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What is compost?

What is compost?

NOUN - Decayed organic material used as a fertiliser for growing plants.

This is the dictionary definition but is far too simple for our needs. Compost is a whole lot more than just that. At its simplest, I would like a dictionary to say.

Compost is organic matter that is put in a heap, a pit or in a bin and allowed to naturally break down into humus.

Compost, I would argue is not fertilisers although it does have a fertilisers component. Calling compost fertiliser is like calling a ‘Clowns’ the ‘Circus.’

Compost can be made by mixing a single ingredient or a range of organic materials such as animal manure or crop residues under the conditions favourable for, the all-important, microbial decomposition. Composting is both a biological and chemical process. Composts are rich with microorganisms - fungal and bacterial, which have the remarkable ability to break down organic structures into smaller forms. Composting normally refers to that pile or bin, we fill with our organic waste material, that we deliberately put together to help speed up the process of decay, to the point where we reach biological stability. It is the combination of green organic matter, such as grass clippings, kitchen waste, peelings and scraps, plus other fresh plant material that may have been collected from around your garden. These are combined with the brown materials, such a dried leaves, dried grass, tree clippings and wood shaving, even paper, that together make up the greater volume of the compost heap. Finished compost will always smell fresh, earthy and good. It is moist but not wet and it should be free from large chunks of undecayed organic matter.

Compost is a substantial soil additive, used to organically improve not just soil fertility but also its overall quality.

When added to the garden it improves the structure of the soil, the aeration, it increases the water-holding capacity, promotes good drainage and increases the soil bacterial activity, which helps to make nutrients available in the rhizosphere around the plant's roots. The nutrients locked up in the compost provide a healthy, slow release of food to the plants in your vegetable garden. Once the finished compost is mixed with the soil it is rather known as humus. It is the overall humus content of the soil that the permaculturist is trying to increase.

Compost is normally made aerobically but it can be made anaerobically.

It should be remembered that anything that was once alive or came from something that was once alive, can and ought when you have finished using it for its primary means, be composted. All biological material will degrade in their own time. We can, however, if we decide to, put in a little or a lot more effort in to assist and speed up the process.

If you are a new to composting but are keen to start, the first thing to remember is that nature is on your side. To be effective, however, composting at home needs to be part of a “lifestyle” and is an on-going process that never stops.

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