Welcome to our new ‘Gardening Basics’ series where each week we will take you through the questions we asked when we were first introduced to the world of gardening. First up, we’re looking at where compost comes from and how to use it in your garden…
To the untrained eye, soil and compost might appear exactly the same: brown, crumbly material found in the garden. Both are essential for creating a healthy, organic garden but each offer different nutrients and values.
So what is the difference between compost and soil?
Essentially, soil is a long, natural process and compost is a quicker process. Composting, although a natural process, is a way that we can speed up the earth’s natural process of creating matter. Both contribute to the health of our natural environment and should be used in any garden.
Compost vs Soil
Compost is the nutrition that allows plants to thrive. It’s a combination of decaying natural materials, oxygen, bacteria and water that breaks down over a period of weeks or months, depending on the amount of decaying matter, to produce the nutrition-rich materials. The compost is usually added as a top layer to soil to keep plants fed. This aids the natural components of soil bind or retain water, depending on their properties.
Soil is the top layer of the earth and is made from natural materials including sand, clay, silt and the organic materials found below the earth. The process of life cycle of soil takes years as it considers up to 1,000 years of air, water, rock, animal life and natural decay all into its material. As a result, soil adapts with ecological change so there are thousands of variations that you will find: the most common natural soils are clay, sandy, silk and loam.
How do I know what kind of soil I have?
- Silt Soil: possibly the most fertile soil, silt soil is light and retains and drains moisture effectively. However, as the particles are so fine, large quantities of rain can wash away soil easy, so by adding additional compost, the silk particles are ‘sewn’ together to create staple clumps that can withstand harsh weather extremities.
- Sandy Soil: light, warm and dry, sandy soil has a high proportion of sand and little clay, giving it quick water drainage.
- Clay Soil: made from 25% clay, it’s not much of a surprise that clay soil is heavy, wet and cold. It drains slowly and takes a long time to heat in the summer, making it difficult to use in all gardens.
- Loam Soil: the combination of sand, silk and clay counteract each other in this soil to make it fertile and easy to drain. As a result, this is often known as a ‘gardener’s best friend’. Even loam soil will need topping up with organic matter (your compost) to keep it healthy
Soil alone is often not enough to grow your garden and compost is then added to give it a fresh layer of nutrients and speed up growth.
Why should I grow my own compost?
Most gardening aisles will sell compost: ready-made compost that can be piled into your car and instantly used in your garden. But, ‘bagged’ or ‘bought’ compost cannot compete with the nutritional value of home-grown, organic compost. If you consider the amount of time it took for the bought compost to grow, then to be bagged and shipped to the shops, it could be weeks or months. Then, upon purchase it’s still unlikely that you will use all of it on a single sunny afternoon. These bags become more dense over time, letting the nutrients leak as they become moist from damp in their plastic bags.
Homemade compost relieves you of this problem as it is always kept in a sturdy container that can withstand damp. By growing your own, you also have the satisfaction of knowing exactly what is in your compost: no nasty chemicals, pesticides or damaging properties and it’s better for the environment. There was no single-use plastic waste, a smaller carbon emission trail and it keeps your food waste out of the landfill.
So how do I grow my own compost to add to my soil?
Composting is far easier than you might have guessed as it is simply a result of natural decay, but there are different types of composting, depending on the space you have and the amount of waste you have. An easy one-size-fits-all composting technique is to use a Bokashi Bin that can be placed indoors to collect any food scraps.
Anyone with limited outdoor space can still compost using a Bokashi Bin. Simply assemble your bin using the instructions provided; throw any leftovers you have into the Bokashi Bin- including meat and dairy products. Then cover the leftovers with the Bokashi Bran and push the contents of your Bokashi Bin down using the ‘push tool’ in the pack. The bin will need draining every once in a while, just open the tap and place a container underneath to collect the drained juice. If you have outdoor space, you can then add your compost after around two weeks of decay to your outdoor composter to complete the process.
Composting Top Tip: Dilute the drained juices with water using the ratio 1:100 and use as a natural fertiliser for your plants.
If you have outdoor space, composting is quick and simple: simply lift the windproof lid and drop your waste into the composting bin. The Blackwall Compost Converter retains heat and moisture, creating an ideal breeding ground for quality compost. Once the process is complete, use the wide hatch at the base to remove your compost. The Blackwall composters are also made from recycled plastic and carbon footprint-certified, so it minimises the environmental impact of composting at every opportunity.
Download our ‘Composting Guide for Beginners’ for more information on how to compost depending on your garden’s needs.