Compost has a dual function. It improves the structure of the soil. This means the soil will be easier to work, will have good aeration and water-retention characteristics, and will be resistant to erosion. Compost also provides nutrients for plant growth, and its organic acids make nutrients in the soil more available to plants. Fewer nutrients leach out in a soil with adequate organic matter.
Improved structure and nourishment produce a healthy soil. A healthy soil produces healthy plants better able to resist insect and disease attacks. Most insects look for sick plants to eat. The best way to control insects and diseases in plants is with a living, healthy soil rather than with poisons that kill beneficial soil life.
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Compost keeps soil at maximum health with a minimum expense. Generally, it is unnecessary to buy fertilizers to be able to grow healthy plants. At first, organic fertilizers may have to be purchased so the soil can be brought to a satisfactory level of fertility in a short period of time. Once this has been done, the soil's health can be maintained with compost, good crop rotation, and the recycling of plant residues into the compost pile.
It is important to note the difference between fertilization and fertility. There can be plenty of fertilizer in the soil, and plants still may not grow well. Add compost to the soil, and the organic acids it contains will release the hidden nutrients in a form available to the plants. This was the source of the amazing fertility of Alan Chadwick's garden at Santa Cruz.
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