The FLX Composting Column: 5 Common Spring Composting Choices

“April Showers, bring May flowers." Amazing compost brings rich nutrients and beneficial organisms for those flowers.
Elderberry; top dressed with compost. Photo credit: Finger Lakes Compost (Heather Gilbert)

By Heather Gilbert of Finger Lakes Compost

It’s spring! As we are all prepping, preparing and planning our gardens, don’t forget how important soil health is.

Compost is amazing when added to your garden soil. While compost is most often added in the fall as this gives it plenty of time to work its way into the soil before planting in the spring, compost also does great added to your garden anytime!

With crops that have over-wintered, or when applying compost in the spring or well into the garden season, practice a technique called “side dressing.” Apply a layer of compost a few inches away from the plants, protecting delicate plant stems from active microorganisms. In this way, the compost is applied as a mulch and so it reaps multiple rewards—It offers nutrients to plants’ mid-cycle, will discourage weed growth, and it will retain water. Strive for 5% compost.

The US Composting Council and industry experts recommend that soils should contain at least 5% organic matter.

Here are some of the most common compost choices:
1. Yard waste/green manure, an aerobic, on-site composting method that uses yard trimmings and leaves and yields a simplistic, yet effective type of compost. This can be as easy as green manuring, tilling grass clippings back into the yard or designating a location to pile twigs, wood chips, leaves, grass, weeds, and garden trimmings.

2. Farmyard manure, is a decomposed mixture of cattle excreta and urine along with litter and leftover organic matter such as roughage or fodder. Small quantities of manure can be added directly to your garden. A large area for your compost pile works best because fresh manure can be bulky for both transporting and handling. Manure compost is most widely used among domestic gardeners.

3. Organic compost in which both aerobic and anaerobic microorganisms decompose the organic matter. This is prepared from food scraps such as fruit, vegetable and animal refuse, crop stubble, clippings, wood chips, forest litter, etc. Although compost is created by using organic materials, not all types of compost are certified organic. Simply defined, organic materials are any part of a plant or animal that contains carbon. 

4. Mushroom compost is a nutrient-rich, sterile substrate. It is used primarily for growing mushrooms commercially. The compost can be recycled for garden use. The organic materials used to make mushroom compost will vary slightly depending on the manufacturer. Typically, materials like wheat or rye straw, horse or chicken manure, gypsum, peat, cottonseed meal, and grape clippings are mixed to compost.

5. Vermicomposting is the process of letting earthworms decompose organic materials by eating and digesting the material, to produce excrement called casting. Red worms are favorites for this type of composting. Vermicomposting castings are full of nutrients and particularly useful as potting soil. Worms can be fed organic materials like lawn trimmings, manure, fruit and vegetable waste, grains, coffee grounds, and paper. 

6. Vegan compost prioritizes the recycling of plant waste, with zero disruption to the environment. By combining fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, weeds, grass clippings, wilted crops, wood chips, and leaves, you can achieve a DIY vegan compost pile. Commercially made vegan composts avoid the use of any manure and peat. 

These are only a few options of compost soil amendments you will find or you can make. There are endless blends of ingredients to help you with healthy soil and beautiful, healthy plants. Any compost that you use or create is a selfless act that benefits the entire ecosystem. Soil health matters, soil loves compost.

Heather Gilbert owner of Finger Lakes Compost LLC lives, grows, eats, and breathes the finger lakes. Heather strives on sustainability education and composting best practices to share with the community. She has completed the US Composting Council certified accredited composting course. Member of the USCC. Proud recipient of the 2019 USCC “food waste diversion outreach program of the year” award.
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