Ideal Compost

Why Use Compost?

In the thirty years since we launched Ideal Compost Co., the use of compost has spread. More and more people, you among them, know how effective compost is at helping plants grow.

Not so long ago, there was less understanding of why compost was so effective. We could see that compost helped plants to thrive, and besides, there was all that micro-life in compost: fungi, bacteria, nematodes, protozoa. Millions of them per teaspoon of soil, we were told. Compost teems with life. That in itself was fascinating.

But back then, compost was widely seen as just a soil conditioner, a way to improve drainage and soil texture. In the soil science of conventional agriculture, the basic nutrients of nitrogen, potassium and phosphorous are most important. Compost rates poorly in terms of nutrients, and cannot even come close to matching the nutrient content of synthetic fertilizers.

So back then, compost fit poorly into how we understood soils and plant growth. Soil functions to hold plants up, conventional soil science told us. Plants absorb through their roots the nutrients we supply as chemical fertilizers. It turns out that it is more complex than that.

Now, we have a better picture of how the life in soil, all those critters, relate to each other and to plants, and how plant roots depend on their activity for growth. Microbiologists, with their improved microscopes linked to their computers, can now identify what types of micro-life are in a sample of soil and how many. They can observe interactions between microbes and the roots of plants.

Some of their discoveries are astonishing. For example, we now know that some plants use around half of the energy that they get from sunlight not directly for their own growth, but instead for producing root exudates which will attract to them just the type of nutrient-supplying microorganism they need to grow.

For another, we know now that the bridge between plant roots and microorganisms is about a tenth of an inch wide. Mychorrizal Planet, by Michael Phillips, from Chelsea Green Publishing, 2017, gives a fascinating picture of recent discoveries and how farmers and gardeners can put them to use to improve their soil by leaps and bounds..

Compost is a great material for inoculating your soil with micro-life. More and more people see its value. Its use is becoming a mainstream practice.

An organic farmer customer tells us that he's beginning to see his primary task in growing vegetables to be one of farming for microorganisms, making conditions right for just the right kinds to flourish so that his plants will thrive.

An arborist called us to arrange delivery of 75 yards of compost to spread in a 2" layer under old maples and oaks which had been stressed during a construction project. His goal was to rejuvenate the lifeless soil around the trees with microorganisms from the compost.

So what is the value of compost? Like nothing else, compost provides what plants need in order to grow the way they were designed by nature to grow, in a complex relationship with the life in soil.

Soils in New England typically are relatively dead. They lack organic matter, both live and residual, and can have a hard time holding onto moisture. Maybe compost is not a cure-all for our soils, but it comes close to it.

We look forward to hearing from you this growing season.

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Ideal Compost     439 Old Greenfield Road     Peterborough, NH    03458     603.924.5050