Fertilizers, whether granular or liquid, are the best way to keep your flowers blooming and your vegetable garden running smoothly. But, as we all know, not all fertilizers are created equal. That’s where mushroom compost comes in. As an organic fertilizer, it really takes the cake.
Filled with organic matter and often used as a great soil conditioner and mulch, mushroom compost is earning its well-deserved place as a gardening staple. If you want to make your garden’s color last and keep your flowers and evergreens colorful, mushroom compost is your choice.
What is mushroom compost?
Contrary to what the name might suggest, mushroom compost contains no trace of fungus. In fact, the fungus is essential to the creation of the fertilizer because it breaks down the organic matter that you mix into the soil. This leaves you with a soluble, slow-release organic fertilizer that feeds the vegetables and flowering plants in your garden.
So, in effect, you’re using the soil that was used to grow mushrooms. It is mostly alkaline soil, however, the compost left although rich in nutrients is not suitable for some plants such as pieris, camellia, rhododendron and azalea. In fact, the entire Ericaceae family does not thrive on mushroom compost. The same is true for fruit plants.
But apart from that, vegetables in general and brassicas in particular like mushroom compost. The nitrogen in the fertilizer helps your cabbages and broccoli grow bigger and faster. This tomato patch will give you an abundance of red, flavorful produce when you sprinkle a layer of mushroom compost around the plants’ roots to improve water retention and prevent pests.
But what really makes mushroom compost such a valuable addition to your garden soil is that it can be tailored to your specific needs. A slight change in the recipe produces an organic compost with a different chemical structure that best suits the type of soil or plants you intend to grow. In this case, there is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to mushroom compost. You do it the way you and your plants like it.
Benefits of mushroom compost
We’ve touched on the various uses and benefits of mushroom compost in passing. But since these benefits are varied and the process of creating the compost itself is involved and not so simple, it’s helpful to know why you’d want to make the extra effort to create this compost in the first place. Here are some of the most common uses of mushroom compost.
The first benefit of using mushroom compost is that it costs almost nothing compared to the organic compost products you buy at the store. Most of the materials you use will be leftovers that you often throw away.
Mushroom compost is packed with nutrients that your vegetables and evergreens need year-round.
Because of its slow-release quality, the compost doesn’t burn plants and provides nutrition for longer periods of time. You water it once and it stays in the soil for months at a time.
You can use it with many different types of garden plants. From herbs and vegetables to flowers and some fruits, mushroom compost is an ideal soil supplement.
Mushroom compost improves soil water retention, reducing the time you need to irrigate the soil and keeps the topsoil moist even during the hot summer months.
If your garden soil is too acidic, mixing it with mushroom compost acts as a conditioner and improves the quality of the product.
Use mushroom compost in place of mulch to prevent the spread of pests and keep weeds at bay.
It is low in heavy metals and has a pH of 6.6, making it neutral.
In addition to its cost effectiveness, compost is also abundant. For every pound of mushrooms, you get 5 pounds of mushroom compost.
How to make mushroom compost?
The process of making mushroom compost is a long one. It takes a lot of time and preparation. But once you have the precious dark soil, you can do whatever you want to improve your soil and improve the quality of your produce.
Generally speaking, this process goes through three main stages. Soil preparation, then composting and finally pasteurization and sterilization of the compost. Let’s explore each step in more detail.
Preparing the raw materials
Here you choose the materials that will go into the mix and make your substrate. You will be using primarily agricultural and organic materials. Depending on the type of compost you want, choose the right materials for your needs. Common materials include horse manure mixed with straw, corn cobs, lime, gypsum, poultry manure and peat.
Both lime and gypsum are important for the growth of the fungus. The straw should be wet and crushed. You can use a shredder to break it down. Maintain moderate moisture levels throughout this phase and make sure the pile of components contains enough oxygen, nitrogen and carbohydrates. Add the manure and gypsum mixture to the straw pile at moderate to warm temperatures. Then add the fungus bacteria.
Once all your ingredients are mixed, you are ready for the composting phase. Divide your pile into smaller, longer piles. Continue turning the soil every two to three days to speed up the rotting process and concentrate the nutrients.
This process takes up to one to two weeks. Harvest the mushrooms and wait for the mixture to rot. During this phase, the soil turns dark brown and acquires a sweet smell. The straw becomes soft and the soil crumbles easily in your hand. Finally, the compost retains water and contains about 74% moisture. This is when you know your compost is ready to be processed.
Sterilization of the compost
The final step is to pasteurize the compost. You can use sunlight to sterilize the mixture. In commercial products, hot steam is used to kill bacteria, seeds and remove ammonia. For your convenience, you can simply turn the pile every few days and let the sun sterilize it. The proper temperature inside the battery must be at least 140 degrees Fahrenheit for it to work.
It takes up to 4 weeks for the mushroom compost to be fully pasteurized. After that, you can take it inside and let it cool. It should be 90 degrees Fahrenheit before you can apply it to your plants. If it is too hot, it could kill the seeds.
How to use mushroom compost
One of the most common myths about mushroom compost is that you can use it to replace soil entirely. But this is not true. Just because it’s used to grow mushrooms doesn’t mean you can use it as soil to grow other plants. As mentioned, compost is too alkaline for many plants and the plants will simply die.
For best results, you should mix mushroom compost with soil in a 1:4 ratio. This means that for every 75 percent of soil, you add 25 percent of compost. Since it retains water, you must be careful not to let the soil become too wet or waterlogged. Also, keep in mind that mushroom compost does not replace other composts. You must use it in combination with other organic compost to maintain the chemical balance and aeration of the soil. It also injects beneficial microorganisms into the compost.
How to “cure” your compost of fungi
While you can customize the ingredients that go into your mushroom compost to create a final product that suits the type of plants you are growing, that doesn’t mean it is the right compost for just about any plant or vegetable.
Because it has a high level of soluble salts, the alkaline nature of compost makes it harmful to berries of all types as well as azaleas and rhododendrons to name a few. That said, you can still “cure” the compost by reducing the amounts of salts in your mushroom compost using vermicomposting. This makes the compost more balanced and injects more nutrients into the mix.
Another way to treat your mushroom compost is to leave it out in the open and water it frequently while it rots. Excess water will leach out the salts, leaving you with a chemically balanced compost that you can use with all fruit plants and vegetables.