Compost is also known as black gold due to its value in the garden. It is commonly known that compost can be used as a soil conditioner by being dug into the soil. Compost adds valuable nutrients and microbes to the soil but can only be dug in as finished compost, or that which is fully broken down. If you have partially unfinished compost, you can use 1/2 inch screen to separate the larger pieces out of the finished product.
Compost can be made in your yard, in a bin or compost tumbler. It consists of layers of organic materials that are turned periodically until they decompose. The layers can include food scraps, grass clippings, and leftover garden debris. Weeds should not be placed in the compost pile so that the seeds do not transfer to your garden when you use it.
Finished and unfinished compost can be used in the following ways.
1. Using Compost as Mulch
Mulch works to suppress weeds, and to help retain water in the soil around your plants. Organic mulch such as unfinished compost or compostable materials like wood chips and grass clippings make very effective mulch. As these items continue to breakdown, they create readily available nitrogen and beneficial microbial organisms to the soil.
Use these items to mulch around plants in the flower bed and garden. All that is needed is a trowel to carefully shovel compost in a circle around plants from 3 inches from the stem to the drip line. You can use wood chips or grass clippings on top of the compost for better weed suppression. These items will break down more slowly, and incorporate into the soil when you turn it at the end of the season.
2. Using Compost as Fertilizer: Side Dressing
This is an organic way to fertilize plants throughout the season and is similar to mulching with compost in that they are both applied to the surface of the soil. The difference is that side dressing is applied in much smaller quantities. It is recommended that you place one handful of compost around the perimeter of the plant two to three times during the season.
After you apply the side dressing of compost, water it well so that the nutrients and microbial organisms are able to seep down into the soil. Compost adds much needed nitrogen to the soil, and unlike digging unfinished compost into the ground, does not compete with your plants for this essential nutrient.
3. Using Compost as Fertilizer: Compost Tea
This is an application of compost that is more versatile. Compost tea is just as it sounds. It is a brew made from soaking compost in water for a few hours to a day or two depending on the concentration of tea that you are wanting. Place compost into a burlap bag, and submerge in a bucket or barrel of water. You can also just place compost into container then strain it out with a screen. Compost can be used later in the garden.
Compost tea can be used to water plants in the garden by irrigating the soil around the plants. It also makes a great fertilizer for container plants, and those indoors. It can also be used as a foliar spray. This helps to make plants stronger to prevent damage by disease and pests. Compost tea used for irrigation gives microbes the opportunity to soak into the soil.
Compost is a valuable resource in the garden in a number of ways. If you have only used compost as a soil amendment, you should consider one of these other methods. All of them are effective in one way or another. Compost is a free resource, and should be fully taken advantage of.
Want to learn more about how to use compost?
Making and Using Compost for Organic Farming from NC Cooperative Extension
Compost Guide to Home Composting
Compost Tea by Oregon State University Extension Service
How early is to early to start using compost
thom browne says
Any time but put it in in Autumn against frost for perennials, and weed suppression, Summer can help feed and retain moisture ~~