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International Journal of Agricultural Policy and Research Vol.2 (11), pp. 373-379, November 2014
Available online at http://www.journalissues.org/IJAPR/
http://dx.doi.org/10.15739/IJAPR.162
© 2014 Journal Issues

ISSN 2350-1561

Original Research Article

Advance in Mediterranean soil properties following
compost amendment
Accepted 20 June, 2013

Ali Mekki*,
Mouna Mdhaffar
and
Sami Sayadi
Laboratory of Bioprocesses,
Center of Biotechnology of Sfax,
AUF (PER-LBP), BP: 1177, 3018
Sfax, Tunisia.
*Corresponding Author
Email: a_mekki_cbs@yahoo.fr
Tel: +216 74 874 452

This study was conducted to evaluate the effects of an agro-industrial
compost applied at different rates on Mediterranean soil properties and on
plants growth. Results showed that application compost had an obvious
effect on pH, electrical conductivity and water retention capacity of soil. Soil
nitrogen increased from 0.04 mg.g-1dry matter in unamended soil to 1.2, 0.9
and 0.45 mg.g-1dry matter when compost was added at rate of 1:1. 1:4 and
1:9 (compost: soil, w/w), respectively. A faster nitrogen mineralization was
recorded in 1 compost: 9 soil mixture than that of other treatments. Seeds
germination of Tomato (Lycopersicon esculentum) and Alfalfa (Medicago
sativa), were enhanced considerably in 1 compost: 4 soil and 1 compost: 9
soil. Application of compost promoted the growth of Wheat (Triticum
durum), Sorghum (Sorghum bicolor) and Alfalfa (Medicago sativa) by an
average of 85 % in comparison with unamended plants.
Key words: Compost, fertilization, germination, nitrogen, Soil.

INTRODUCTION
In Tunisia (North of Africa), climate is arid and soils are
relatively poor in organic matter while organic wastes are
produced in a huge quantity (Cherif et al., 2009; Mekki et
al., 2012).
Soil organic matter is considered as a major component
of soil quality. It contributes directly or indirectly to several
soil properties and is a source of nutrients for the
microflora, microfauna and plants (Weil and Magdoff,
2004). Organic matter can improve the soil water holding
capacity, limit compaction and improve soil structural
stability (Annabi et al., 2007). Use of organic wastes in
agriculture could help fight against land degradation.
Several studies conducted in African arid and semi-arid
climates showed that application of waste compost to the
soil improved soil properties and crops production (Draogo
et al., 2001; Abid and Sayadi, 2006).
According to Weber et al. (2007) good agricultural
practices involve frequent applications of organic fertilizers
as well as different kinds of compost. Similarly, Perez-

Piqueres et al. (2006) stated that soil amendment by
compost is an agronomically interesting practice as well as
an attractive waste management strategy. Furthermore, the
growing quantities of organic wastes products in Tunisia
and the necessity to raise organic wastes in agriculture
make these substrates as a growing source of exogenous
organic matter available for agriculture. However, few
preliminary studies have been conducted in Tunisia to
assess the impact of agro-industrials wastes application as
an organic amendment and to define the best fertilizer
rates (Hachicha et al., 2008; Mekki et al., 2008; Mekki et
al., 2009).
In this context, our aim was to investigate the best
amendments of an agro-industrial compost (produced from
olive oil industry by-products) to use in the Mediterranean
arid climate that would improve soil biochemical
properties and enhance plant fertilization. We compared
the effects of different compost quantities, on some soil
physicochemical
and
biological properties and

Int . J. Agric. Pol. Res.

374

germination and growth of some standard plant species.
MATERIALS AND METHODS
Compost origin and description
The compost used in this study consisted mainly of 55%
olive mill waste waters (OMW) (sludge from evaporation
ponds of Agareb, Sfax, Tunisia), 18% residual green wastes
(as initial carbon substrate structuring) and 27%
dehydrated manures (from farmed chickens). The
composting process used was a windrow composting.
Soil origin and description
Studied region is located in Sfax-Tunisia (North latitude 34°
3’, East longitude 10° 20’, the mean annual rainfall is 200
mm). Study site is characterized by sandy soil with a
slightly basic pH, a low electrical conductivity and is poor in
organic matter content. The nitrogen, potassium and
phosphorus were very low. Soil samples were collected
from an uncultivated plot, analyzed (for physico-chemical
analyses) and immediately stored at -4°C for
microbiological analyses.
Physicochemical analyses
The pH and electrical conductivity (EC) of each sample
(soil, compost and mixture compost/soil) were determined
according to Peredes et al. (1987) standard method. pH
values were measured using a pH meter Mettler Toledo MP
220. EC values were measured by a conductivity meter
CONSORT. Samples dry matters and water contents were
determined according to Sierra et al. (2001) standard
method. 20 to 30 g wet samples (m1) were dried in a
porcelain crucible mass (m0) at 105°C until constant weight
(m2). Then dry matter (DM) and soil water content (H %)
were determined using the following formulas:
DM (%) = (m2-m0/m1-m0) x 100
H (%) = 100- DM (%)
Organics matters (OM) were determined as the difference
between the dry and residue (ash) from the calcination. OM
was estimated by drying the same crucible of mass m2 in a
furnace (Thermolyne 6000 Furnace type) at a temperature
of 600°C for a minimum of 2 hours using the following
formula;
OM (% of DM) =100 x (m2-m3) / (m2-m0)
Mineral matter (MM) was calculated as follows;
MM (% of DM) = DM-OM (%DM)
Total nitrogen was assessed by Kjeldahl (Kandeler 1995).
The first step is the sample mineralization by acid digestion
(sulfuric acid) in the presence of a catalyst (selenium).
Organic nitrogen is converted into ammonium sulfate
(NH4)2 SO4. By distilling the ammonium sulfate with an
excess of concentrated NaOH (5N), ammonia (NH3) is

released and carried by the current of water vapor.
Ammonia is thus collected in a solution of boric acid
(H3BO3: 2%) by the equation of the following reaction:
H3BO3 + NH3
(NH4) H2BO3
The resulting solution is then titrated with hydrochloric
acid (HCl: 0.01 M). The latter reacts with ammonium borate
[(NH4) H2BO3] giving ammonium chloride (NH4+ Cl-) and
undissociated boric acid (H3BO3) according to the equation
of the following reaction:
(NH4) H2BO3 + H+ + ClNH4+Cl- + H3BO3
Thus for a mass (m in grams) of the sample and a volume
(v in ml) of HCl (0.01 M) used for titration of ammonium
ions, the percentage of total nitrogen is given by the
formula (Kandeler 1995):
%N (g) = 0,014 x 4v/m.
Ammoniacal nitrogen (N-NH4) was determined according
to (Kandeler, 1995) standard method. Phosphorus, iron,
magnesium, potassium, calcium, sodium and chloride were
determined by atomic absorption.
Microbiological analyses
Ten grams of each sample (soil, compost, mixture
compost/soil) was suspended in an erlenmeyer flask
containing 90 ml of a sterile solution (0.2% of sodium
polyphosphate (NaPO3)n in distilled water, pH 7.0) and 10 g
of sterile glass beads (1.5 mm diameter). The flask was
shaken at 200 rpm for 2 h. Serial 10-fold dilutions of the
samples in a 0.85% NaCl solution were plated in triplicate
on PCA at 30°C for total bacterial counts, on Sabouraud
containing chloramphenicol at 25°C for yeasts and moulds,
on DCL at 37°C for total coliforms.
Each sample was analyzed in duplicate and the dilution
series were plated in triplicate for each medium. All these
counts were expressed as colony forming units (CFU) per
gram of dried soil (24 h at 105°C).
Agronomic valorization tests
Effects of different mixtures of compost/soil on seeds
germination of two standard plants species, (Tomato
(Lycopersicon esculentum) and Alfalfa (Medicago sativa))
were assessed by determination of the germination index
according to the procedure of Zucconi et al. (1981) standard
method. Effects of different mixtures of compost/soil on
growth of three cultivated plants species, Wheat (Triticum
durum), Sorghum (Sorghum bicolor) and Alfalfa (Medicago
sativa) were investigated.
Statistical analyses
For physicochemical analyses, three replications were used
for each parameter. For microbiological soil analyses, each
soil sample was analyzed in duplicate, and the dilution
series were plated in triplicate for each medium. Data were
analyzed using the ANOVA procedure. Variance and

Mekki et al.

375

Table 1. Physicochemical properties of used compost
Characteristics
pH (25°C)
EC (dS m-1) (25°C)
Dry matter (%)
Water content (%)
Organic matter (%)
Total Nitrogen Kjeldahl (%)
Ammoniacal nitrogen (%)
Carbon/Nitrogen
P (mg l-1)
Ca (g l-1)
K (g l-1)
Na (g l-1)
Cl (g l-1)
Mg (mg l-1)
Fe (mg l-1)
Mn (mg l-1)
Zn (ppm)
Cu (ppm)
Ni (ppm)

Values
9.16 ± 0.2
7.33 ± 0.1
95.17 ± 0.7
4.83 ± 0.3
13.55 ± 0.2
0.55 ± 0.05
0.046 ± 0.01
13.56 ± 0.4
4.1 ± 0.2
3.34 ± 0.3
2.24 ± 0.2
6.6 ± 0.5
7.4 ± 0.6
3.1 ± 0.3
3.3 ± 0.3
0.12 ± 0.01
78 ± 0.7
1.7 ± 0. 1
2.11 ± 0.2

Table 2. Physicochemical and granulometric soil
characteristics
Characteristics
pH (25°C)
EC (dS m-1) (25°C)
Dry matter (%)
Water content (%)
Organic matter (%)
Total Nitrogen Kjeldahl (%)
Ammoniacal nitrogen (%)
Carbon/Nitrogen
P(%)
Ca(%)
K(%)
Na(%)
Mg(%)
Sand (%)
Clay (%)
Silt (%)

Values
7.2 ± 0.2
0.125 ± 0.002
97.4 ± 0.8
2.6 ± 0.2
1.49 ± 0.1
0.024 ± 0.002
0.01 ± 0.001
34.16 ± 0.5
0.014 ± 0.001
0.23 ± 0.02
0.06 ± 0.001
0.6 ± 0.01
0.31± 0.03
83.73 ± 2
9.77 ± 0.8
6.5 ± 0.6

standard deviation were determined using Genstat 5
(second edition for windows).
RESULTS
Physicochemical properties of compost
The studied compost have an alkaline pH, a high electrical
conductivity and a C/N ratio of around 15. The rate of NH4+
is lower the upper limit recommended for mature compost
which is 400 mg. kg. Used compost contains suitable levels
of organic matter and nutrients (N, P and K). The values of

Figure 1: Nitrogen contents (at different shapes) in control soil and
compost

heavy metals were lower than European standards (Table
1).
Effects of compost on the soil properties
Table 1 showed that compost have initial pH more alkaline
than control soil pH (Table 2). Indeed, the compost contains
Calcium (Ca), Magnesium (Mg) in addition to bases (OH-,
CO2) which will neutralize soil acidity and influence its pH.
Water is a fundamental factor in the soil genesis and for
plant life. As indicated in Table 2, the soil water content was
feeble in comparison with used compost (Table 1).
Subsequently, addition of compost enhances the soil water
retention capacity (SWRC) by 100%.
The compost is very rich in organic matter by comparison
with soil. Consequently its addition improves meaningfully
the soil organic matter content. The soil potassium content
differs from the mineralogical composition of the rock and
the intensity of losses by export, by leaching and /or by
erosion. The soil potassium content increases by 5.2, 2.7 and
1.51%, alternately for 1C/1S, 1C/4S and 1C/9S. The increase
in potassium content can be explained by the binding of K+
ions from the mineralization of organic matter on the
exchange complex and the decrease of cations exchange
capacity by the organic matter degradation.
Nitrogen contents (at different shapes) in control soil and
compost were illustrated in Figure 1. Then it is obvious that
the compost nitrogen content (at different forms) is greater
by at least 10 fold than the soil content. Nitrogen
transformation was followed during 90 days in pots
containing mixtures of compost/soil through doses above
(1C/1S; 1C/4S and 1C/9S among two pots for each dose).
Figure 2 illustrates changes in the total nitrogen content
in the different mixtures compost/soil over time. For dose
1C/1S, values fluctuate between 0.27 mg g dry matter and
0.25 mg g dry matter. Besides, the total nitrogen recovered

Int.J.Agric.Pol.Res.

376

Figure 2: Total nitrogen evolution during incubation period

Figure 4: Ammoniacal nitrogen evolution during incubation period

soil is relatively low (104 CFU g dry soil). We note a rise in
the number of total bacteria with the addition of compost.
Indeed, after 42 days of incubation, the total mesophilic
flora counted a 40% increase in the mixture 1C/4S (8 folds
compared to the control soil), 75% increase in the mixture
1C/9S (14 folds compared to control soil). For dose 1C/1S
we renowned a decrease of the total microflora count after
42 days.
This may be due to the reduction of O2 in mixture 1C/1soil
(anaerobic effect). Alternatively, we distinguished the
nonattendance of coliforms in the control soil and compost.
Thus we can deduce that the used compost is free of any
contamination since these microorganisms are known by their
abundance in polluted sites.
Effects of compost on seeds germination and on plants
growth
Figure 3: Organic nitrogen evolution during incubation period

by the release of organic matter from plants debris and
remains of microorganisms and fauna, this explains the
almost constant trend of total nitrogen content over time.
This phenomenon is also displayed in the other two doses
(1C/4S; 1C/9S) that their curves are almost linear (Figure
2).
Organic nitrogen content evolution has a shape
generally decreasing with time. This is explained by the
activity of mineralization. This occurrence is clearer in
mixtures 1C/1S and 1C/4S (Figure 3). In relation, Figure
4 shows an increase in ammoniacal nitrogen (N-NH4)
content for various mixtures compost/soil that confirm
the organic nitrogen decrease and the total nitrogen
constancy over time.
Total mesophilic microflora enumerated in the control

To evaluate the agronomic quality of the used compost,
germination tests were performed. Germination Index (GI)
evolution of Tomato (Lycopersicon exulentum) and Alfalfa
(Medicago sativa) seeds were followed. Different
proportions compost/soil (1C/1S, 1C/4S and 1C/9S) on
samples of 0 day and 50 days incubation were compared to
the control soil.
The Alfalfa GI increased after 50 days incubation for all
mixtures compost/soil. GIs were more amplified in the
mixture 1C/9S (the GI values reach 114.4% comparatively
with control medium). The Tomato GI evolution shows a
decrease after 50 days of incubation in the dose 1C/1S
viewing that this dose (1C/1S) is phytotoxic for Tomato
seeds. For the dose 1C/4S, there was a slight increase of
about 10% and the best results were observed in the
mixture 1C/9S in which we noted an increase of about 66%.
Concerning the effects of compost on plants growth, the
wheat plants size shifting follows a straight line of low slope

Mekki et al.

in the control soil, which indicates a rapid entry into the
linear phase without noticeable shift by an exponential
phase. In other mixtures compost/soil, plants elongation
curve has a substantially sigmoidal. It is also significant that
the slope of the exponential phase and the evolution height
throughout the growth cycle were much larger on the
amended soils. This could be explained by the lack of
nutrients in the control soil and were made by the
amendment. At the beginning of the experiment, the growth
of wheat plants was more pronounced in the control soil
than in soil amended with compost, but from the fourth
week, it was noted that plants growth in amended soils was
faster than the control soil. The best dose was the 1C/9S. For
dose 1C/1S we noticed the complete absence of seeds
germination which confirms the results found previously in
the germination tests (phytotoxic dose) (data not shown).
The wheat plants height stabilizes at 22.5 cm in presence
of 1C/9S. For sorghum, the growth curves of plants
evolving in the control soil with low slope of the
exponential phase. In amended soils, although the initial
heights were lower than those of the control, it was found
that during the exponential phase the average height of
these plants exceeds that of the control more precisely from
the 5th week. At the end of the experiment, the growth of
the control plants reached a height of 23.2 cm. The
contribution of compost promotes better plants growth eg
dose 1C/4S with an average height of 35 cm after 42 days of
culture followed by dose 1C/9S with an average height of
57 cm.
DISCUSSION
The studied compost have an alkaline pH, a high electrical
conductivity and a C/N ratio around 15. Then, according to
Cayuela et al. (2006) in a successful composting process of
waste from the olive industry, the pH values are between 7
and 9. Huang et al. (2006) reported that changes in the C/N
ratio reflect the decomposition and stabilization of organic
matter. Hachicha et al. (2008) showed that the loss of water
during the composting thermophilic phase generates salts
concentration in the remaining material which causes
therefore an increase in salinity and so the electrical
conductivity. The rate of NH4+ is lower the upper limit
recommended for mature compost (Zucconi and De Bertoldi,
1987).
The used compost have initial pH more alkaline than
control soil pH. It should be noted that the optimum soil pH
is between 6 and 7 because the majority of nutrients
available to plants in this pH range (Dinon and Gerstmans,
2008). Compost can be used as basic amendments limiting
soil acidification. Indeed, these amendments contain
calcium (Ca), Magnesium (Mg) in addition to bases (OH-,
CO2-) which will neutralize soil acidity and influence it is pH
(Dinon and Gerstmans, 2008). The electrical conductivity
provides an estimate of the total content of dissolved salts.

377

Montserrat et al. (2006) reported that organic fertilization
contributes to land salinity and these effects depend on the
nature and amount of organic material used.
Water is a fundamental factor in the soil genesis and for
plant life. Soil water holding capacity is the amount of water
capable of being retained by the soil in place (Ammar et al.,
2004). Soil Organic Matter (SOM) consists of a mixture of
substances produced by living organisms and/or from
macromolecules at various stages of decomposition (BeckFriis et al., 2003). The compost is very rich in organic matter
by comparison with soil. Consequently it is addition improve
meaningfully the soil organic matter content. The soil
potassium content differs from the mineralogical
composition of the rock and the intensity of losses by export,
by leaching and/or by erosion (Halilat et al., 2000).
According to Bockman et al. (1990) most of the soil
potassium is included in the insoluble mineral compounds.
The total nitrogen consists largely of organic nitrogen
which decreases over time either through immobilization
otherwise via mineralization by microorganisms (Hachicha
et al., 2008). Besides, the total nitrogen recovered by the
release of organic matter from plants debris and remains of
microorganisms and fauna, this explains the almost constant
trend of total nitrogen content over time. Organic nitrogen
content evolution has a shape generally decreasing with time.
This is explained by the activity of mineralization (Mekki et al.,
2009).
Microorganisms influence differently the structure and
biological activity of soil according to their types, their
metabolism and their synthesis products (Jastrow and Miller,
1991; Mekki et al., 2006). Total mesophilic microflora
enumerated in the control soil is relatively low. This may be
due to soil exceptional poverty in organic matter and the
dehydrated climate. We note a rise in the number of total
bacteria with the addition of compost. Alternatively, we
distinguished the nonattendance of coliforms in the control
soil and compost. Thus we can deduce that the used compost
is free of any contamination since these microorganisms are
known by their abundance in polluted sites. In fact, many
authors agree that composting is an excellent sanitizing
treatment ensures the inactivation of pathogens (Jastrow and
Miller, 1991).
The germination index increased gradually over time for all
mixtures compost/soil and even in the raw compost which
indicates that the compost is not phytotoxic (Zucconi et al.,
1981). These results were consistent with those found by
(Abid and Sayadi, 2006) which showed that the addition of
compost from olive mill waste water had positive effects on
growth of Tomato plants.
Conclusion
Soil biochemical properties can be greatly affected by the
addition of organic amendments. This study shows that the
application of agro industrial compost in an arid climate

Int. J. Agric. Pol. Res.

378

modifies structural and physico-chemical soil properties,
stimulates seeds germination and improves plants growth.
High soil organic matter concentration (SOM) and soil
fertility were positively correlated with high hydraulic
conductivity and water retention capacity. Although the
positive effect of SOM on soil aggregation is well known,
this study did not identify a strong relation-ship between
these two properties.
Finally, this study indicates the ecological importance of
organic materials addition especially in an arid
environment, even when applied in relatively moderate
quantities, for the improvement of soil biochemical
properties and crops growth.
ACKNOWLEDGMENT
This research was funded by contracts programmes
(MESRS, Tunisia).
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