Making More Dirt: Compost Management

| 9/27/2012 9:58:01 AM

Tags: permaculture, compost, soil fertility, soil amendment, sustainable agriculture, Bethann Weick,

The birch leaves are falling, convincing the beech to follow suit, and the sugar maples are showing off their brilliant reds and golden hues.  The evening breeze is reliably cool, and the mornings are laden with dew.  The autumnal night is arriving quicker and quicker; the days, shortened, are filled with the hurry for winter. 

Even as the end of this growing season is suddenly, rapidly in sight, the preparations for the next one are in front of us. 


one large compost pileIn these cool mornings, the steam from our scattered compost piles is easily visible, a wispy indication of the powerful, perpetual decomposition process transpiring within each mound of compost.  Each pile is full of microbial action.  Having been turned through the summer, our compost is active and alive. 

If we want to talk science, compost can be understood in terms of two elements: carbon and nitrogen.  In layman’s speak, this is the “brown” and the “green.”  Regardless of linguistic preferences, a healthy compost pile should offer a robust mix of woody materials (woodchips, straw, old hay, dry grass clippings, woody debris) and fresh matter (food scraps, weeds, manure, fresh grass clippings).  In combination with oxygen introduced into the pile through frequent turning, a hot, active microbial environment is fostered, essentially “cooking” the pile’s contents.  Decomposition happens fairly rapidly in this manner, providing quality soil for use in the gardens within a season or two. 

Which is exactly what we are preparing ourselves to go.  As our garden beds are harvested from and weeded out this fall, a fresh layer of finished compost will be added, introducing new organic matter and increasing the fertility of the garden bed.  This process is essential.  Finished compost releases nutrients slowly over time, preventing soil from becoming depleted and helping to ensure plant health. 

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