Author Topic: Introduction to Compost  (Read 1938 times)

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Introduction to Compost
« on: February 03, 2011, 04:32:52 PM »
Soil organic matter is the key to building and maintaining good soil quality. If the organic matter in your topsoil is low, adding well-aged compost is one of the best ways to fix this. Ideally, add one part compost to two parts topsoil.  However, if the area to be renovated is too large or the cost is prohibitive, topdressing annually with 1/4 to 1/2-inch of well-aged compost is another way to improve the soil.  The target is to build the topsoilís organic matter up to five to eight percent in the first six inches of topsoil.

Well-decomposed, mature compost is an excellent amendment because it adds organic matter and beneficial organisms to the soil. Compost can be purchased from a variety of sources and can be made from a variety of materials. The starting materials will determine the final amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and humus in the mature compost. Compost made from sewage sludge is generally not considered suitable and is prohibited in the NOFA Standards because of the potential for contamination with heavy metals and other toxic compounds.

Well-aged compost can be expensive.  In New England and many other areas of the country, there is a great potential source of compost, leaves. Every fall, people need to dispose of their leaves, and many municipalities accumulate a huge amount of them.  If  handled properly, these leaves can be turned into compost and used as a soil amendment. By the way, sources, quality, and prices of compost would be an excellent topic to share information about.

Leaf compost for example is about 30 percent organic matter by dry weight and has a moisture level of about 40 percent when it is crumbly and fairly dry.  It takes about 2 cubic yards per 1,000 square feet (87 cubic yards per acre) to raise the organic matter in the first six inches of soil by one percent.  A ľ inch top dressing (about 35 cubic yards per acre) can increase the organic matter in the first 2 inches of soil by one percent. Raising a soilís organic matter and level of stable humus is not a short-term or quick-fix project.

Your program to improve the soil can be tailored to your available time and money.  A basic program involves topdressing with compost in November while the roots are still actively growing.  This also has the advantage that prior to November, many towns are usually trying to get rid of their leaf compost from the previous fall to make room for the new crop of leaves.

This topdressing combined with an application of organic fertilizer in the early spring, will provide good early to mid-sprig root and shoot growth, with ample nitrogen supplied by the beneficial microorganisms delivered in the topdressing.  The nitrogen in compost and organic fertilizers is released by microbial action in the warmer spring temperatures. (Organic fertilizer can also be applied in the fall so the nitrogen can be taken up and is available within the grass when growth begins in early spring.)

To build soil organic matter faster, topdress with compost again in late spring or early summer with well-aged compost. This application will add more organic matter and improve water retention in the soil prior to the onset of summer heat stress.

Once the organic matter in the soil reaches the target number of five percent, the recycling of nutrients becomes sustainable, and if you are topdressing twice annually, then you can reduce to one topdressing and two fertilizer applications or less, depending on the needs of the soil and the use of the turf.

Compost topdressings will increase overall plant health, root development, turf grass density, and water-holding capacity, as well as decrease fungal diseases and turf damage on sports athletic fields.

An overall cost savings will be achieved due to the reduced need for watering, fertilizing, and pesticide applications.  Many topdressing machines are available today and make the task of applying compost relatively easy.

« Last Edit: April 13, 2011, 03:54:33 PM by admin »