Duration of Composting Affects Compost Characteristics of Importance to Agriculture

in HortScience
T.K. HartzDept. of Vegetable Crops, Univ. of California, Davis, CA 95616

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A recently enacted state law requiring California cities to reduce their solid waste flow to landfills has greatly increased the composting of yard and landscape wastes. Currently, much of this material is being composted for less than 16 weeks, some for as little as 4 weeks, before agricultural use. A study was conducted to document the effects of composting method and duration on the physiochemical and biological characteristics of green waste compost. At each of four commercial composting facilities, two windrows of municipal green waste were sampled at 3-week intervals over a 15-week composting period. Each sample was analyzed for pH, NH4-N, NO3-N, and total N and C. Phytotoxicity was measured by a tomato seed bioassay. N mineralization/immobilization behavior was evaluated in a 2-week aerobic incubation of a 10% compost/90% soil blend at 30°C. The growth of vinca plugs (Vinca minor cv. `Pink Cooler') in a 50% compost/50% perlite mix was also evaluated. At all sites, the initial green waste was similar, with 1.1–1.5% N and C/N ratio of 20–28. Rapid mineralization of carbon in the first 6- to 9-weeks reduced C/N ratios to 14–18, with little change thereafter. Phytotoxicity decreased through 9 to 12 weeks, then stabilized. Net N immobilization was observed throughout the compost period, but decreased with increased composting time. Vinca growth increased with increasing compost age, up to 9 to 12 weeks. In summary, at least 12 weeks of composting was required to produce material of sufficient quality for typical agricultural uses.

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