The Forest Floor. Decomposition. Green, lush trees and plants. The fallen leaves make the ground layer of the rainforest. Although it is often a dark and humid place with almost constant shade, the forest floor is an important and vital part of the forest ecosystem.
How does the concept of the forest floor relate to our landscaping and nursery practices, you ask? Implementing the use of compost is much like that of the forest floor. Compost supplies beneficial microorganisms to the soil, it supplies a variety of macro and micro nutrients, and it also supplies significant quantities of organic matter.
In Hawaii, we are challenged with very over-farmed soils that are usually very low in organic matter, making them hard packed, low in nutrients, and hard to use. Plants need food; and most chemical fertilizers are not able to supply complete plant nutrition…that is why the use of compost is much like the theory of the forest floor.
Composting is derived through a natural biological process that accelerates the breakdown of waste materials. This biological process of composting is the transformation of organic material with the help of invertebrates (insects & earthworms) and microorganisms (bacteria & fungi). This works best when moisture and oxygen levels are maintained. This accelerated, aerobic (oxygen rich) process naturally generates heat which must be monitored and controlled; these high temperatures also sanitize the finished compost, killing weed seeds and pathogens. Concentrated fertilizers (chemical and organic) are the primary source of nutrients added by the majority of landscapers and nurseries. These fertilizer products are not a bad thing, however, in the absence of sufficient carbon and associated microbial activity, these highly concentrated nutrients often change into vapors into the atmosphere and / or leach through the soil, potentially ending up in our ground water. Sufficient carbon in the presence of a balanced microbial environment will help to appropriate these nutrients extending their availability as plant nutrition. Additionally, this appropriation will help keep these nutrients from washing through the soil into our ground water supply. Adding compost puts these organisms and carbon back into the soil that will hold onto these nutrients. When nutrients are held in the soil by bacteria and fungi, they will become available to plants in the future.
Besides the benefit of essential plant nutrients when using compost, compost also increases the soil’s ability to retain water and decrease run-off. Run-off pollutes water by carrying soil, fertilizers, and pesticides to nearby streams. Besides retaining water, compost also improves water filtration and drought tolerance. With compost, you are also able to reduce and minimize your fertilizer requirements. Compost improves root growth and yields. It improves soil structure by reducing soil compaction and crusting. There are many benefits for using compost.
We are running out of viable options for disposal of our trash. Our existing landfills are quickly reaching their capacity and new ones are increasingly difficult to site because of more stringent environment requirements and especially for the mere fact that we live on an ISLAND! Composting our yard trimmings, green waste, & wood waste will aid in reducing the tonnage going into the landfills – but we need to stay committed! In order to complete the cycle of sustainability, we need to be sure we are putting back into the earth what we take out. Buying local compost supports recycling programs in Hawaii. Local composts are generally as good or better quality and less expensive than imported products which have high shipping costs. Also adding local compost adds microorganisms which are part of Hawaii’s ecosystem and are good for Hawaii plants. Adding compost from somewhere else may provide microorganisms which are not the ones your Hawaii plants want and need. Remember to buy local and be a part of sustainability in Hawaii! Your landscaping and nursery practices need to have the organics in it!
Liana Bisch is the sales & marketing manager for Hawaiian Earth Products and has been instrumental in providing her knowledge and passion to students, communities, and the trade.