Composting is one of the most effective ways to reduce your waste and provide nutrients to your garden. While traditional composting is a great way to reduce your environmental impact, it's not always practical for everyone. If you run out of compost for your garden or if your own compost pile is still maturing, then we have alternatives you can use to overcome this dilemma whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned composter.
If you have a vegetable garden at home and you're looking for compost alternatives, keep reading or skip ahead to the section that interests you.
- Why should you compost: 6 reasons to start today!
- 4 alternatives to composting for the environment and your garden
- What to use instead of compost for your plants?
- Top 7 FAQs about compost
First, let’s talk about the benefits of composting, and then we’ll answer your most pressing questions about alternative composting methods you can do at home.
Why should you compost: 6 reasons to start today!
If you have a garden at home, you can use compost as a fertilizer by recycling your food scraps while saving on the cost of store-bought fertilizers. Other benefits of compost include:
- Reducing carbon footprint and landfill waste: Composting reduces your carbon footprint and helps make use of these nutrients that would otherwise be wasted in a landfill.
- Avoiding harmful chemicals: Compost is a healthier alternative for the environment than chemical fertilizers, which can be washed into local waterways and cause damaging algal blooms.
- Helping conserve water: Compost helps the soil retain water, which means you will need to water your plants less often.
- Creating nutrient-rich soil: Compost is full of nutrients that are essential for plant growth. Adding it on top of your garden soil will add essential nutrients like nitrogen, making your plants healthier and promoting continued growth.
- Adding microorganisms to the soil: There are many beneficial organisms in the soil that are introduced by composting such as fungi and bacteria - organisms that improve soil structure, increase water retention, and enhance plant growth.
- Recycling yard and kitchen scraps: Composting yard and kitchen scraps keep waste from ending up in the trash can. Diverting home waste to compost will also help decrease the need to purchase as many trash bags.
Top 4 alternatives to composting for the environment and your garden
Don't worry if you don’t have any compost at home. We’ve compiled some ideas for those looking for an alternative for compost.
1. Electric composter
Electric kitchen composters like Lomi offer a convenient and affordable alternative to traditional composting. They are designed to be used indoors and can be easily placed on a countertop, making them perfect for apartments or small homes that don’t have space for a compost pile.
Lomi, like most electric composters, works by breaking down food scraps into compost material using heat and aeration. It will convert your food scraps for you, turning them into rich, organic material you can use to add to your plants. As a result, you’ll be doing something good for the environment while also helping your own garden grow.
Product we recommend: Lomi
Why we recommend it: Lomi helps keep your food scraps and plate scrapings odor-free. It's compact, easy to use, and saves energy. Since it is meant for indoor use, Lomi also helps avoid the risk of attracting pests.
Vermicomposting is the method of utilizing worms to break down food scraps into nutrient-rich compost. Worms consume the food waste and then excrete it as vermicompost, which is full of nutrients you can add as a natural fertilizer for your gardening soil.
This is a great option if you're looking for a faster, more affordable, and space-efficient way to compost. All you need is a worm bin and some red wiggler worms. You can make your own worm bin or purchase one that is already made.
Product we recommend: VermiHut Plus 5-Tray Worm Compost Bin
Why we recommend it: VermiHut is a simple-to-use tool that makes composting at home stylish. To use it, you only need to include some worms and some kitchen waste.
3. Bokashi Compost Bin
Bokashi composting uses anaerobic fermentation to break down food scraps. It uses an inoculated bran to ferment organic matter in a tightly sealed container.
Composting with the bokashi method is a great option if you're looking for a space-efficient and odor-free way to compost. To start, you will need a Bokashi Bin and some Bokashi Bran.
The Bokashi Bin will grind up the food scraps and then mix them with the Bokashi Bran, which contains beneficial microbes that help to break down the food waste. The compost will then be collected in a bin that you can use for your garden bed.
Product we recommend: SCD Probiotics All Seasons Indoor Composter
Why we recommend it: The SCD composter deters flies, eliminates odors, and drains moisture. While it takes time to drain the liquid, there won’t be any unpleasant smells as it composts its contents.
Mulching is a great way to reduce weeds, conserve moisture, and add nutrients to your soil. It can also help to insulate your plants from extreme temperatures. If you have dried leaves, grass clippings, or other yard waste, you can easily turn them into mulch for your garden.
You can use materials such as sawdust, rice hulls, newspapers, fallen leaves, and straw as mulch. You can also purchase mixed mulch from your local garden center.
Product we recommend: Miracle-Gro Nature's Care Organic Mulch
Why we recommend it: Miracle-Gro is an easy-to-use product that helps to suppress weeds and keep moisture in your gardening soil. It is also made from recycled materials, which makes it an environmentally-friendly store-bought option.
What to use instead of compost for your plants?
There are many ways to fertilize your plants without using compost. If you’re wondering what to use instead of compost, you’ve come to the right place. Here are some compost alternatives you can try.
1. Cow Manure
One of the best all-purpose soil amendments available is cow manure. It contains a nice mix of nutrients and is low in nitrogen, so it won't harm delicate plants.
While using cow manure is a great alternative to compost, it is not always the fastest route. It is important to note that, in order to use manure as a fertilizer, you will need to age it first. Fresh manure can contain harmful bacteria that can contaminate your plants. It's best to wait six months before using manure in your garden.
To get aged manure, you need to mix it with other organic matter. Add a lot of dry yard waste such as leaves, dried grass clippings, and shredded newspaper. This will kill any harmful bacteria and make it safe to use as a fertilizer and allow beneficial microbes to carry out their functions.
2. Chicken Manure
A great alternative to composting is using chicken manure. This manure is full of nutrients that are essential for plant growth and it can be a great fertilizer for your garden beds to thrive. Manure increases soil carbon, which is a vital source of energy that allows plants to access nutrients.
Adding chicken manure to the soil improves the quality of the soil and offers a steady supply of macro and micronutrients. While other manures are low in organic matter and high in nitrogen, chicken manure and litter have a greater concentration of these elements.
3. Coffee Grounds
The process of composting coffee grounds is as simple as tossing the spent grinds into your potted plants or garden beds. You can obtain used coffee grounds either from your recently brewed cup or ask for used coffee grounds from local coffee shops.
Coffee grounds may be used as a fertilizer by simply spreading them directly on the ground. They increase drainage, water retention, and aeration in the soil by adding organic material. In addition to attracting earthworms, leftover coffee grounds may encourage the establishment of beneficial microbes that aid plant growth.
4. Kitchen Waste
Kitchen waste like banana peels and eggshells are good sources of nutrients essential for plant growth. Banana peels are rich in potassium while eggshells are rich in calcium.
To use them as a fertilizer, you need to crush eggs into a powder and cut the banana peel into small pieces. Then, you can mix them into the soil around your plants.
5. Sawdust and Wood Chips
Sawdust and wood chips are good sources of carbon, which is an essential element for a healthy garden. Just make sure that you get them from untreated wood, which is free from chemicals. Woodchips can be bought from your local garden store, and sawdust can be collected from woodworking projects or when cutting down trees.
To use them as a fertilizer, you can add them to the soil around your plants. You can also mix them with other organic matter before using them to amend your garden soil.
6. Peat Moss
Peat moss is an absorbent material that is often used as a soil amendment. It is a dead fibrous material that occurs in peat bogs as mosses. You can use it in the garden for a variety of purposes, including fertilizing gardening soil and promoting faster and better plant growth.
Its better suited to plants that thrive in acidic soil, and the fluffy texture is ideal for improving drainage in heavy soils. Peat also enhances water and nutrient retention in sandy environments by retaining moisture and releasing it to plant roots as necessary.
Top 7 FAQs about compost
Composting is a great way to reduce your environmental impact, and it's easier than you think. We’ve answered some of the most common questions people have about composting.
1. Can you use compost instead of potting soil?
No, you cannot use compost to replace potting soil. While compost is a great fertilizer, planting directly on compost may burn the roots, which can kill the plant.
There is a difference between compost and soil. Soil contains non-organic components, such as rock fragments or minerals. Compost is formed of organic material that may be put into soil and become a part of its composition.
If your garden soil is lacking in nutrients, adding a layer of compost or topsoil will assist in replenishing those minerals.
2. Can you use compost instead of mulch?
Yes, compost can be used as mulch. Compost may be placed on top of the soil and is commonly used by no-till gardeners and permaculture practitioners.
To avoid having a garden full of unwanted plants, it is necessary to ensure that the compost is properly created to mitigate as many weeds as possible.
3. Can you use manure instead of compost?
Yes, you can use manure in place of compost as it is also rich in organic materials and nutrients. It contains high levels of nitrogen which is essential for plant growth.
Keep in mind that manure is best used when well decomposed. Therefore, aging the manure first is essential before mixing it with soil to ensure your plants will grow healthy.
4. Can you use compost instead of fertilizer?
Yes, you can use compost instead of fertilizer. It is cheaper to use compost, especially if you prepare it yourself. Since soil problems are frequently the source of poor health in plants, it's better for the environment and more sustainable to use compost to improve the soil rather than use chemical fertilizers.
However, some gardeners choose to both use compost and apply fertilizer to supplement the soil's natural supply of nutrients. Compost works well with fertilizer, soaking up and storing nutrients until the plants need them. It's better to use organic fertilizer to reduce your exposure to potentially harmful chemicals.
5. What are the alternatives to peat compost?
Peat compost alternatives include coconut coir compost, mushroom compost, and leaf mold.
Coir is made from coconut husks, mushroom compost is made from decomposed mushrooms, and leaf mold is made from decomposed leaves. Coconut coir, like peat moss, is not nutrient-rich, however, mushroom compost and leaf mold are high in nutrients.
These are all great options for gardeners looking for sustainable alternatives to peat compost.
6. What can you add to compost?
You can add a variety of things to compost, including kitchen waste, tea bags, garden waste, and even some types of paper. However, you should avoid adding meat, dairy products, and pet wastes as they can attract pests and create unwanted odor.
7. How long does it take for compost to break down?
The time it takes for compost to break down depends on the ingredients, the size of the pieces, how often it is turned, and the temperature. Hotter temperatures will speed up the process while cooler temperatures will slow it down. Generally, it takes between two weeks to two years for compost to break down.
However, it is good to note that if you're using a worm bin, your compost will be ready in just a few weeks. Compost is ready after it has cooled, developed a deep brown color, and disintegrated into minute soil-like particles. If your compost smells like dirt, it's done and ready to be used.
While composting is our preferred method of dealing with organic waste, there are other ways to reduce your environmental impact and still help your garden thrive. Whether you have a yard or live in an apartment, composting is possible. There are also several viable compost alternatives to explore and find what might work best for your home, garden, and budget.
The next time you’re asking the question “what can you use instead of compost?”, try one of these alternatives and see how they work for you. If you're a compost newbie, you can opt for Lomi. It's odorless, compact, and simple to use. With Lomi, you get started composting in your kitchen, allowing you to enjoy the benefits of this sustainable practice for years to come.
Try some of these alternative compost methods and see how much difference they make in your garden.
Written by: Rebecca Neubauer