​​How Much Compost Do You Need per Acre?

Compost is a great alternative to traditional soil fertilization. Not only does it spread easier than manure, but it also has fewer restrictions on when you can use it. For those reasons, many people prefer to use compost to fertilize their soil — but how much of it do you need? 

You need about five to twenty tons of compost per acre depending on your soil’s needs. Different soils require different amounts of nutrients. In other words, the right amount of compost for your land may be too much or too little for someone else. 

Let’s talk more about compost, its pros and cons, and how to use it to fertilize your soil. 

Why Does the Amount of Compost You Need Vary?

The amount of compost to fertilize an acre of land varies due to differences between crop types and the amount of nutrients needed. You always want to ensure you are using just the right amount of compost for fertilization. 

As you can see, there’s a large margin between five to twenty tons of compost per acre. That’s because different soil requires different things when it comes to fertilization. For example, too much compost can add an exorbitant amount of phosphorus to the soil. 

Too much phosphorus can cause plenty of issues with your crops. It can prevent your crops from getting zinc and iron (among other vital nutrients) and potentially kill them. So, if your compost is high in phosphorus, you may need to use a smaller amount of it. 

Why Should You Use Compost as a Fertilizer?

You should use compost as a fertilizer because it is easy to spread and it smells better. If you compost diligently, you should have no problems with a healthy supply of compost for fertilizing. 

Let’s talk more about the benefits of using compost instead of manure for fertilization. 

Compost Is Easy To Spread

It’s easier to spread compost than manure due to the former’s consistency and overall weight. Compost is made of oxygen, water, and other materials. The use of oxygen and water in particular makes it lighter and easier to handle than traditional fertilizer. In other words, using compost requires less equipment and energy to spread. 

Compost Smells Better

As you know, manure is made of animal droppings. While it is an effective fertilizer on its own, the unpleasant smell can be off-putting. Sure, you can probably wear a mask while tending to your crops to avoid inhaling that bad odor, but you shouldn’t have to. Besides, wearing a cloth mask when you’re working under warm weather conditions can be a hassle.

Compost, on the other hand, is made of many materials other than manure. Because of the presence of these other materials, the distinctive odor of manure in your compost (assuming you’re using manure in your compost) gets diluted. 

Compost Is Easier To Obtain

If you don’t already have an animal farm, manure may be a little challenging to obtain. Meanwhile, compost — as I mentioned earlier — consists of different materials that you can get from a wider variety of sources, such as the decaying plant matter from your yard. 

Are There Downsides to Using Compost as Fertilizer?

There are downsides to using compost as a fertilizer. You will incur additional costs for labor, materials, and space. Further, your compost may not be as nutrient-rich as manure. Finally, you need to be very careful when composting to prevent contamination. 

Compost Requires More Labor, Materials, and Space

As I’ve already mentioned, compost makes use of many different materials. While that makes compost relatively more accessible than manure, it also means you’ll have to put in additional work to find the right materials and mix them such that your compost has just the right nutrient mix to nourish your plants without “overfeeding” them.  

Remember that a single acre requires between five and twenty tons of compost. Aside from the labor and materials needed for that, you’ll also need extra space to store any unused compost. Since compost is mostly made of organic matter, its storage space needs to have just the right conditions to ensure that the compost retains its integrity when not in use.

Compost May Not Be As Nutritious as Manure

While compost is lighter and easier to work with, it doesn’t have as many nutrients as manure. That means you end up using more compost than manure for fertilization. This may not be a problem for people who have access to all the materials they need to create compost, but if you’re not one of those people, this can be a dealbreaker.

Fortunately, there is a workaround. You can purchase something like the GREEN PIG 60 Accelerator (available on Amazon.com). Instead of waiting for your usual compost materials to degrade on their own, you can use this product to accelerate the process. Plus, it controls odors from your fertilizer, making your crops more pleasant to work with.

Compost Can Become a Source of Contamination

If you want to create your own compost, it’s probably better if you use materials from your own yard. That’s because compost from other sources may be contaminated with pesticides and other harmful chemicals that you don’t want anywhere near your plants. 

If it’s not practical to source compost entirely from materials you can easily find at home, make sure you know exactly what you’re getting. For example, you can ask a neighbor who uses organic farming methods to give you some of their leftovers. It’s a win-win situation: They can dispose of their waste properly, and you get composting material that’s sure to be toxin-free. 

Tips on Using Compost As Fertilizer

First, I need to be clear that the specifics of using compost for your particular crop will vary depending on several factors. In general, however, keeping these tips in mind can ensure that you make the most of your compost.

Determine Whether You Truly Need Compost

I’ve outlined both the pros and cons of compost earlier compared to manure. If you’re using manure and it’s working just fine, consider whether using compost will make a significant difference in the quality of your plants. If it will, then you can move on to the next step.

Determine What Kind of Compost You Need

Different plants will have different nutritional requirements. The core nutrients may be the same (e.g., nitrogen and phosphorus), but the composition of the compost will likely differ. To know what kind of compost you need, research the nutrients that your particular crop requires, and adjust your compost mixture accordingly.

Calculate How Much Compost You Need

The best way to figure out how much compost your soil needs is to test it. By testing the soil, you can determine if there are any nutrient deficiencies or pH issues. With this knowledge, you can determine any special treatment your soil might need and how much compost you should use. 

You don’t need to drive all the way to a lab to test your soil. You can purchase something like the Luster Leaf 1602 Soil Test Kit, 20 (available on Amazon.com). It’s fairly easy to use, yet it also has everything you need to accurately measure variables such as pH levels, amount of nitrogen, etc.

Apply Compost to a Smaller Area First

Even if you’re careful about the type and amount of compost you use, you don’t want to apply it to everything right off the bat. Instead, you can test your compost on a small section of your crops to see for yourself whether you have the right type, mix, or amount. Depending on the results, adjust your compost accordingly.

Use Compost According to What Your Crops Need

You don’t have to apply compost regularly. Some plants may require more fertilization than others, so you should apply your compost accordingly. Take note of surrounding conditions (e.g., inclement weather) that can affect the integrity of your compost.

Final Thoughts

Composting can be a great alternative to traditional fertilization methods if it’s used properly. As long as you’re well aware of its potential benefits and drawbacks, and you know how to apply it to your particular crop, you should be well on your way to seeing healthier and more productive plants. 

Alexander Picot

Alexander Picot is the principal creator of TheGrowingLeaf.com, a website dedicated to gardening tips. Inspired by his mother’s love of gardening, Alex has a passion for taking care of plants and turning backyards into feel-good places and loves to share his experience with the rest of the world.

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