Composting for Serious Gardeners

This comprehensive guide to composting covers everything from bin construction to applying the finished product.

| January 2016

With more than forty years of experience redefining gardening's boundaries, author Will Bonsall shows how readers can eliminate the use of off-farm inputs like fertilizers, minerals, and animal manures by practicing a purely veganic, or plant-based, agriculture-not for strictly moral or philosophical reasons, but because it is more ecologically efficient and makes good business sense.

In Will Bonsall’s Essential Guide to Radical, Self-Reliant Gardening, (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2015) he offers readers in-depth information on growing, harvesting, and processing an incredibly diverse variety of food crops. The following excerpt is from Chapter 1, “Composting as if it Mattered.”

You can purchase this book from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS STORE: Will Bonsall’s Essential Guide to Radical Self-Reliant Gardening.

I make compost and lots of it, and not just because it’s something hippie homesteaders are expected to do, but because I get a kick out of doing it. No, really. In my lifetime (so far, that is) I’ve made easily 200 tons (181 tonnes) of compost. (Well, not easily; it was a bodacious amount of work.) I still think it’s more fun than a barrel of monkeys to take a mess of useless stuff and turn it into a valuable product.

Compost is not my exclusive source of fertility; I also use green manures on some areas, and last year’s layer of decayed mulch is a significant source of nutrients; often it is enough by itself. However, the compost is a biggie, especially on certain heavy-feeding crops. It is crucial that I make enough compost and that the quality be good. And making good-quality compost requires more thought and effort than simply making a pile and letting compost happen.

I’ve known very few gardeners whose compost making furnishes most of their crops’ nutrient needs. (How far can grapefruit rinds and coffee grounds go toward building up the soil?) Typically, gardeners say that their compost is a source of humus, a source of trace minerals, or a bioactivator. They rely on hauled-in animal manure or purchased lime and other mined minerals to do the heavy lifting. This is where my garden-without-borders is different: My compost, in conjunction with green manure rotations and mulch, is intended to supply all the needs of my crops and the soil in which they live—the humus, the NPK, the good cooties, and so forth. And the ingredients in my compost all come from my immediate neighborhood. I do not bring in significant amounts of other stuff from afar. The main exception is leaves from the nearby town of Farmington, which I could as well collect from my own forest (and do), but theirs go to the landfill anyway, and I like to prevent that when I can.

2/2/2016 8:43:28 AM

Great advice. If you are a young, stout fellow. How about us older folks? We like to compost too, but don't have your stamina or strength.

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