Organic Composting – Give your plants the natural food they crave!
All organic gardening
methods rely on
composting to give your
plants optimum health.
That rich, black soil is full
of helpful microorganisms
to nourish plants and
Okay, but what is organic compost? The gardener makes it out of kitchen garbage -- lettuce, orange peels, teabags, coffee grounds, spoiled food (not grease, paper or bones) – as well as leaves, hay, and other natural materials. As it all decomposes, it produces heat, in some degree. The more heat, the faster you know the pile is breaking down.
Freshly mowed grass clippings from your lawn and other green weeds, etc. (called “green manure”) can make it very hot, and so can manure from any farmyard animal, such as cows, pigs, chickens, goats, rabbits or horses. In Japan, and other countries around the world, human wastes are put openly on the fields. In the U.S., that wouldn’t work on any large scale, because of health laws concerned with the spread of disease. But it can be done safely with mulch gardening, if the need drives.
Sir Albert Howard, considered the father of organic farming, invented aerobic composting more than a century ago. He discussed organic methods and explained the process of building soil in his book, The Waste Products of Agriculture.
Howard’s work took place primarily in the Indore province of India. Unlike some other plans, the "Indore method" calls for building the pile all at once (known as “batch composting”) and then leaving it alone to finish.
The pile is layered like stacked sandwiches, each “sandwich” containing 3 layers:
<> the bottom layer, “crude matter” – dry leaves, chips, or hay;
<> the middle layer, green stuff – weeds, grass or green leaves;
<> the top layer of manure or urine-soaked soil.
Note: If wood chips are used for “crude matter,” it may take longer to break down, and need more nitrogen, unless the chips are fresh, with green leaves mixed-in to make it hot.
The sandwiches were used in groups of three – a compost pile might have either 3 or 6 sandwiches. The thickness of the layers decreased from bottom to top: the lowest one (or two) sandwiches would have layers 4 inches thick; the middle one or two, 3 inches thick; and the top one or two, only 2 inches thick. Each sandwich was topped off with a generous sprinkling of wood ashes or lime, and he also used to put a thin layer of soil from the field on each sandwich as a “starter,” but now that’s considered optional.
Sir Albert would turn the pile when it was halfway through, or when he thought it needed aerating. But more recent experiments have shown that turning isn’t needed, provided you poke 3 holes in each sandwich with a crowbar as you build the stack, to let air in. (“Aerobic” simply means letting air into the compost.) I prefer the idea of not turning the pile -- it’s more consistent with synergistic gardening, which likes to leave things alone.
THE BIODYNAMIC APPROACH
This is another method, mostly associated with French Intensive gardening. It’s more technical, and I’m not going to give details, but the results are superb, and the compost is done quickly! My problem is that it kind of reminds me of all the things I went to the country to escape -- fast, intensive, technical (and high-pressure.) But if this is your cup of tea, go for it.
My father was sold on organic gardening early on, becoming a follower of Sir Albert Howard and
J. I. Rodale as far back as the
’30s. He didn’t always have time
to do things by the book, so he developed his own ways, and there was always a garbage pile around,
in some stage of development.
His loose adaptation of Howard’s Indore Method is now known as “continuous composting.” It was realistic and practical for him, and, I expect, for many others:
<> He picked a convenient spot in the backyard, not far from the back door and handy to the garden. Then he laid down some leaves or hay (green or dried) on a 3’ x 4’ footprint. This provided an aerated cushion, and a way to show where the garbage should be dumped. Then we all casually dumped it there, until it built up to around 12” high. Then he would rake it out evenly to the edges of the footprint, but tapering in a little, to keep the edge from crumbling. Dirt was shoveled an inch deep over it all, before the next layer was started, just like the first. Sometimes he would poke holes in the second layer, for aeration.
<> He was never high-pressure about it, and there was no set schedule. It only meant that the pile took a little longer to finish. When there were around four levels, he would flip it over onto the ground next to it. Sometimes he didn’t have time to turn it at all, but the pile didn’t care, and the earthworms kept right on eating it.
<> If the pile ever smelled a little, or flies became a nuisance, a few leaves or hay were thrown on top, from a stack left nearby. But visitors to our garden were always surprised at how little odor there actually was.
Still too much work? Check out THE LAZIEST ways of composting!
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