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Composting, Fertilizer

Compost vs. Fertilizers: What’s the Difference?

4 min read

Compost or fertilizer — which one is best for your garden? If you are new to gardening, you may not realize that there are some significant differences between the two when it comes to creating a healthy environment for your plants.

Read on to learn which side of the fence you stand on in the compost vs. fertilizer battle.​

Definition of Compost

Compost is the result of various decaying organic substances — think manure and dead leaves —being mixed together. Once formed, compost works to feed the soil.​

Definition of Fertilizer

Fertilizer vs. Compost

Fertilizer is one of a large number of natural and synthetic materials, which can include manure, nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium compounds. It can be spread onto or worked into the soil as a means of supporting plant growth.​

Advantages of Using Compos​t

Compost, or black gold as it is sometimes referred to, offers many benefits to gardeners. For example, Compost can:​

  • Promote healthy microbe growth within the soil.
  • Feed the entire soil food web, which in turn enhances the health of natural soil.
  • Create a more nutrient-rich soil that enables plants and vegetables to feed themselves.
  • Deliver crickets and earthworms to the soil, with these organisms providing their own unique benefits.
  • Aerate soil and enable it to retain moisture thanks to improved drainage and water retention.
  • Assist in the resistance against disease for tomatoes and various types of vegetables.
  • Control weeds.

Disadvantages of Using Compost

Time is the main drawback of compost, if you are planning to make your own. It is important to bear in mind that you may have to wait a few months for homemade compost to become effective, as matter takes a while to decay.​

Another thing to remember when making your compost is to never add plant remnants containing soil-borne pathogens to the mixture. Doing so can cause an infestation in healthy plants.​

How to Make Your Own Compost

If you would like to make your own compost, here’s how to do it using a self-assembly bin:​

What You Need​

  • ​A piece of carpet, polyethylene, or tarpaulin
  • Coarse draining material (such as straw or twigs)
  • Fresh manure and soil
  • Garden waste
  • Water (if necessary — see below)

The Method

  1. ​Apply 10cm (four inches) of coarse material to the bottom of the self-assembly bin.
  2. Apply 15cm (six inches) of garden waste, in alternate layers of different materials to create a sandwich.
  3. If the arrangement is very dry, add some water while applying the garden waste.
  4. Add some critical mass to the mixture, as compost needs to heat up in order to work properly. To do this, sprinkle some manure or soil on top of each — this will bring bacteria and fungi into the arrangement, which will get to work breaking down organic material.
  5. Cover the mixture with a piece of carpet or tarpaulin.
  6. Leave for around three months, then uncover the mixture and remove the compost. Put it straight back in again and leave for another three months (this process may seem unnecessary but it’s an effective method for adding air to the mixture).
  7. After another three months, your compost should be brown in color, crumbly to touch, and sweet to smell. If this is the case, then it will be ready to be used in your garden.

Advantages of Using Fertilizer

One of the key benefits of fertilizer is that it adds nutrients to the soil. The fact that fertilizer specifically targets a plant’s needs is another advantage, as it enables them to grow much faster.

Fertilizer helps alleviate certain deficiencies in your plants. It can enrich plants that are lacking in micronutrients or macronutrients like calcium, potassium, magnesium, or phosphorus?

There are different variants of fertilizer available to you too. Choose fast-release fertilizer to instantly provide plants with nutrition or select slow-release fertilizer to give nutrition to your plants over an extended period of time. Pellets are a popular example of the latter.​

Disadvantages of Using Fertilizer​

Fertilizer does have the following drawbacks, which you must consider before making a purchase:​

  • There is a risk that fertilizer will overload soil with nutrients.
  • The chemicals found in fertilizer can upset the soil’s symbiotic relationship with microbes.
  • Overuse of fertilizer and the chemicals found in it may harm the surrounding environment.
  • The risks of the chemicals are heightened further if they work their way into nearby bodies of water.

Final Verdict: Compost or Fertilizer?

As we have established, there are various pros and cons when it comes to both compost and fertilizer.​

The main case for fertilizer is that it works to quickly amend the soil with the aim of growing healthy plants. However, bear in mind that fertilizer is made up of synthetic chemicals.​

On the other side of the coin, compost is organic and also cheaper than fertilizer — even more so if you make your own. Just be prepared to be patient if you opt for homemade compost.​

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