by Patrick Geraty
Recently, the Nobel Committee awarded its 2007 Peace Prize to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and to former U.S. Vice President Al Gore for their efforts to counteract man-made climate change. According to the Nobel Foundation, climate change may lead to greater competition for the earth’s resources resulting in “increased danger of violent conflicts.” Theories of global warming aside, it appears you can contribute to world peace by using less of a precious natural resource – water. Better yet, by using compost, you can do so without sacrificing a robust, hardy lawn or garden.
The porous and crumbly qualities of compost make it the perfect soil supplement. Compost assists in optimizing soil’s moisture retention while allowing necessary moisture drainage from around plant roots. A quick Internet search produces numerous studies showing compost’s ability to retain water. Although many theories exist as to how compost helps, the results are consistent – soil blended with compost is better able to retain moisture when the weather is dry and permit excess water to pass through the soil when the weather is wet – slowly releasing nutrients over a sustained period.
In its most basic form, compost consists of decayed organic matter (leaves, grass clippings, floral debris, food and animal bedding, to name a few) that contain minerals and nutrients needed for healthy plant growth. When properly composted, the material will be heated until pathogens and weed seeds are killed. Blended with soil, compost will slowly release nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, sulfur and a variety of microorganisms essential for plant growth. In some instances, compost’s nutritive value may reduce the need for fertilizer by as much as 50 percent.
The porous characteristic of compost gives it the ability to hold its own weight and more in moisture. Moisture retention results in a less significant loss of nutrients due to leaching and provides a greater moisture resource during dry periods. Compost’s moisture retention also helps protect against wind erosion as moist soil weighs more than dry soil, making it harder to disturb.
Compost also improves the structure of soil and resists compaction. The dense nature of compacted soil makes root growth and water and air flow more difficult. Compost added to soil helps create pathways in which air, moisture and root systems can move more easily. Thus, a compost-soil blend will have less runoff during a heavy rain because the water will have a place to drain. And, as water seeps deeper into soil, the root systems of plants follow, fostering hardier plants.
Compost applied on top of soil provides other benefits as it conserves water. An important one is that it provides a barrier to the harshest elements of Mother Nature. Applied as a top dressing, it acts as an insulator, keeping the surface cooler on scorching days and blanketing the soil beneath it on chilly days to help moderate soil temperature at the root zone.
Whether your goal is to have the best lawn on the block, win a blue ribbon for the most glorious head of broccoli or to be a good steward of the earth’s natural resources, compost can help! Compost adds the missing texture, structure and nutrients that a lawn or garden needs to flourish. And in the future, as you create your beautiful, drought tolerant oasis feel all the more accomplished knowing that in addition to saving time and resources, you are contributing to world peace.