Compost is becoming increasingly popular as it can greatly assist plants in reaching their full potential. This is why it is known as the ‘black gold’ of gardeners and cannabis growers alike. At a fundamental level, all composting is a process through which organic materials are decomposed in a controlled way to produce matter that can be used to return nutrients to the soil. Adding compost to your soil is really beneficial as it improves water retention, drainage, and ventilation; it provides nutrients, and increases the biological activity of the organisms that inhabit it.
The demand for cannabis from natural and healthy sources is continually increasing. The flavors of organic cannabis are of much higher quality than those of cannabis grown using synthetic fertilizers and other chemical additives, because traces of these can sometimes be found in the dry and cured cannabis flowers, especially if the roots have not been properly flushed before harvesting.
Homemade compost is by far the simplest way to obtain a purely organic crop. The truth is that nature itself offers us excellent soil for marijuana cultivation, but this needs to be enriched in most cases, whether because we are growing indoors or because the soil needs additional nutrients to optimize plant growth.
What is homemade compost?
In short, compost is organic matter that has been decomposed through the action of microorganisms that use their metabolism to release nutrients into the soil. Plants then use these nutrients for their development.
The basic recipe for traditional compost is a mix of nitrogen-rich 'green matter' and carbon-rich 'brown matter', together with oxygen (air) and moisture (water).
The microorganisms in charge of the composting process are aerobic bacteria which need oxygen to survive, so good aeration is key. These bacteria also need water to develop (an optimum humidity level should range between 40 and 60%). Through this process, the bacteria release carbon dioxide which heats up the compost pile. If your compost feels warm, this is a good sign that the composting process is working properly.
In addition, composting is also a natural way of recycling certain food and gardening products, enabling them to naturally return to the soil, so it gives us an opportunity to help the environment by reducing the waste in landfill sites. It also helps reduce the use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers, which is truly beneficial for the health of both animals and humans.
How to make compost at home?
Building your own compost heap is the best way of guaranteeing a regular supply of high-quality nutrients. Composting works better in warm climates with sunny days, as the chemical decomposition process of organic matter stops when the temperature drops and frost arrives.
Steps to follow to make your own compost:
- The first step is to find a good, warm location away from transit areas. The composting process entails the breakdown of organic matter, so it may produce some odours (although in reality the compost pile should not smell too badly if it is being controlled appropriately). The compost pile must be easily accessible and have a hose nearby, as you might need to add water on really hot days.
- The best time to start composting is spring, when there's plenty of nitrogen-rich matter with a relatively low carbon content. Carbon-rich leaves and dead grass are abundant during the warmest months of summer and the fall, and are also an excellent ingredient for your compost pile.
- You'll need a compost bin, or a container that can be as basic as a homemade wooden box. Many people opt for a simple large plastic container. You'll need to drill holes in the bottom and sides to help with aeration. A lid is important as well as it helps the compost retain heat and moisture.
- You will also need a hoe or gardening tool to stir the compost so the organic matter on top gets mixed with the rest. The warmest part of the compost pile is the center, so stirring it frequently ensures that the matter decomposes evenly.
- Given that compost requires stirring and mixing every few days (at least at the beginning), some growers choose to purchase a composting barrel, also known as a tumbling composter, that holds the material well and makes the turning easier. There is a great range of designs available on the market. If you don't have a tumbling composter, you'll need to turn your mix manually.
The composting process
- Ideally you want to start with a layer of dry grass and leaves. If you only have access to green plants, you can always mix them with shredded newspaper. As you add more layers, keep a proportion of approximately 60% carbon (dry grass and leaves) and 40% nitrogen (green plant matter). Other good sources of carbon are untreated cardboard, straw, wood chips or sawdust, dry twigs, etc.
- So on top of the initial carbon layer, you need to add nitrogen-rich plant matter, such as cow or horse manure, garden or grass clippings, eggshells, or vegetable scraps (from carrots, cucumbers, pears, apples, potatoes, etc). The third layer must consist of a mixture of soil free from pesticides or synthetic fertilizers.
- Remember not to add diseased plants or weeds. Unless the compost heap gets really hot, the seeds are likely to survive the composting process, and when you finally scatter the compost all over your grow you'll also be scattering weed seeds.
- Check your compost pile regularly and mix it well every few days, adding water when the center starts to dry up. It should not get too wet, though; it must be kept as moist as a drained sponge. The mix will start to decompose through the action of the microorganisms, which will turn the organic matter into a nutrient-rich compost.
- Even though you can add a great range of materials to your compost heap, there are certain things that it is best not to include (for instance dairy products, fats, meat, fish, dog or cat waste, coffee grounds or tea bags, citrus fruit or onion peels, coated paper, or coal ashes). Some of these will not break down, or will break down too slowly, whilst others will attract unwanted animals.
- When the decomposition process is finished, the compost should look dark and clayey. A compost heap could be ready in just three months, but this can vary greatly depending on the outdoor temperature, the size of the added materials, the heap size, and the turning frequency.
What is organic compost used for? Benefits of composting
Compost is different from fertilizers because it fine-tunes the soil by supplying it with nutrients that enrich it and create a beneficial environment for optimum plant growth. On the other hand, fertilizers feed the plant in a more direct way and can actually overload the soil with nutrients.
Compost creates a more balanced, richer soil. We could say that compost feeds the soil, whereas fertilizers feed the plants. A combination of both will provide the optimum growing conditions for your cannabis plants.
Homemade compost is really easy to use. You just need to apply it as a topsoil layer around your plants. The amount to use will vary depending on the quality of your substrate and its nutrient levels. Using compost in the fall will ensure a good growing environment in the spring.
Adding the occasional top layer of compost during the vegetative cycle of your plants will also reduce the amount of times that you'll need to use fertilizers. Mixing compost with soil is also an excellent way of starting an indoor grow: planting your cannabis seeds in this mix guarantees that your plants will be starting their life cycle in the best way possible.
If you choose to make homemade compost for either indoor or outdoor cannabis growing, you'll probably notice a great difference in your plants' overall vigour. After the appropriate harvesting and curing process, the flavour and even the combustion of your final product will be of greater quality. If you still haven't tried compost in your cannabis grow, give it a go: it will most likely become an integral part of your growing routine for future crops.