From: Amy Hengst, Matter Network, More from this Affiliate
Published October 5, 2009 09:11 AM

Forget Fertilizers: Energy Efficient Gardening Using Compost

Most gardening books and common wisdom recommend adding fertilizers to soil regularly to help ensure that plants get the major nutrients they need. But Earl Boyd with Lyngso Garden Materials says that adding fertilizer amendments to soil can actually disrupt the balance of nutrients in the soil and destroy trace minerals.

A healthy soil can help plants thrive and exchange nutrients. Fertilizers won’t kill plants, but they won’t support healthy soils either, Boyd said. His company sells a range of composts, mulch, granite and other products for environmentally sustainable gardening, most of which is produced locally in the San Francisco Bay Area.

"Soil fertility is a whole system," agreed Jason Diestel, of Diestel Turkey Ranch, which provides premium compost for Lyngso Garden Materials and other landscapers.

A good quality compost can improve the soil far more than other amendments by making it more porous, and balancing the nutrients so that plants can thrive over a longer time. In clay soils like those found around the San Francisco Bay area, adding compost can break up clay so that water can penetrate into the earth, while losing less moisture from run-off.

A healthy soil also allows beneficial insects, earthworms and other creatures to crawl around and work the soil, which opens it up and allows more air to flow through. In turn, this aeration allows the soil to hold more water. This means that people don’t need to water their lawns and gardens as often.

Better water retention translates to improving energy efficiency around the house. It can cool down the home, and help balance temperatures in the yard. This energy efficiency savings is one aspect of getting a home or building LEED-certified, but it’s beneficial even to consumers who don’t need to think about earning points with for LEED.

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Compost can also provide a time and money-saving benefit, by "healing" the soil over time so that fewer amendments are needed as the years go by, Diestel said. In contrast, those who use fertilizers may end up needing to add the same amount or more over time as their soils are depleted of minerals.

Boyd said the only amendment he recommends to most home gardeners is to add a good compost at the end of the year and a good mulch to help the soil retain moisture.

Not all composts are the same, Diestel explained. For example, city composts created from residents’ yard clippings generally contain large sticks and materials that are clearly not broken down all the way, meaning that the compost doesn’t have as many nutrients available to plants. Cities often don’t let their compost break down all the way, because they’re trying to process such a large volume of material produced by residents. Curbside collection can also get contaminated by junk that people throw in their yard waste containers, Diestel said.

This article was reproduced with the kind permission of Matter Network.

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