Duration of Composting of Yard Wastes Affects Both Physical and Chemical Characteristics of Compost and Plant Growth

in HortScience
Authors: T.K. Hartz1 and C. Giannini1
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  • 1 Department of Vegetable Crops, University of California, Davis, CA 95616

Windrows of municipal yard and landscape waste at three commercial composting sites in California were sampled at ≈3-week intervals through 12 to 15 weeks of composting to observe changes in physiochemical and biological characteristics of importance to horticulture. Initial C, N, P, and K content averaged 30%, 1.3%, 0.20%, and 0.9%, respectively. Carbon concentration declined rapidly through the first 6 to 9 weeks, while N, P, and K remained relatively stable throughout the sampling period. Few viable weed seeds were found in any compost. A high level of phytotoxicity, as measured by a tomato (Lycopersicon esculentum Mill.) seed bioassay, was observed at only one site; overall, the degree of phytotoxicity declined with compost age. Short-term net N immobilization (in a 2-week aerobic incubation) was observed in nearly all samples, with an overall trend toward decreased immobilization with increased compost age. In a 16-week pot study in which fescue (Festuca arundinacea Shreb.) was grown in compost-amended soil, net N mineralization averaged only 2% to 3% of compost total N content. Neither composting site nor duration of composting significantly affected either N mineralization rate or fescue growth. Growth of vinca (Catharanthus roseus Don.) in a blend of 1 compost : 1 perlite increased with increasing compost age. Overall, at least 9 to 12 weeks of composting were required to minimize the undesirable characteristics of immature compost.

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