Compost: The End and the New Beginning

Reader Contribution by Anneli Carter-Sundqvist
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It’s been an unusual winter here in Maine. It started unusually early, it was unusually cold, unusually snowy, we had a record ice-storm before Christmas and now, when arriving in April, we can conclude that winter has been unusually long. We’ve said this so many times I really feel like a skipping CD, but today, on a fantastic spring-like 1st of April I need to say it again; it’s over. Spring is here.

One of the first task of the new gardening season is to break open the compost pile. It’s the touch of spring, the smell of spring and the beginning of all what’s ahead. Our simple pallet bins is where it all ends – the garden scraps, leaves, weeds and chicken manure. This is also where it all begins – all the cabbage and carrot and parsnips and all the rest of the garden get planted in and takes its start from compost. It’s the product of nature’s own mean of survival – the process of decomposing. Something lives, dies, decomposes and form a medium for new life. The action to sustain life by the transformation of energy is a natural event that connects everyone to nature and that we too must accept our part in; to die and be metamorphosed into new life.

Making compost for the garden can be made very technical – what kind of receptacle to use, what to put in it, if and when to turn it and if and what, if any, amendments to add. Many books and articles have been written on the subject, still, if doing nothing, nature itself will inevitably take care of the decomposing – ubiquitous fungi, bacteria, microorganisms and insects are assigned the task of making this happen. That’s what happens in the forest with dead logs and debris on the ground and that’s what happens with the thick layer of seaweed mulch we cover our garden beds with every fall – it decomposes right there and provides nutrients for the soil. Hence, I don’t see any need to make compost too technical, it will happen even when kept simple.

We use pallets from the lumber yard and tie them together to form the bin and usually fill it up over the course of the season. We avoid branches and twigs cause they take too long to decompose and invasive weeds – witch grass and comfrey to mention some – that might survive and be brought back to the garden. We use separate bins for emptying our composting toilets and use the compost from them on our fruit trees and perennial flower beds. We add a lot of seaweed to our piles – it’s plenty of it washed up on the shores around here and it’s a great medium to fuel decomposing. If we think it’s necessary, we open the pile during the second season and remix it with seaweed – especially if it has a lot of sawdust from the chicken house that needs extra heat to break down. I like spending time making compost and tending the piles – adding material and sifting out debris before I use it is a way to honor the role it plays in sustaining life.

Much of the conventional agriculture today doesn’t use compost at all – the plants are fed chemicals processed with the help of fossil fuel and after the harvest the soil is left depleted. That’s the difference between sustainable food production and destructive food production – feeding the soil using nature’s own way of extending life or feeding the plant ignoring natural mechanism that’s been in use as long as there’s been life on the planet.

Growing an organic garden with compost I made using natural material from our surroundings is to comply with nature’s way of taking care of itself – it’s to remain humble for a true and tried life cycle and acknowledge our inevitable part in and connection to life on Earth.