Garden compost is one of the simplest and easiest ways to improve your garden. But it’s also one of the most myth-filled subjects on the Net. To bring it to the most basic level, compost is simply organic matter that’s been reduced to its basic structure by microorganisms.
The interesting thing about the Net is that many theories and techniques exist to accomplish this basic organic process and many of them (at least in my opinion) aren’t worth the work or degree of complex instructions to do what Mother Nature does all by herself.
This is all by way of saying I prefer simple systems. I prefer things that work without a lot of labor on my part. And I don’t get all bent out of shape by following the latest and greatest “system.”
What Can You Compost
So let’s just get on with it… These two articles pretty much tell you what to compost and what not to compost. A simple explanation would include:
- compost any part of a plant
- don’t compost meat or animal waste such as fat.
- don’t compost pet waste
How Do I Make Garden Compost
There’s so much misinformation on the Net about this material that it’s difficult to know where to start. Here’s my current understanding of the science behind the myths.
The Internet says that compost tea is composed of a bajillion microorganisms in suspension. In effect, it’s “concentrated” microorganisms in an easily applied form. And in a laboratory, this may be true.
But the research also says that how you make the tea determines what and how many of the organisms multiply within the tea. And the only way to know if you’ve done it properly is to do a lab test on each batch. If you don’t make your tea properly, and it’s really hard to do this btw, then you’re just wasting your time. And the research also points out that how you apply the compost tea also determines how effective it is. But the Internet doesn’t tell you this.
Does putting compost tea onto plant leaves kill leaf diseases? In theory, if you have the right predator microorganism (good guy) that attacks the disease microorganism (bad guy), and if you produce a ton of good guys (remember you have no idea if you’re doing this – see above) then perhaps you’ll have an impact. There’s been some research in European vineyards with selected good guys that have been produced in a laboratory that have had an effect on the bad guys attacking the grapes. But this is laboratory controlled/tested research.
In practice however, the odds on all these things happening are going to be very poor.
Does compost tea feed the plants by being sprayed onto leaves? This is interesting – the latest research I saw on foliar feeding suggest the leaf does indeed absorb foliar nutrient but it doesn’t release them to the rest of the plant. In other words, a leaf is like a four-year old with a bag of candy and doesn’t share. So *if* you can produce a microorganism that will be absorbed by the leaf, and *if* its delivered to the leaf in such a way the leaf can absorb it, then yes – that leaf may get a benefit.
I could go on. But the data I’m seeing suggests it’s not all that the Internet would have you believe when used at the garden level rather than the lab
Do I use compost tea? I experimented with it but couldn’t see any difference in the growth of my plants. I had a very good tea maker (but didn’t spend the money to test) and found without a concrete benefit, it just wasn’t worth the time and effort. So nope, I do not use it.
What do you do now? I put the compost directly onto the garden where it belongs.
Having said all of the above. Here are some articles you may find useful if you’re interested in experimenting with this technique
This research from Laval University in Quebec, Canada showed that properly made compost tea seemed to have a positive effect (it killed) Alternaria solani, Botrytis cinerea, and Phytophthora infestans. But note this was properly produced and tested tea in a lab situation.
Here’s an article about whether you can brew pest killing teas yourself – it’s being done commercially and in the lab – along with a link to the USDA on the specifics.
Vermicompost and Tomato Seed Germination: A research article about the effects of using worm compost on tomato seeds to improve the germination rate of tomato seeds
Is worm bin leachate good for your garden? There’s some research here from India…
Why I don’t recommend mushroom compost. From an organic gardening point of view, there are quite a few persistent chemicals used in the average mushroom production facility and the by-product will not qualify for use on organic gardens. Now, if the mushroom producer is “certified organic”, then yes – if the price is right – I have no issue with this material. Except the research I read suggested it was quite high in salts so using it in a container wouldn’t be smart.
How soluble fertilizers wreck your soil. This University of Illinois study is quite interesting about how synthetic fertilizers work on the soil and ask questions about the long term sustainability of them.
Concerned about replanting the same kind of plant where one has died? Here’s what you need to know.
Seriously, you don’t need a compost thermometer but some garden centers will try to sell you one anyway. Here’s a simple way to tell without spending any money.
Three real uses of coffee grounds in the home garden Again, there’s so much misinformation on the Net about this material and how it kills slugs (it doesn’t) and …
Coffee grounds and mosquitoes – how you can use coffee grounds to deter or kill mosquito larva.
Grow bags and compost – what can you grow in them?
Herbicide residues in purchased compost. Is this a problem?
Compost reduces strawberry verticillium problems in this research study.