Nutrients are released into the soil by the billions of tiny organisms that digest decaying plant and animal materials. “Decomposition liberates carbon and nutrients from the complex materials making up lifeforms--putting them back into biological circulation so they are available to plants and other organisms,” states a National Resource Conservation Service report on the importance of soil quality. Soil quality and plant health are enhanced by nutrient-rich plant foods.
Compost makes a well-balanced plant food that contains all the nutrient sources plants need. Compost is made by using materials with carbon content and nitrogen content (“browns” and “greens”) to create the conditions for decomposition. The decomposed organic materials in compost contain the micro- and macronutrients that may be absent in synthetic fertilizers. Compost releases nutrients into the soil and plants slowly, which is advantageous to plant growth. Compost, as it helps to texturize soil, helps to hold in nutrients and prevent them from washing out. It may also help suppress plant disease and create resistance to harmful insects, reports the California State University Extension.
Compost tea is a liquid extract of compost containing soluble plant nutrients, beneficial plant compounds and beneficial microorganisms. It is used as plant food and to stimulate biological activity in the soil. Compost tea was traditionally made by putting animal manure in a burlap sack and suspending it in a barrel of water. The manure infuses the water with billions of microorganisms that provide nutrient support to growing plants. It can be easily made by putting a scoopful of mature compost into a bucket and allowing it to soak for 24 hours or more. Stir occasionally to incorporate oxygen into the water. One advantage of using compost tea as plant food is that it can be sprayed onto plants so nutrients are immediately available.
Local recycling programs often provide workshops on the advantages of using worm compost as a plant food. The nutrient content of worm compost is very high. There is 5 times the nitrogen content and 7 times the phosphorus content in worm compost as there is in average soil. Nitrogen is needed in larger amounts than any other plant nutrient. Worm compost is easily produced in home-made or commercially available worm bins. It takes one to three months to make this highly concentrated plant food. It can be added to soil, used as a side dressing or made into liquid fertilizer.