When it comes to improving the fertility of soil, nothing is better than compost. The rich, organic matter adds needed humus to improve soil structure and water retention. It returns nutrients back to the soil that would otherwise end up in landfills. The enormous populations of microbes in compost help convert and move nutrients in the soil to plants so they can grow, reproduce and thrive. But even compost can use a little help from fertilizer, now and then. There are 3 key ways to use natural and organic fertilizers to amp up your compost and soil fertility.
First, fertilizers can help balance between the “greens” and “browns” in your compost and stimulate the right kind of microbial activity. Bacteria thrive on the sugars and simple carbohydrates in the fresh, nitrogen-rich green items in the pile – grass clippings, vegetable peelings, fresh weeds, etc. Fungi prefer the complex carbohydrates of dry, carbon-rich browns, like leaves, branches and other yard waste. Keeping these two ingredients in balance helps keep the microbes in balance, too. But at certain times of the year, the supply of brown materials tends to overwhelm the green supply. Organic fertilizer ingredients like molasses, alfalfa meal or wheat middlings can help supplement the greens in the pile by providing more of the sugars bacteria need to thrive.
A second use of fertilizer is to add essential plant nutrients directly into the pile as it is composting. While compost tends to be rich in nitrogen, it is often lacking in phosphorus and potassium. To achieve a more balanced macronutrient ratio, an application of steamed bone meal like NaturalPhos® can help pump up the phosphorus while potassium sulfate can augment with potassium. Adding trace minerals directly into the pile is beneficial, as well – it gives microbes a chance to start processing the minerals into plant-usable forms before they even get to the garden. Azomite® and kelp meal are great additions for delivering trace minerals directly into your compost. Thanks to the organic matter in the pile, you don’t have to worry about these nutrients leaching out before they get to your garden.
Finally, organic fertilizer feeds the microbes in your compost after they’ve used up their food supply in the pile. If the compost pile is heating up to the necessary 135-150F, it means that the bacteria and fungi are busy breaking down and consuming the carbohydrates they find. When compost is “finished” and ready to spread in the garden, most of the carbohydrates have been consumed, and the microbes are hungry for more. Carbohydrate-rich fertilizers like Garden Maker™ Naturals alfalfa meal,soybean meal, distillers grains and wheat middlings provide good nutrition for the microbes and an additional shot of nitrogen and organic matter for the soil. This is also an excellent time to add pre-formulated natural and organic fertilizers to help meet plants’ specific nutritional needs. When digging a planting hole, we recommend mixing your compost with some Garden Maker™ Naturals Terrific Tree & Shrub fertilizer for the best nutritional start for your trees or shrubs. For garden beds, lay down the compost first, then work some balanced N-P-K fertilizer like our Tasty Tomato or Superb Starter into the top couple of inches of soil to make good contact with the microbes. Feeding your soil microbes + feeding your plants = a fabulous, fertile garden!