Compost vs Fertiliser? What do you choose?
For every gardener, the battle to grow the biggest and best flowers, produce the tastiest crops or cultivate the perfect herb garden is ongoing.
Whether you have acres of land or are trying to nurture seedlings in small containers, having the right soil is so important.
This is why many green-fingered gardeners rely on soil enrichment to add the key nutrients and vitamins needed. But what do you choose? Compost or fertiliser?
There are pros and cons to both methods and in this article we break down the differences, similarities and give you the benefits and downsides of each product.
What is compost?
Most of us will be familiar with compost whether you’ve created your own in the past or simply bought it from a store. It is made from vegetable peelings, leaves, twigs, food scraps and even things like tissues and eggshells can be added into the mix.
Added together in the right quantities, you can create a nutrient-rich mixture which can be mixed into your soil or used to pot plants.
The usual way gardeners create compost is on a compost heap which is where leftover food is added to garden waste like grass clippings and piled together in one place in the garden. There are different compost bins you can get to help with this process.
You can buy a compost tumbler which has a crank handle so you can turn the bin and mix together the compostable material inside.
Another way to speed up the process is to invest in a hot composting bin. These are insulated and the added heat speeds up the rotting process so you get your compost quicker.
Benefits of compost
The biggest benefit of compost is that it is free. You can create it easily and cheaply without investing in expensive chemicals or additives.
While you may want to invest in a bin or construction to keep your compost in, this can be as expensive or as cheap as you want and it can also be made yourself from a few lengths of timber and a tarpaulin if you don’t want to spend much.
Composting can be started at any time of the year and even if you don’t have a backyard you can create compost in a bin in your kitchen.
It is organic and doesn’t have any man-made chemicals so you can rest assured that everything you’re putting on your flora and fauna will be 100% natural.
Downsides of compost
Compostable items can take months to break down so it is not a fast way to get a soil additive. Although you can use worms to speed things up, a process called vermicomposting, you will still be waiting around three months to get the first properly rotted batch of compost.
It can also be a difficult job to make sure your compost heap is mixed properly as if you add too much of one thing it can throw the balance off and alter the pH level.
Because compost is made from leftover food and vegetable peelings, the heap or pile you create will smell. There are things you can do to reduce this smell, charcoal filters in the lid or aeration holes in an outside bin, but you will have to put up with the fact that composting is a smelly business.
As the heap smells, you may also find it attracts pests. Rats, mice and even foxes can be enticed into your garden by the smell of leftover food. There are steps you can take to limit the risk of pests gathering around your compost pile such as buying an airtight bin and covering your heap over.
The other downside of compost is the spread of disease. If you use cuttings or grass clippings from your garden, you may have inadvertently included some organic materials which have a plant disease.
When you spread this compost on new plants, you could infect them with this disease without realising which could be harmful to new foliage.
What is fertiliser?
Fertilisers are a mass-produced product which contains minerals including nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus.
These fertilisers can boost plants and help them grow strongly by adding them at routine times. You can also buy different blends to suit the different types of plants you want to grow.
Benefits of fertiliser
Fertiliser is a very accurate way of gardening. Using a fertiliser, you know exactly how much and how strong the level of nutrients you are adding is.
The products can be watered down or used at full concentration depending on the level of nutrients you need.
Used properly, it can greatly increase the amount of fruit and vegetables produced. This is crucial as the demand for food globally increases and there is a smaller amount of land to use for farming.
Downsides of fertiliser
A fertiliser is a man-made chemical which means it has an impact on the environment. The fertiliser can enter the water system and be washed into rivers and lakes. This process, called eutrophication, can affect fish and other wildlife living in our waterways.
Chemical fertilisers are created by using acids and alkalis so they affect the pH balance of the soil. They also rely on petroleum which is a non-renewable source so it can damage the environment in the long term and is not sustainable.
So, there you have it. If you’re struggling to decide whether to use fertiliser or compost on your new plants then hopefully you have found this article helpful.
While compost is a natural, cheap and organic way to enrich your soil there are downsides such as the space you need to create the compost, smell, pests and the risk of diseases spreading and contaminating new plants.
With fertiliser, it is an accurate, disease-free way to enrich the soil but it is man-made and the chemicals used can affect other plants or even wildlife adversely.
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