How Do You Add Nitrogen To Compost

Nitrogen is one of the most crucial minerals when it comes to plant health. When we are making Compost, we often neglect the importance of nitrogen in Compost. This Compost, when added to the soil, can cause nitrogen deficiency resulting in many ill effects on the plant.

If you notice the symptoms of nitrogen deficiency in your plants, you can quickly rectify them by making simple changes to your composting process. Before doing so, let’s learn a few basics about nitrogen and plants.

Why is Nitrogen Important for the Plants

We know that nitrogen is indispensable for plants, but why do they need it? What do the plants do with nitrogen?

  • Growth And Development: Nitrogen is often called the backbone of plant growth. It is a vital part of amino acids that form plant proteins. It also helps in the formation of plant tissues and cell membranes.
  • Formation Of Genetic Code: Nitrogen is a crucial part of nucleic acid that constitutes the DNA. Without it, plants won’t pass on the traits that are essential for their survival.
  • Chlorophyll: It is the component of plants that gives them their green color. Chlorophyll is essential for photosynthesis, the process that helps plants make food using sunlight. Plants with sufficient nitrogen supply grow faster and have higher output.

Where do plants get Nitrogen

Even though Nitrogen is the most abundant constituent of our atmosphere, the plants cannot take it directly from the air. The conversion of Nitrogen into usable form requires a lot of energy, and it’s not beneficial for the plants to do it themselves. They depend on other sources for nitrogen fixation (The process of breaking down nitrogen molecules). These sources are

  • Biological – Bacteria and some other microorganisms called diazotrophs have the ability to convert atmospheric Nitrogen into ammonia. This is later converted into usable forms by other microorganisms.
  • Human-made: Several chemical processes are used to convert Nitrogen into ammonia. These processes are also used to make synthetic fertilizers.
  • Lightning: Lightning also can convert atmospheric nitrogen into ammonia. This ammonia later enters into the soil through rainfall. However, The quantity of Nitrogen converted by lighting is insignificant compared to other sources.

Signs of Nitrogen Deficiency

Nitrogen deficiency is not that rare. There may be several reasons for it. Sometimes the soil is of poor quality; other times, it may be overcropping. Regardless of the reason, you can check for nitrogen deficiency by observing a few signs in the plants.

  • Poor Growth: Since nitrogen provides protein to the plants, they need a lot of it. Without nitrogen, it’s hard for the plants to grow.
  • Yellowing of Leaves: Without nitrogen, the leaves cannot produce chlorophyll, and they start turning pale yellow. The older leaves are affected first by this problem.
  • Low Output: In nitrogen deficiency, plants produce more miniature flowers, fewer fruits, and less starch. Under such situations, the buds remain dormant.

How Much Nitrogen should be present in Compost

Since we are looking to solve/avoid nitrogen deficiency by applying compost, it’s essential to know how much Nitrogen should be present in the compost.

You cannot add too much or too little Nitrogen into compost. There is indeed a sweet spot.

Keep the ratio of Carbon to Nitrogen 25-30:1. That is 25 to 30 parts of carbon and one part of nitrogen. If you add too little Nitrogen, the process slows down; and if you add too much of it, the pile will smell foul.

The way to control the ratio of carbon and Nitrogen is to check what you add to the compost. The greens (Vegetable scraps, manure, etc.) increase the Nitrogen, and browns (Cardboard, paper, sawdust, etc.) increase the carbon. Try to keep the ratio of green to brown 1:3.

In most cases, you won’t need any fancy instruments to measure the ratio. If you keep the correct green: brown ratio, it will all be good.

Top Sources to add Nitrogen into compost

Not all greens are created equal. Some have less Nitrogen, while others are rich in it. Knowing the carbon: nitrogen ratio in different Siddons will help you control the percentage of Nitrogen in the mixture. Let’s talk about a few sources which are rich in Nitrogen

  • Manure

Carbon to Nitrogen ratio – Cow (20:1), Poultry (10:1), Sheep(16:1), Horse (25:1)

While using manure, please keep in mind that pet manure(cats and dogs) and human excreta should not be used in compost. These contain harmful bacteria which can harm plants.

You are free to use cow, poultry, sheep, and horse manure. Manure is a rich source of Nitrogen that can quickly start the composting process. It can also help to resolve nitrogen deficiency in the pile if other sources are lacking in Nitrogen. But, manure should only be added to plants after composting

  • Coffee Grounds

 Carbon to Nitrogen ratio – (20:1)

All coffee grounds contain a good amount of Nitrogen. If you have a paper filter, you can use that too. An excellent source to get free coffee grounds is to approach your local coffee shops. Most of them would happily give away their coffee grounds to you.

Coffee grounds do increase the acidity of the pile. This may be good or bad based on the soil you are using it on.

  • Seaweed

 Carbon to Nitrogen ratio – (19:1)

Well, this one is for the people who live near the seaweed supply. If you are one of the lucky ones, adding Nitrogen to your compost should be a problem. Just remember to wash it before adding. You don’tdon’t want to make the compost salty!

  • Plant cuttings and plants

Carbon to Nitrogen ratio – (20-40:1)

Most plants are okay to add to your compost. Just make sure that they shouldn’t be treated with excess amounts of pesticides. Those can be harmful to the microorganisms and worms in your compost.

  • Grass Clippings

Carbon to Nitrogen ratio – (20-30:1)

Grass clippings are a rich source of Nitrogen. They naturally decompose, adding Nitrogen to the soil, so you may let them be. If you are going to add them to your compost, you have to start slowly. Begin by adding thin layers of clippings. If you add too much, they will form wet mats with water to restrict the air supply. This can turn the mixture anaerobic, and we all know what happens next; Bad Smell!

  • Vegetable and Fruit Peelings

 Carbon to Nitrogen ratio – (12:1)

I don’t think anyone would have any problem getting a sufficient supply of this. We produce great vegetable and fruit peelings daily. Just make sure that you are finely chopping these before adding them to the bin. More significant pieces are harder to decompose. Also, you should avoid cooked vegetables as they may contain oil which makes it harder for microorganisms to break them.

Final Thoughts

Compost can be a great way of supplying Nitrogen to the plants. Unlike synthetic fertilizers, compost doesn’t hurt soil microorganisms; instead, compost supports them. If you want to resolve a severe nitrogen deficiency, foliar or direct application to the leaves is preferred. It’s an excellent idea to get the soil tested to determine the extent of the problem. If you make composting a regular thing, nitrogen deficiency could be a thing of the past for you!

Sources

  • http://compost.css.cornell.edu/chemistry.html
  • https://extension.missouri.edu/publications/g6956
  • https://journals.ashs.org/horttech/view/journals/horttech/17/4/article-p431.xml
  • http://compost.css.cornell.edu/chemistry.html
  • https://crops.extension.iastate.edu/files/article/nutrientdeficiency.pdf
  • https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/european-review/article/abs/helping-plants-get-more-nitrogen-from-the-air/F7098D4AB6748D00AE6AF62C46AB5DE2
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nitrogen_deficiency

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