Posted on November 16 2015
Composting Episode 3 (Last one. We promise)
by Chad Wade
If you haven’t gathered, we love compost. It’s one of the best, cheapest preps you can have. It costs nothing and it would provide one helluva advantage in a grid-down world.
Yet, compost isn’t equal to perfect fertilizer. When you compost, you unlock the nitrogen in your “brown” (woody compost) and that’s good. But, nitrogen isn’t the only thing your plants crave.
For starters, you should accelerate the process through natural means. “Macro” organisms should be encouraged. We like adding worms to our compost piles to ramp up the breakdown of matter. Red Wigglers work the top layer and Nightcrawlers dig deeper. If your compost is on or in the ground, you probably already have some worms, beetles and flies.
Always add either compost boosters or local topsoil or both. This gets the organic process well-started by introducing enough of the right bacteria.
Next, you should start considering the mineral content of your soil and your compost. Primarily, your plants need nitrogen. But, they need other minerals and elements to unlock their ability to up-take nitrogen. Common deficiencies include nitrogen, potassium and phosphorous.
One of the most common deficiencies is calcium. For a plant to fully access nitrogen, it needs calcium. If your leaves are browning around the edges, or if your tomatoes are getting “blossom end rot,” then you probably need more calcium in your soil. Big, heavy-producing plants like pumpkins, zukes, squash or tomatoes hammer the soil, especially if you’re square-foot gardening. They will wipe out the calcium in an area, a lot of times, half-way through the season. Eggshells have tons of calcium, but it takes many years for the eggshell to break down enough to do your plants any good. Rather, add calcium (ground limestone) to your compost in mineral form or apply it directly to your garden in a liquid medium such as Turboganic’s Turbo-cal.
Another common deficiency is iron. If your plants are looking pale except for the veins, or if they have stippled leaves, you could have an iron deficiency that is leading to a nitrogen deficiency. Add iron to your compost as chelated iron powder and just let it become part of your fertilizer, especially if your area is short on iron.
Another soil issue is pH or acidity/alkalinity. If you live on the eastern side of the country or the Northwest, you could well have acidic soil. Desert areas can have alkali soils. Plants are usually OK with a little excessive pH, but if you’re having trouble growing, send some soil into a lab to find out what your soil lacks. Then add that both to your garden and your compost.
By having your soil tested, or by testing it yourself through several years of gardening, you should learn what kind of fertilizer your soil needs and build that into your compost NOW while minerals and additives are available. They’re not expensive, but they would be after the SHTF.
The best way to test is to send a sample of your soil into a soil lab such as the one a University of Connecticut. Another way is to use a home-tester kit. This will give you a pH, though not necessarily an accurate pH. The soil lab test should give you pH plus all other deficiencies.
If you’re going to babysit a compost pile, make it a good one!
Soil Test Lab: http://www.soiltest.uconn.edu/sampling.php