Building sandy soil with insoluble compost, is better than soluble sprays
By Gregory Jackson, founder of Groundz
(Toledo Mayor D. Michael Collins toasts the City of Toledo and has a drink of water. Photo by Associated Press.)
A few weeks ago, Groundz published a piece about how the McGregor House is recycling hundreds of pounds per week of food waste for a celebrity chef.
This week 500,000 people could not drink water for three days because of microcystin levels, caused by algal blooms, likely contributed from fertilizer runoff of over 4 million acres of farmland that drain into the Maumee River. The sampling, which took two days to obtain results, was reported between 1.5 – 2.5 PPB (well above the World Health Organization standard of 1.0 PPB). On Monday, Toledo Mayor D. Michael Collins drank a glass of water assuring water is now safe to drink. The water is now safe to drink again, after being treated with powdered activated carbon.
In the Groundz article above it was reported that a downtown and lakefront landscaper in Cleveland believes that they are contributing to algal blooms because of MiracleGro25, a fertilizer spray to help flowers grow bigger in shallow, sandy, and rocky soils, but was considering using compost instead of spray prior to the drinking water ban in Toledo, Ohio.
“Building sandy soil with compost instead of MiracleGro is better for tons of reasons,” says Michael Weintraub, associate professor of soil sciences at the University Of Toledo Department Of Environmental Sciences. “Limiting nutrient runoff can be, but isn’t necessarily one of them.”
Ideal compost is a 3:1 ratio mix of non-food organic waste with food waste. For example, when Groundz recycles food waste for a celebrity chef for one week, over 2.1 cubic yards of food waste per month is recycled by mixing it with 24 cubic feet of Davey Tree wood/shrub and yard waste. For example, if you had five gallons of food waste you will need fifteen gallons of non-food waste as a cover: leaves, dried grass clippings, finished compost, soil, or dead plants.
While one can over fertilize with compost, Weintraub mentions two benefits of using compost over soluble fertilizers like MiracleGro.
“Due to their solubility, those are easily flushed out of the soil,” he says regarding spray-based fertilizers. “The nutrients in compost are often bound up in insoluble biological molecules – like nitrogen in protein – that are less easily leached out of the soil and are slowly released by microbial decomposition of the compost.” A natural time released fertilizer.
Another benefit of compost is it provides soil integrity. For instance, Groundz often recycles shells (egg shells, mussel shells). The benefit of mineral content in compost not only contributes to slow release mineral absorption by soil, but also structure: A previous shell may not have entirely broken down, thus it serves as “soil bulking” places where roots can grow, where soils can breathe, and improved drainage happens.
“Because compost has so many beneficial properties, though, people often succumb to the temptation to over fertilize with it, and at the point there is no benefit to the algae problem,” says Weintraub. Last month, Groundz visited CH4BioGas, the recycler of Campbell’s Soup waste, whose byproduct is compost. CH4BioGas recommends >25 percent application of compost.