How to Use Compost

Compost is the most beneficial soil addition available for your plants. It provides plants with much needed nutrients and helps to improve soil composition. However, this valuable soil component can be used for more than just gardens.

Compost can easily be used for indoor plants, outdoor potted plants, and around trees and shrubs. Doing so helps to keep your plants healthy and vibrant, but there is a special method you must use when adding compost to these plants.

Using Compost for Indoor Plants

Before using compost on indoor plants, you need to be sure that your compost is completely ready. It should be dark and have a soil-like smell. It should be mostly broken down and crumble easily. If it is not ready, then you will need to wait to use your compost on your indoor plants. You should also only use compost on established house plants, meaning that they should not still be seedlings.

To use compost on your indoor plants, add about an inch of compost to the pot. Mix this into the top one to two inches of the topsoil. You can repeat this process every year when you repot the plant.

Using Compost for Outdoor Potted Plants/Containers

Container plants can also benefit greatly from the use of compost. To create a mix for your potted containers, use one part compost, one part perlite, one part sharp sand, and one part good soil.  Just be sure that the compost is mature to avoid burning the plants’ stems or roots.

Using Compost for Trees and Shrubs

You can also use compost on your outdoor trees and shrubs. To do this, spread about one or two inches of compost over the topsoil around the tree or shrub, starting about six inches from the trunk. You can add mulch if you choose but you don’t have to mix this in. Worms will help to meld the compost into the soil over time.

How Much Compost Should You Use?

Composting can be a wonderful hobby to take on, but for many, it is also a way of life. Using the compost process is excellent for your lawn and for the Earth. Capable of suppressing plant disease, improving soil structure, and degrading specific pollutants, compost is used by gardeners all over the world in order to practice a positive, environmentally friendly way of gardening.

While composting is extremely beneficial, it is an intricate process that requires just as much time, knowledge, and skill as other gardening practices. One question many gardeners ask is how much compost they should use. This can be a tricky question because it usually depends on its use and the characteristics of the native soil.

The amount needed can vary, and while adding any amount will be beneficial, there is an amount within a fairly broad range which will yield optimum benefits. For example, new lawns, established lawns, and gardens that are both new and established require different amounts of compost. There are various ways to determine how much compost you’ll need, but the first factor you have to consider is the area of the soil you’ll be amending with compost.

In your garden, for example, if you plan on using 1 cubic foot bags, one good rule of thumb to determine the proper coverage rate is to multiply the length by the width of your garden to calculate the area. Next, take the area and divide it by 10 to find the minimum number of bags you’ll need. Double that number of bags if you have particularly high clay or sand content. Let’s say you have built a 4 foot by 8 foot raised bed garden and filled it with topsoil or commercial potting mix. Adding 3 bags of compost will make a dramatic difference in your results. If you are using poorer soil for your initial fill of the bed, you could add 6-8 bags for the best benefit.

Also, in general, it’s ideal to mix your compost deep enough that the roots of your plants will be surrounded by the mixed soil and compost. This can be done with a rototiller or with a hand rake, scrabler, or cultivator.

For established lawns, spreading a layer of about 1/4 inch will give good results, although an inch or more would not be too much. Although there are machines made to top dress lawns with compost, an easy way is to hand broadcast with a standard round-pointed shovel.

Be sure to measure the area you need to amend with compost, and talk to a local nursery or compost professional to make sure you use the proper amount for your specific lawn or garden. By knowing a few general guidelines such as these to base your amounts on, you’ll not go wrong.

Does Organic Gardening Really Differ from Regular Gardening?

With most aspects, organic gardening is not much different than regular gardening. Just like regular gardening, organic gardening requires you to plan your garden layout, plan what plants you will use, and prepare the land. However, there are a few differences in organic gardening that you should be aware of, especially if you plan to make an attempt to try it out this gardening season.

One of the main differences between organic gardening and regular gardening is found with the materials you use to nourish your plants. With regular gardening, items like fertilizers and pesticides are used. These are effective in helping plant growth for the planting season, but after years of continued use, chemical fertilizers can break down the soil’s composition, making planting more difficult. Additionally, pesticides will require you to wash your vegetables thoroughly before eating them, and sadly, this does not guarantee that you will not be ingesting harmful chemicals.

Organic gardening, however, uses the elements of Mother Nature to care for your garden. In place of fertilizers, you use things like mulch, compost, wood chips, grass cuttings, saw dust, and leaves. These items will break down over time and nourish your garden and the soil that your plants will grow in the following year.

While you can place these items directly on your garden, it does take time for these items to break down. Many gardeners choose to place these items in a compost pile. A compost pile can be made up of anything that is natural and will break down into nutrients. This can include vegetable scraps and even manure. Starting your compost early can help ensure that you have ready-to-use nutrients for your plants to help them grow this season.

Another difference between organic gardening and regular gardening is the lack of pesticides involved. Many gardeners become worried that by spraying or dusting their produce, they will not be able to remove all of the pesticides. This means that the pesticides can make their way into the digestive system. Pesticides have been linked to numerous health conditions and this is the main reason that organic gardeners choose to steer clear of these chemicals.

What is the Difference Between Compost and Fertilizer?

If you are a new gardener, you may not be familiar with the differences between compost and fertilizers. This can lead to a great deal of confusion when browsing the gardening aisle at the store. If you plan on gardening in the future, understanding these differences can be extremely important.

In the simplest terms, fertilizers feed plants. Compost feeds the soil. While this may not sound like it makes a very big difference, it really can make a big impact on the future of your garden and its soil, and there is actually a difference.

Fertilizers do add nutrients to the soil. However, the ingredients are focused on meeting the needs of the plants. Fertilizers have been shown to actually prevent the growth of microbes needed to keep the soil healthy. This throws the soil’s chemistry out of balance and can actually lead to breakdown of the soil food web, especially if used year after year. The impact can be even worse if chemical fertilizers are used instead of organic fertilizers.

Compost, unlike fertilizers, actually promotes healthy microbe growth within the soil. It feeds the soil food web and increases the health of the natural soil. Over time, this creates a more nutrient rich soil that is beneficial for the plants and vegetables that you place in it. This is because compost is actually made up of microscopic fungi and bacteria. Other organisms like crickets and earthworms are also present in compost, which further benefits the soil. The end result is soil that allows the plants and vegetables to feed themselves.

Composting also helps the soil retain much needed moisture, and research has also shown that composting can also assist in enhancing the disease resistance of some plants, like tomatoes and vegetables. This can reduce the amount of crops you lose to disease, which often leads to wasted expenses.

Fertilizer and compost can be used together. However, it is important that you remember how fertilizer can affect the future composition of your soil. If you do choose to use fertilizer, it is recommended that you stick to organic fertilizer or only use it for the short term.

Tools You’ll Need for Your Spring Garden

Spring is here, and you know what that means! It’s time for gardening. Any gardening project can be a highly rewarding project. However, if this is your very first garden, you may not be familiar with the types of tools you need. Learning about the basic tools you need can increase your chances of having a successful garden the first time around.

Know What You Need Before You Start

Before you purchase any gardening tools, you need to consider the size of your lawn, the size of your garden, and the types of items you will be planting. These factors will determine the types of tools that you will need for your specific project.

Tools that Will Always Come in Handy

If you are going to be planting a garden that will need regular weeding, it is essential that you purchase a weeder. Weeders can remove weeds quickly and easily so that you don’t have to spend hours breaking your back or risk leaving behind any roots. These are designed with two-part prongs that are placed between the weed and root, and then you can press down on the handle and pull the weed out.

A garden scoop is important if you will be planting bulbs inside of soft soil or using planters within your garden. This allows you to quickly and easily move soil or potting mix from one place to the other. Also, a pressed fork is a three-pronged garden tool that is used for cultivating and weeding. It rakes the surface of soft soil, and then pulls out small or surface-rooted weeds.

You’ll also need a soil knife, which looks very similar to a kitchen knife. It can be used for planting seeds and bulbs in a small hole or narrow area. Examples would be areas close to walls or close to garden barriers. Additionally, you’ll need a trowel, which looks very similar to a small shovel. Trowels are amazing tools for digging, potting, repotting, and planting.

All of these tools are valuable items for cultivating your garden. Just keep in mind that any garden tools you purchase should be made of stainless steel to prevent rusting and to increase the longevity of use. Stock up on these basic supplies and you’ll be ready to go this spring.

More Common Composting Terms

Last week, we tried to provide you with a few basic composting terms that are common knowledge to the average composter. The idea was to help relay this introductory information to you if you are new to the world of composting, or if you know someone who is interested, but who is having a hard time grasping what it’s all about.

In order to break down the scientific process of composting and explain it to someone who may be unfamiliar with it, it helps to start by learning these common terms. So, if you’re ready for another round of common composting terms, grab a pen and start taking notes. As you learn more and more about the process, you’ll be on your way to composting in no time.

1. Bulking Agent– Typically plays a role in carbon source, and is used as an additive in compost to promote quality air flow. Generally refers to materials like wood chips.

2. Curing– Think of this as a final “step” in composting. It is the last stage of the process that allows for the stabilization and reduction of pathogens. Most importantly, it further promotes the decomposition process.

3. Humus– Combined with inorganic soil parts, humus is a collection or mass of lignin, proteins, and cellulose, and is considered the life of your soil. It supports and sustains your soil’s quality as you compost.

4. Mature Compost– The product of composting, mature compost is the result of decomposition. When it is considered “mature,” this means it is sanitized and in the process of becoming stabilized.

5. Pathogen– Sound familiar? This one takes you right back to science class, right? In the world of composting, a pathogen is considered an organism that is capable of producing disease and infection in a host. This organism includes protozoa, viruses, bacteria, and fungi.

6. Windrow Composting– A type of composting that involves placing organic matter and biodegradable waste in windrows, or long rows. Naturally aerated by mechanical turning or forced aeration, windrow composting is a common method used to produce generous amounts of compost material.

Common Composting Terms that Everyone Should Know

Whether you are new to the practice of composting or you are a seasoned composting pro, attempting to understand or relay basic composting information can be a challenge. This is partly due to the contradiction we often hear when talking about the process of composting.

We often hear that it is an easy process and that it sounds much more complicated than it really is, yet any veteran composting pro would be happy to tell you why it is, in fact, more intricate than many people lead you to believe. So, what’s the verdict? Is it a confusing process, or is it something almost anyone can grasp if they simply do their homework?

The answer is: composting is certainly for everyone. The more individuals that compost, the better. It is not only an excellent way to restore land and eliminate contaminants in soil, but it is an eco-friendly practice overall in that it helps to reduce organics going to landfills. Many people may be interested in learning how to compost, only to be later thwarted by intimidating terms and scientific processes they cannot understand.

If you find yourself wanting to learn about the basics of composting or you would like a few simple terms to reference to when you are trying to relay the basics to someone who is new to the process, here are a few common terms that anyone who is interested in composting should know.

Compost– A mixture of a combination of decaying organic material such as vegetation and manure, which is carefully managed, then used to improve soil and support plant growth.

Aerobic– In the presence of oxygen. Within the context of composting, it means providing air to the composting materials in order to encourage oxygen-loving bacteria, which results in efficient and clean processing.

Anaerobic– In the absence of oxygen. Anaerobic decomposition is slow and odoriferous.

Biodegradation– The process through which microorganisms break down a material into a lower, and ultimately more stable, form.

Aerated Static Pile Composting– A composting method in which the materials being composted are aerated by drawing air through the pile rather than by turning the material to expose it to air.

Compost Pad– A designated area, usually made of asphalt or soil cement, where organic materials are processed. This area is found within the composting site itself.

Before You Begin Composting

If you are interested in composting, you are on the right track to contributing to an eco-friendly practice that gives back to the Earth. The composting process as a whole requires managing decomposition of organic material, and understanding how to foster that process would take much more than a few paragraphs to explain. That being said, if you are just starting out and want to learn how to begin composting, there are a few basic things you will need to know if you want to get started in the right direction.

First and foremost, before you begin, you’ll need to make sure that if you are going to compost, that you are set up to do so. This means familiarizing yourself with the proper factors that are required for successful composting, and understanding that composting is a process that requires management for a lengthy period of time.

Establish a Location for Your Composting System

Composting will require you to set up a workable system that will allow you to oversee and manage the process over a period of time. Whether you utilize an enclosed composting bin or you build an open bin from wood pallets in your backyard, you will need a designated area to manage the process. Where you place your system will depend on the function of the compost, and you may want to factor in the appearance of the bin as well.

Control the material input, Moisture, and Aeration

Once you establish a location for your compost system, you will need to learn how to achieve the right carbon to nitrogen ratio (C/N), how to determine the correct moisture, and how you will properly aerate the pile in order to foster the process. While you may not learn these specifics over night, you can at least familiarize yourself with a few basic requirements.

A C/N ratio of 25-35 will maximize composting efficiency. Carbon feedstock (browns) includes sawdust, cardboard, dry leaves and cornstalks. Nitrogen feedstocks (greens) include food waste, grass clippings, and manure. So, for example, if you were to mix one part dry leaves with three parts food, you would have an ideal mix.

Next, you’ll need to check moisture content to make sure you’re not adding to much or too little water. You can build a roof to cover your pile to help manage the effect of rain. Ideally, a moisture content of 40 to 60 percent by weight supports the success of the composting process. This can be easily determined by squeezing a fistful of your material. It should have the wetness of a wrung-out sponge, in that you should be able to form drops of water on the surface, but not release more than a few drops. Add water if too wet, or bulking material such as sawdust if too wet.

Turning your pile to ensure proper ventilation is also critical to the process. Increased temperature is the result of the aerobic respiration taking place within the pile. You’ll need to achieve temperatures of around 110 degrees Fahrenheit to demonstrate that aerobic metabolism is taking place, and 131 to 150 degrees Fahrenheit for the full range aerobic bacteria to be involved in the process. While learning to turn correctly cannot be summed up in a few short sentences, there is a general rule of thumb to help you monitor the aeration. If temperatures are low and odors are present, the process has become anaerobic, as aerobic digestion doesn’t smell. If your C/N ratio is good and your moisture level is in range, then you need to get more air to the pile, so it is time to turn.

Before you attempt to compost, understand that factors such as these will come into play as you manage the decomposition of organic material.

The Benefits of Composting

As soil quality continues to deplete, composting becomes more popular and essential. With the increased use, the benefits of composting have become more measurable and evident. Many of these benefits go well beyond the immediate benefits of a lush, green garden or yard. In fact, the best benefits of composting are long-lasting.

Improved Physical Structure

For growing, soil must possess an optimal physical structure. Dense soils make the planting process more difficult. These dense soils can also stunt plant growth, and in some cases, even make it impossible. Sandy soils can make root formation very difficult for plants. Composting, on the other hand, changes the soil’s physical structure.

For both soil types, composting can add the needed structure to planting soil. This results in a reduction of erosion, increased water permeability, and soil workability. As a result, plants are able to achieve proper root formation, proper growth, and water retention.

Plant Diseases

Studies have shown that an increase in specific microorganisms found in compost can reduce diseases in plants. Diseases like pythium, fusarium, and nematodes have been reduced in plants that have been planted in composted soil. Protection from these diseases results in increased plant fruit production and a decrease in plant death.

Soil Contaminates

Soil contaminates can create dangerous living conditions for more than just plants. Heavy metals, like lead, can seep into water sources and pipes, causing increased lead inside the home. This can have serious health complications, especially for children.

According to studies, compost has the ability to bind these contaminants. While research is still being conducted, there is indication that replacing native soil with compost may reduce the level of contaminants found within the soil.


Wetland areas have suffered dramatically from a decrease in native plants. In recent efforts, wetlands have undergone restoration with compost soils. The characteristics of the compost soils have been found to closely resemble the characteristics of wetland soils. These restoration efforts have led to a reestablishment of native wetland plants.

Composting can provide numerous benefits to plants, soils, people, and our planet. While there is still much to be learned about composting and its benefits, research continues to prove that it is well worth the efforts.


Founder and Owner of Fern Hill Compost, Peter Spalding, has proudly announced the grand opening of his new e-commerce sales and distribution Internet website,

Compost provides gardeners with organic, environmentally friendly, safe, and chemically balanced soil amendment. The process utilized by Fern Hill Compost is aerated static pile composting with periodic re-mixing. This is a managed process that takes months to complete, but the benefits can clearly be seen in the quality of the finished product.

Introducing compost into the soil enhances any garden, tree, shrub, turf, or houseplant. Properly manufactured compost can transform poor soil into nutrient rich black loam, making it useable for planting. It can loosen dense clay soils, allowing plants to experience better root penetration, increase the soil’s ability to retain water, and add valuable slow-release nutrients that the plant needs to grow. Fern Hill Compost takes organic matter and coverts it into the form of a high quality soil amendment containing valuable nutrients, and is free of weed seeds, pathogens, and heavy metals.

Spalding points out that the process used to create most commercially available compost is the “turned windrow” method. This method takes longer, is energy intensive, is unable to sustain aerobic conditions, often does not achieve pathogen-kill temperatures, and due to it taking place outdoors, often suffers from inoculation by wind-born weed seeds. Fern Hill Compost uses covered concrete cells with forced aeration built into the floors.  “What we do,” Spalding says, “is create an environment where the naturally occurring aerobic bacteria can thrive to efficiently convert the raw organic material into compost. This aerobic digestion generates enough heat to raise pile temperatures to over 150 degrees Fahrenheit, which effectively pasteurizes it.”

The other key element to the success of Fern Hill Compost is the feed stock for the composting process. ” We use only the stall cleanings from horses. I run a container service for select equine operations, and pick up manure weekly to feed into the compost facility” Spalding says.

For more information about the best composting product available, you can find the Fern Hill Compost Products web page at You may also contact retailers such as Regional Market in Syracuse, Ontario Orchards in Oswego, Wayside Farms in Wolcott, Grandpa’s Nursery in Sodus, Sunshine Produce in Fulton, and Adirondack Mulch and Stone in Ontario. Dealer inquiries are also welcomed.