Piles of Dirt

Reader Contribution by Bethann Weick
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In light of a forecast filled
with heavy downpours and dark skies, the weather wasn’t so bad. For each intermittent bout of showers, there
were equal hours of warmth and almost-sunshine. The day began with a quick harvest, a warm-up before we headed to
the bulk of our day’s labor: compost turning. 

Now, compost is nature’s process
of decomposition. It’s happening all
around us. Maintaining compost piles is
simply a means of harnessing the nutrients in various “waste” products, then
using the natural breakdown of organic matter to our benefit. Compost becomes soil – plant food – that
then becomes human food. Turning
compost is part and parcel of planning ahead for your next dinner
gathering. 

So it was to this task that we
turned our attention. Here at D Acres
we have a handful of disparate compost piles that have accumulated over the
fall and winter months. Some are small,
needing the addition of more material to successfully become a steaming pile of
compost (Rather than lumpy conglomerations of odds-and-ends detritus harboring
the last of the snow and ice beneath their loads). Some, however, loom large. 

These blue-ribbon piles are full
of microbial action. Wisps of steam
rising from the piles’ zenith are modest indicators of internal decomposition. 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. 

And this process is
essential. Finished compost releases
nutrients slowly over time, preventing soil from becoming depleted and helping
to ensure plant health. Compost,
therefore, is a key component to a healthy garden system.

So back to that looming compost
pile. (Are you familiar with our ox
hovel? Well, the oxen have had a lot to
eat. Check out their heaping, steaming
compost mound on your next visit to the farm.) At the time, heaving pitchforkfuls of partially-aged ox manure overhead,
the mental mantra isn’t more than a rhythmic scoop-and-pitch-and-scoop-again. With this round of turning completed, though,
it sure is satisfying to think of the plants it will grow and the meals it will
provide. Just a few more turnings to go
between now and then. 

And the thing is, this tale could
be your story, too. Start a compost
pile! Already have one? Build it up, turn it regularly – it will
only be to your benefit. With soil on
hand, any plant will be more willing to grow.