized through the generation of heat and stabilized to the point that it is beneficial to plant growth. Compost bears little physical resemblance to the raw material from which it originated. Compost is an organic matter resource that has the unique ability to improve the chemical, physical, and biological characteristics of soils or growing media. It contains plant nutrients but is typically not characterized as a fertilizer.
How is Compost Produced?
Compost is produced through the activity of aerobic (oxygen requiring)
microorganisms. These microbes require oxygen, moisture, and food in order to grow and multiply. When these factors are maintained at optimal levels, the natural decomposition process is greatly accelerated. The microbes generate heat, water vapor, and carbon dioxide as they transform raw materials into a stable soil conditioner. Active composting is typically characterized by a high-temperature phase that sanitizes the product and allows a high rate of
decomposition, followed by a lower-temperature phase that allows the product to stabilize while still decomposing at a lower rate. Compost can be produced from many “feedstocks” (the raw organic materials, such as leaves, manures or food scraps).
Benefits of Compost Use –
- Improved Structure: Compost can greatly enhance the physical structure of soil. In fine-textured (clay, clay loam) soils, the addition of compost will reduce bulk density, improve friability (workability) and porosity, and increase its gas and water permeability, thus reducing erosion. When used in sufficient quantities, the addition of compost has both an immediate and long-term positive impact on soil structure.
- Moisture Management: The addition of compost may provide greater drought resistance and more efficient water utilization. Therefore, the frequency and intensity of irrigation may be reduced. Recent research also suggests that the addition of compost in sandy soils can facilitate moisture dispersion by allowing water to more readily move laterally from its point of application.
- Provides Nutrients: Compost products contain a considerable variety of macro and micronutrients. Although often seen as a good source of nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium, compost also contains micronutrients essential for plant growth. Since compost contains relatively stable sources of organic matter, these nutrients are supplied in a slow-release form. Compost not only provides some nutrition, but often makes current fertilizer programs more effective.
- Increases Cation Exchange Capacity: Compost will also improve the cation exchange capacity of soils, enabling them to retain nutrients longer. It will also allow crops to more effectively utilize nutrients, while reducing nutrient loss by leaching. For this reason, the fertility of soils is often tied to their organic matter content. Improving the cation exchange capacity of sandy soils by adding compost can greatly improve the retention of plant nutrients in the root zone.