Compost vs fertilizer vs soil amendment: what’s the difference?
Compost, fertilizer, amendment -which one is best for your garden?
If you are new to gardening, you may not realize that there are some significant points to remember when it comes to creating a healthy environment for your plants. Soil amendment is a broad term for any soil additive that improves soil quality in terms of its structure and biochemical function. Soil amendments could be organic or inorganic. Some examples from both categories are vermiculite, perlite, biochar, wood ash, lime, compost, wood chips, coco fiber, animal manure and so on. Many organic amendments will enrich the soil’s fertility by ameliorating microclimate conditions and provide substrate for microbial growth. Inorganic amendments generally contain minerals needed for soil fertility. They will either supplement the lacking mineral or adapt the soil’s pH in order for roots to be able to absorb already present minerals. Many gardeners decide to make their own amendment by composting their kitchen anD garden waste. Compost is the end product of the decomposition that is done by microbes. It is rich in plant nutrients and beneficial organisms, such as worms, beneficial soil bacteria and fungal mycelium. The proportion of different soil organisms depends on the composition of raw material. Compost is an all-natural organic material to improve the overall quality of your soil. Fertilizer can be either natural and organic or inorganic and synthesized with specific elements in exact ratios that plants can use to grow. It can be spread onto or worked into soil to supporting plant growth. Fertilizers made from organic sources feed and enrich the soil. Inorganic fertilizers are required by law to state the NPK ratio system to measure the levels of Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium (K on periodic chart) within them. Inorganic (synthetic) fertilizers are fast acting, but can burn and damage plants. Your soil or plants might be in need of one or few specific nutrients, so you can choose a fertilizer based on that analysis. Compost and other soil amendments are not rated with NPK (nitrogen-phosphorous-potassium) like fertilizer. With compost, you are generally trying to make your soil better and healthier overall. With fertilizer you are adding a specific nutrient based on the observation of the growth in your garden.
What is NPK value written on fertilizers?
NPK is one of the primary markers you’ll notice on fertilizer bags—it stands for “nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium,” the three macronutrients that compose complete fertilizers. We call them macronutrients because they are directly related to plants growth. Nitrogen is considered to be the most important, and plants absorb more nitrogen than any other element. It is essential in the formation of protein, and protein makes up much of the tissues of most living things, including plants. Phosphorus is linked to plant’s ability to use and store energy, including the process of photosynthesis. It’s also needed to help plants grow and develop normally. Phosphorus in commercial fertilizers comes from phosphate rock. Potassium is the third key nutrient of commercial fertilizers. It helps strengthen plants’ abilities to resist disease and plays an important role in increasing crop yields and overall quality. Potassium also protects the plant when the weather is cold or dry, strengthening its root system and preventing wilt. These NPK numbers correspond, respectively, to the nitrogen content, phosphorus content, and potassium content of that fertilizer and they directly represent the percentage of that nutrient in the fertilizer mix. The remaining percent of the bag’s weight is comprised of other minor nutrients or fillers. To sum it up: the higher nitrogen levels are responsible for fast, green growth. Phosphorus aids with root and flower development, while potassium provides for the plant’s overall health.
What is the difference between wood chips, wood shavings and sawdust and how can I use them in the garden?
The only difference is the size of particles but that fact affects how and where these materials can be used in a garden.
Sawdust is very fine and has much more exposed surface area than wood chips or wood shavings do, so incorporating fresh sawdust into soil is never a good idea because of excessive nitrogen tie-up. Best way to use sawdust is as a brown material in your kitchen scraps composting. It will not only provide the necessary carbon for the proper decomposition; it will also absorb the excess moisture released by kitchen scraps and it will also absorb any unpleasant odors that might otherwise escape from the compost bin. Sawdust also makes a spectacular mulch for perennial crops. As long as you scatter a bit of organic fertilizer, poultry manure, or other nitrogen source over the surface each time you throw on a fresh layer, sawdust makes unsurpassed mulch for acid soil loving plants like blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries, and it can work well with asparagus, too. Garden paths can also be layered thicky with newspaper or a layer of cardboard and then covered with sawdust. After it has rotted, sawdust contributes mightily to soil’s texture, because the spongy tidbits persist in the soil for a long time.
Wood shavings and wood chips can be tilled into the top layer of soil to add organic matter once they decompose. They are also excellent mulch for perennial plants. I thick layer of either woody material will with time tremendously increase the quality of the soil not only by adding organic matter but also by feeding the soil’s biota and by increasing soil’s ability to hold nutrients and moisture. Wood shavings and wood chips are also excellent cover for paths. They are also aesthetic to see once neatly arranged around your raised beds to create dirt free paths.
In general, it is best to use woody materials around established plants only and avoid the vegetable bed except to create paths. Keep chips away from stems and trunks and the siding on the house to not invite termites to close to your home. Use 10 to 15 cm of wood mulch, best if applied over a nicely broken organic layer such as leaf litter or compost.
Aren’t woody materials decreasing soil’s fertility because they take away the nitrogen? And how about increasing soil’s acidity by using woody materials?
Field studies suggest that a high-fiber diet of woody materials is exactly what many soils need. Rotted bits of wood persist as organic matter for a long time, enhancing the soil’s ability to retain nutrients and moisture, which results in bigger, better crops. But there is an important point to consider: woody materials are high in carbon and cellulose, so they need nitrogen and time in order to decompose. If you ignore these facts by mixing fresh sawdust or wood chips directly into your soil, the materials will bind up much of the soil’s nitrogen and render the spot useless for gardening for a season or two. The outcome changes, however, if you add nitrogen or time. For example, when researchers planted a new organic apple orchard in northern Maine in 2005, fresh wood chips combined with blood meal (a very high-nitrogen organic material with a typical analysis of 12-0-0) and tilled into the top layer of the soil — plus a surface mulch of wood chips — proved better than three other treatments at promoting rapid tree growth. And, in less than two years, the organic matter content in the chip-amended plots went from near zero to 2 to 3 percent. We do advise however against mixing sawdust into the soil. It has much greater surface than wood chips or saw shavings and would therefore greatly If you don’t plant to add any nitrogen while adding woody materials, we suggest you use it only as the mulch and give it time to break down unhurriedly. The decomposition will take longer and still take some nitrogen out of the top few cm of the soil, but that will happen at a very slow rate and decomposed wood material will eventually add a much important organic matter to your soil.
The concern that woody amendments acidify soil is sort of true but only short term. In the early stages of decomposition there is a fast release of acids, when cellulose fibers begin to degrade. Long-term studies of the effects of wood chips and sawdust in soil actually show a slight rise in soil pH, which is good news for most crops in most gardens. (The lower the pH, the more acidic the soil. Most plants are thriving around neutral ph7 or slightly alkaline soil where pH is a bit above 7)
What is EM and how to use it in my garden?
EM or Effective Microorganisms are mixtures of bacteria that result from naturally regulated fermentation processes, without any genetic or chemical modification. EM is safe to use, 100% organic and consists of phototrophic bacteria, lactic acid bacteria (found in dairy matter), yeast (found in bread), actinomycetes and fermentation fungi. These microorganisms are physiologically compatible with each other and coexist in fluid culture. There are different preparations of EM: EM1, EM2, EM3, EM4. The differences are the content of microorganisms in them. EM4 contains 90% lactobacillus spp. and microorganisms that produce more lactic acid. EM4 is The most widely used type in Asia for agricultural and fisheries development. It is mainly used as additive to compost pile to accelerate the decomposition of organic matter and as a foliar spray or as a watering dilution to support the health of the plant and soil microbiota.
What is the difference between worm lacheate and worm castings tea?
Leacheate is a liquid that seeps from the bottom of the worm composting been. In fact, every compost pile releases some leacheate but worm compost more so. Leacheate can be used directly to water the plants or can be diluted up to 10x before used for watering. It is advised to avoid wetting the leaves since leacheate in raw material and we want to avoid consuming some unwanted microbes. Compost tea is on the contrary a fermented liquid, brewed with water and the addition of small amount of molasses to increase the numbers of microbes. It can be applied to the plants and soil by watering or used as a foliar spray. It is advised to not use it as a foliar spray at least a week prior to consumption.
Garden Beds and Planters
Can I fill up the bottom of raised bed with other materials than soil?
If your bed frame is only 15 to 20 cm tall, we recommend filling the full volume with good amended soil. If the garden bed is deeper, you have other options. But before you begin, you need to know what type of vegetables you will be planting in the garden bed. Some plants are more shallow-rooted and need only 15 to 20 of good soil, others have roots that can go much deeper. Once you are clear on your planting plan, you can customize your fill materials. Since you’re putting your highest-quality soil on the surface, whatever’s underneath will need to drain off an excess of moisture. Avoid using materials like rocks on the bottom of your raised bed or you risk to create an artificial water table that will prevent good drainage. Native soil or other materials like dried leaves, branches and old dry tree trunks can all provide bulk material. Any organic base layer will slowly decompose and add organic value to the soil. Bigger wood pieces additionally hold some moisture while allowing excess to easily drain away.
You’ll want to avoid planting your deepest vegetables in wood-filled beds for a while, opting instead for shallow-rooted plants. Using wood in this way is a variation on a technique called hugelkultur. Other garden waste products can make for a good base layer as well. Grass clippings, dry leaves or leaf mold, trimmings from other plants, and the like can fill in the bottom of your bed. These will all break down quickly into the soil, building up the soil’s organic content. Keep in mind that as they decompose the surface will lose height so you will need to add material to the top. Even without using the bulk material on the bottom, the soil level will still drop with time because plants and microorganisms are depleting it of its organic matter. It is a common practice to be adding new soil and compost on the top of the raised bed before every new planting season. The main reason is to promote good fertility for your plants. Important thing to consider with deep raised beds is that if you opted for that extra height in order to plant crop with deep roots, then the equal depth of raised beds from the surface down should be filled with fertile soil. The rest of it can be filled with fillers above, especially if your raised beds are extra tall for other reasons than the root depth (like strain on the back and knees or to create a barrier). For deeper garden beds you can also decide to fill up with layers of various organic materials as is suggested with lasagna gardening method. There is plenty on information on the web if you are interested to explore that option.
How tall should the raised bed be?
The raised bed could be anything from 15 to 35 cm high or even higher. Beds built over lawn or dirt typically don’t need to be higher than the standard 17 to 35cm because the roots can sink into the subsoil, even more so if the soil below is of decent quality. If the garden bed is placed on a hard surface, we suggest at least 35 cm of height to support the proper root development. For deep rooted plants like tomatoes is advised to use extra tall garden beds. The advantage of our terraced garden beds is that the same garden bed can have sections of different heights. That really optimizes the amount of frame material and the soil to fill it up. Our single wooden bed frame is roughly 17 cm high and you could stack them to a desirable height. Our terracotta frames are 20 cm high and we recommend stacking max 2 frames. Our bamboo garden beds are 33 cm high.
Are your garden beds with open or closed bottom?
All of our gardening beds are open on the bottom to allow for a good drainage and communication with local soil ground and its fauna. If you plan to place your raised bed above a hard surface like concrete or paving blocks then we suggest the first layer is a filter (10 cm layer of rice husks or a sheet of geotextile) that lets the excess water pass thru and keeps the good soil inside.
How wide/long should my raised bed be?
You want to be able to reach the center of the bed from each side so in general the maximum recommended width is 120 cm. Anything wider means you would have to step on the bed to reach far inside which would compress the soil. The length of garden bed is more limited by the material than anything else. All of our garden beds have a max length of 200 cm to avoid outward bending of the frame.
Do you use any chemical wood preservatives on your garden bed frames or other pots and planters?
We use no chemical treatments on any of our products. Bamboo planters and terracotta planters are covered externally with thin layer of linseed oil to preserve the gloss. All of our gardening containers are safe to use for growing edibles and herbs.