Store-Bought Fertilizer versus Mature Compost

You may wonder what the different benefits are between fertilizer purchased from the store and compost humus that you make at home. The aim of both is the same, to improve the quality of your garden, lawn, and soil but there are differences too.

Many fertilizers that you purchase at your garden center contain artificial or toxic elements to make your lawn look nice – not necessarily healthier. The benefit of this type of fertilization is the ability to purchase a mix that meets the needs of your specific lawn. If your lawn is too dry, patchy, or has a lot of weeds – there is a product available that can target each problem (be aware that a pesticide is part of this solution). If you are using a commercial mix in your garden, read all labels carefully to ensure the product is safe to use around vegetation that is going to be consumed.

In contrast, when you use compost humus as a fertilizer there isn’t a lot you can do to customize the end result. But the good thing is, you don’t really need to. Mature compost is a process that occurs naturally (in a forest, the leaves on the ground are composted with only help from Mother Nature). The compost contains a wide range of benefits for your lawn that do not involve chemicals.

It will really depend on your personal preference whether or not you use commercial fertilizer or compost. If you like the idea of using compost but not the idea of making it yourself you can purchase the compost from some gardening centers. Also contact your city’s recycling department, they may have a program set-up that allows residents to donate food and other organic waste for composting and then share in the mature compost when it is ready.

Worms for Vermicomposting

Now that you have decided vermicomposting is for you, you need to get some worms (a lot of them). For a standard size composting bin you will need two pounds of worms for every one pound of raw material you add. The earthworms you will need (known as red wrigglers) do not go very deep underground so your pile or bin should be between 8-10 inches deep.

You may be tempted to go to your backyard and start digging up some worms, but you really should invest in the proper kind. The worms in your backyard are not the recommended breed for composting. You will need to buy worms that bear the name of red wriggler (also known as redworms) or brandling worms.

Redworms or brandling worms can be purchased from a bait shop, some local gardening centers or by mail order. An average worm can eat its own weight in material in 24 hours; keep this in mind when you are determining the size of your compost bin and the amount of worms you will need.

With the rate at which the worms consume the food waste, the timeline of getting from raw organic material to mature compost is relatively short. The same principle applies as for regular composting – you need a good mix of green food and brown food (this can be in the form of shredded newspaper). The finished compost is known as worm castings, worm humus, worm manure, and worm compost.

If you are using a hot or active composting method and it is in the maturing stage, you can add redworms or brandling worms to speed up this last step. You will most likely see quite a few more helpful critters in your compost as it matures too – centipedes and millipedes to name a couple.

Creative Composting

If you do not have a large backyard or live in an apartment but still want to compost, there are options available. You can still compost easily and conveniently. Some options include composting on a balcony, in your garage, or even under your kitchen sink.

The best way to compost in a small space or indoors is using worms to help with the decomposition process (known as vermicomposting). This is a clean and odor-free way to compost and can be done on a small scale. You will need quite a few worms to start the process. Even though with this method you will add mostly green food (kitchen scraps) the brown food is also necessary (the carbon is needed). A good source of carbon for an indoor composting bin is shredded newspaper – just remember not to use the
glossy pages.

You can try a traditional hot compost bin on your balcony taking special care and consideration to turn the pile frequently to eliminate odors. You do not want to alienate your neighbors. You will still need a supply of brown food to use in your compost bin, contact your local gardening center or municipality on the availability of getting this resource for free. Chances are they will be happy to supply you with a bag. You can create your balcony compost bin out of a garbage can with holes drilled through the sides to help with air circulation.

Another option is to look into a communal composting area for your apartment building. Check with the landlord or property management to see if there is a space you and the other residents can utilize to start a compost pile. The mature compost can be used for house plants, balcony gardens, or flower boxes. A schedule will have to be maintained with either everyone sharing in the work or a volunteer that manages the pile.