How to Use Compost
This is a follow-up blog to my previous titled “Composting” so if you have not read it, click the link because this is an area that requires more than one page. Composting has many different sides to it, there are the composters, the vessel used to create compost, composters, the people who make their own compost, and people who use compost made by others. Regardless of how you come about it, compost is all used in very much the same ways.
I will begin with the store bought versions of compost. This is a very important area because you really need to be careful of the source you are using. As a small business owner myself I think it is always important to support your local businesses. By doing so you are supporting your tax base, your workforce and so on. We in central Texas are so blessed to have some of the leaders in the industry right in our backyard (so to speak) so why not take advantage of that. A very important component to buying bagged compost is making sure it is labeled “organic”. Most bagged compost contains animal product unless otherwise specified and manure (animal leavings) can burn your plants if used at the wrong time. A compost with animal manure needs to be organic because if it is not, the animals can be fed harmful chemical-laced products which will leave your organic garden anything but organic. The other reason to be careful with manure-laced compost is because the high nitrogen content can burn your plants when used in the heat, or if used straight out of the bag without giving it time to breathe. I recommend if you are unsure of the source of compost whether in bag or bulk, that you leave it exposed (cut open bags) to the air for a day before you use it. If you are using any compost with animal leavings, never compost your plants, trees, or lawn past tax day. You will do more damage than good if you do not follow this advice. The only manure that can be used directly on plants without this process is rabbit droppings, they can be thrown right into your beds.
If you make your own compost from fruits, veggies, egg shells, coffee, tea and paper goods, you can use your compost all year long as needed. You can add manure products into your beds as needed in the Springtime, but do not use manure past tax day to avoid burning. Manure is very high in nitrogen which is why it can burn in the heat.
So how do you use compost? My general rule of thumb for the casual gardener, (which I very much am) is that you compost in the Spring and you mulch in the Fall (read my blog about mulching). Compost can be used on everything in your yard and unlike chemical fertilizers that cause pollution in our lakes, streams, and air, compost is about as harmless to your pets, kids, and planet as it gets. In the early Spring I add a 1/2″ layer to my entire garden bed for fertilization of my plants and shrubs. I also compost all of my trees, fruiting trees, and vines creating a compost berm around each tree for continued fertilization throughout the growing season. I compost my rose shrubs and climbers much the same way. Finally, I compost my lawn in the early Spring which in Central Texas is late February until about tax day. Pretty much as soon as you see some new green blades peeking through the sod. If you have St. Augustine, I suggest you heavily rake or de-thatch (thatch is a layer of dead grass blades) to avoid buildup at the soil level which will not allow new grass to grow through. Add compost to your entire lawn to the depth of about 1/4″ -1/2″ and use extra to fill in any dips or empty spots. Covering a lawn every Spring is probably going to take a lot more compost than you can make in a year so if you do not have a pick-up, I recommend you budget for a delivery in bulk each Spring. You will find that if you are consistent, not only will you have the prettiest weed-free lawn in the neighborhood, but you will save money on water (compost helps soil hold water and nutrients), you will eliminate the need for chemicals, correct any damage from previous chemical use, and you will be building the soil and root system of your sod to help counteract erosion and nutrient deficiencies. Win, win, win!
For your new veggie beds the rule is a little different. Here is a pretty safe combination for the starter veggie gardener. I always recommend you build a raised bed whenever possible, if not, be sure to till this mixture into the soil (read more about soil here). You will begin with approximately 1/3 of organic or home-made compost with some added turkey or chicken manure, 1/3 clean, seed free garden soil (this should be dark and rich) and you should add a small amount of sand / pebbled granite for drainage, but not too much, then the final 1/3 is a combo of coconut coir for moisture retention and air, (we no longer suggest Peat Moss because it is not sustainable), vermiculite and if you like, you can add an organic fertilizer with microbes and mycorrhizae (if you cannot find this fertilizer, increase your compost to increase your own growth). I also encourage you to use liquid seaweed on your beds for the same reason. Once your bed has been prepared, I add compost each year and “double dig” my beds to incorporate the new compost into the existing bed. Always remember to rotate your crops, otherwise you will leach the nutrients from your soil and have less or no success even with the addition of compost.
Now there are a couple of schools of thought on composting (without manure) in our hot Texas summer, the reason being that fertilizing your plants will encourage them to bloom, which can only stress the plant further. While this is true for the most part (unless you are using liquid seaweed), compost can also help retain moisture, nutrient deficiencies or problems you might have with erosion. In these cases, a small amount of home made (manure free) compost mixed in with mulch can be beneficial as long as it is compost that is not made with animal products as mentioned previously.
So as a simple gardener, I try to do just that in my teachings. Keep it as simple as you can until you have some success, then you will feel motivated to take it to another level. This is true for most things in life 😉
Now go get your composted garden on!
“Saving the Planet One Yard at a Time”
Here is a video I posted on a previous blog about “composting”, you can find all sorts of helpful videos on my Youtube channel!