Compost is an essential tool that we at Villa Finale use to care for our landscape. Compost is essentially an ecosystem in which materials go from raw organic matter to premium soil using the “circle of life.” We use compost to bring LIFE back into our soils and the plants they sustain. Healthy soils mean healthy plants, and healthy plants are much more resistant to infection, infestation, and disease.
In order to make compost you need FIVE basic ingredients: Carbon, Nitrogen, Moisture, Air and Heat. The Carbon comes from items such as brown leaves and wood chips. The Nitrogen comes from green vegetation such as grass clippings or raw vegetable scraps. We mix these items together in ratios to produce recipes for certain applications. We then add appropriate amounts of water or Moisture so that the naturally occurring microorganisms can prosper and do their job in breaking down the organic material. Air is introduced to the mixture so that the microorganisms can breathe and the process stays aerobic. We accomplish this in two ways: 1. by designing our compost bin so that the compost is exposed to as much air as possible. 2. By turning the compost. Bringing together all of the previous four items Heat naturally occurs.
In the way that we make compost at Villa Finale, there are three distinct phases that the compost goes through: Mesophilic, Thermophilic, and the Maturation Stage. During the Mesophilic Stage which occurs in the first couple days, temperatures quickly rise to 68-104 degrees. It is during this stage that the initial breakdown of difficult to digest materials occurs by all of the macro and microorganisms that are present. During the Thermophilic Stage, temperatures jump to between 135 and 155 degrees. Now only certain organisms can survive; they not only survive, they thrive. Complex carbohydrates are broken down and any pathogens are killed off along with seeds. Finally in the last stage, the Maturation Stage, temperatures drop back down to hover between 104 and 131 degrees. Now is when the decomposition of highly resistant organic matter like lignin is finished. This is also when the compost starts to impart that “earthy” smell and develop all of the major soil binding properties.
We use a number of different tools to control these stages and get the final product that we are looking for. Adding additional brown material, or Carbon, allows us to cool things down. This will also make the compost have a higher population of fungi since they are the major contributor to breaking down the harder to digest material. Having a larger ratio of Carbon will also start to impart a more acidic pH to the compost. Turning the compost and adding water to it will also cool down the temperatures. If we want to heat up the compost we can add additional green material, or Nitrogen. This will also result in the compost having a higher bacterial population, as well as start to give the compost a slightly more alkaline pH.
Here at Villa Finale we use compost in almost everything that we do horticulturally. We use compost in our potting soil and during transplanting. We use it to enhance our soils and to brew compost tea which we use for everything from an insecticide to foliar feeds. Compost truly is the foundation of our horticultural management plan.