STEP 4: LEARN AND PRACTICE THE ART OF COMPOSTING
Every person who inhabits this earth can play a vital role in reversing global warming. We can’t leave it up to the politicians, the industrialists, the farmers or the educators for they all have their own agenda. We the people have to take this into our own hands and band together to make a difference. We can build up our soils to grow healthy plants by learning how to compost. Compost is rich organic matter that when added to the top layer of earth will increase the quality of our soils. Rich organic soil will grow healthy plants. Growing healthy organic plants is the key to sequester carbon from the air and put it back into the soil. When we compost, we let nature do the work but we help by providing conditions that allow composting to work more efficiently.
In the beginning of the compost process, in the middle of the assembled pile of organic products, there is a fight for carbon where millions of bacteria and fungi multiply in huge numbers creating an enormous microbial population. This is the start of a process that takes place where organic matter coming from the earth is broken down into rich humus that we call compost. The breakdown process takes place as larger orders of life feed on lower orders and produces a nutrient rich black humus filled with microbial life. We can help nature fortify its soils by adding this rich nutrient amendment back into our soils building up the organic content of our existing soil.
The microbial population injected into soil creates or enhances the food web which is what creates sustainable landscapes. Good soil needs to be filled with a robust mixture of microbial life. Soil is a living community whose interactions support life on earth. We as human beings, do not observe the interactions of our underground life, therefore, we pay little attention to it nor do we understand it. It is part of nature’s intricate system to support life.
From the earth comes everything that sustains us. There is a natural system that we need to understand if we are going to help it. Everything that comes from the earth needs to go back into the earth. Round and round it goes, the magnificent cycle that sustains life. It’s an incredible arrangement that is at work for us and we can help support it by composting. When we educate our population to the important role they can play by composting, we can help reverse global warming and help purify our air. By working together we can save the earth from extinction. One of the vital things each of us can do is to learn how important a role we must play in this process. If we learn how to compost and learn how to build up each of our own soils, we will be contributing to the overall success of soil improvement. Healthy, organic soils support healthy plants which pull CO2 out of the air.
The huge problem the industrial revolution has created is polluting our air. It is going to be an intricate and colossal problem to undue it. There has been a lot of effort made in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and progress is being made. Since reducing and eliminating the pollutants we pour into our air is going to be difficult and take a long time to change, we need to tackle the impending problem from many fronts. Man has interfered with nature’s system creating disastrous results. Nature, however can save us from ourselves. We need to go back to her to find a solution. We need to go back to agriculture something that all people can relate to. All life springs from the top layer of soil that covers our earth.
I am a grower and have grown and propagated plants all my life. I can’t understand why anyone should have to suffer from hunger. We need to partner with the earth and she will feed us. She has provided us with everything we need and all we need to do is to take action to do our part. We need to work with nature not against her. What we are suffering from is lack of knowledge of how to grow vegetables for ourselves. We need to put our trust into nature. Each family and each community needs to know that we have a way to create a fall back system that can sustain us through tough times. We all have to learn how to grow plants. Backyard gardening and community gardening needs to be embraced. When things get tough and scarce, we are required to rely on ourselves not someone else. Knowledge is the key.
We have to garden and know how to work the land. We would be smart to create a little bit of farmer in all of us. We need to become part of nature and learn from her. She can teach us more than we can learn from books. We have to understand how we can make an unproductive piece of land into a productive one. This requires not only an individual effort but a community effort. This necessitates an educational effort to engrain this into every person’s survival instincts. Vegetable gardening should be taught in every school at an early age. Mother Nature can be a part of every child’s early learning experience. The land and the soil can provide us with all the ingredients that sustain our life. This is something we must learn. We need to garden, feel the soil between our fingers, and experience the life that springs forth from a seed. We have to learn from the soil and understand how it works. Only when we understand gardening and nature’s ways can we understand nature’s hidden secrets of how we can reduce global warming.
Understanding nature’s ways allows us to help nature. We can aid in recycling everything that is grown on this earth back into the earth and make it better. It is a mindset and responsibility we should want to develop in order to do our part. Making an unproductive piece of land a more productive piece of land is a challenge we need to meet. Even in the crowded urban areas of our cities we have vacant land bordering its sidewalks and we have flat roofs of factories or multi storied buildings where we can grow plants, our own food or beautiful flowers. Wherever we can bring together sunshine, rain and soil we can grow plants whether they bring us beauty or food. No one should ever go hungry. Where there is soil, there is food to be grown. Where we grow plants organically, we can sequester carbon from the air.
The earth is filled with soil and even if it is not a good soil we can make it a rich organic soil that can grow healthy carbon sequestering plants. If we have land, we can grow healthy grains to feed cattle. Where there is a piece of dirt, we can build a rich organic soil. Where there is rich organic soil we can grow organic plants. The key to all of this is composting. The key to composting is knowing how to do it. Adding compost to unproductive soil makes it productive. If one of the incentives to grow plants organically is to sustain our own health, we need to encourage people to do it. In the process we are also sustaining the health of our earth.
In the process we are contributing to reversing global warming. Everything on earth is connected. Urban and suburban America is filled with the population that can make the difference. Urban America is filled with lots of impervious surfaces but it is also filled with lots of land. We need to utilize this land to grow organic plants so we can sequester the carbon from our air, grow our own healthy food and beautify our surroundings.
Suburbia has the people to do it and the land to do it on. Every inch of soil can help. An educated public needs to rally to the crisis. We can grow fresh air by taking the carbon out of the air and tying it up in our soil. It’s a simple concept that we know works. Carbon supports the life in our food web. The food web supports healthy plants and fosters the photosynthetic process which converts the CO2 in the air into oxygen. If we believe in nature’s ways, we will become a strong advocate for her. Composting is a way man can help.
Composting is a mixture of decayed plants and other organic matter used by gardeners for enriching soil. Composting plays a vital role in developing heterogeneous mixtures within the soils. The greater the mix of organic products in a soil, the richer will be the soil and the more robust will be the food web. Composting is one of the best methods we have to add diversity of carbon rich products to our soils. Anything organic can be composted. Three quarters of household wastes are compostable. Composting is good for your garden, good for your pocketbook and good for your landfills. Composting bins can be built or purchased and the process is easy once you understand a few basic facts.
Composting requires adequate moisture, lots of aeration in the pile, and the addition of microbes to help in the breakdown process. CN ratio is important. C stands for carbon which is usually made up of organic products that are `brown or yellow, dry or bulky, or parts of stems with more cellulose fiber. N stands for nitrogen. Nitrogen products are usually green or fleshy. Add alternate layers as you build your pile. Keep your pieces small. You will want roughly 2/3 carbon organic to 1/3 nitrogen organic. Build composting sites on a well drained surface.
The greater the mix of materials in your pile, the more varied the nutrients that will be available to your plants. All composts are not the same. What is relatively constant are the huge numbers of bacteria and fungi and other microorganisms’ that are created. They break down the organic matter into rich nutritive soil conditioners. When the rich mix is fed to your soil, you are inoculating it with a large population of microbes. Once they become part of your soil they will work for you day and night. They are the unpaid workers that develop a remarkable system called the food web. Compost builds good soil structure. When mixed into a heavy clay soil it increases aeration and when added to a sandy soil it adds organic matter to it.
There are many different styles and options to buy compost bins on the open market. The most inexpensive option is to build your own. I like simple structures built with chicken wire. Always build your structure on a flat well drained area. I like 3’ heights and 3’ widths. Air circulation is very important. That is why I like my sides to be built out of chicken wire or another wire mesh product. The beneficial microbes and other microorganisms that break down organic matter need oxygen to breath. These are the guys who do all the breaking down and shredding of the pile. Water is essential for all life functions and that is why there needs to be moisture in the pile. Waterlogged conditions remove oxygen from the pile so soil needs to be moist but not waterlogged.
Any organic material will decompose and be compostable. CN ratio is important to get the right proportion of bulky, dry, high-carbon materials to moist, green, and high-nitrogen materials. Carbon is what microorganisms eat, and nitrogen is needed for reproduction. Example leaves and wood chips are high in carbon and grass clippings and vegetative plant material is high in nitrogen.
Spend some time researching your ingredients. It is the rapid reproduction of bacteria that build up the heat in a compost pile. We like to get the heat up to 140-150 degrees for three days to kill the weed seeds and pathogenic microbes.
One of the simplest inexpensive compost structures that I like is buy a 3’ wire fencing and connect it in a 3’ diameter circle creating a 3’ high cylinder. Place it on a well drained surface and when it is finished lift it up and spread it. You can position many of these throughout your property. Always smell your compost before you spread it out on your soil. Your compost should have a sweet earthy smell. If it has a toxic smell it has gone anaerobic. This sour anaerobic product is bad for your soil. Do not use it. I also like to build a series of five 3’ x3’x3’containers lined with a wire mesh and a front opening door so that you can easily turn your piles monthly to revitalize the pile by adding more oxygen into the pile. Google compost structures there are hundreds of choices that you can make. Buy yourself a compost thermometer to monitor the temperature in your pile. The important thing is to make composting a common part of your life. The strength of any plant is in the soil it is grown in. It should be a moral obligation to the plants growing on your property to build up the quality of your soils.
Our nursery and greenhouse operation was started in 1944. I never remember a day that my parents wouldn’t impress upon us the importance of composting. By the potting bench we always had 2 large containers one for compost and one for trash. Whenever we pinched back a plant it went into the compost container. Hardly anything ended up in the garbage for almost everything ended up being composted. We had a nursery and landscape operation where we brought in trailer loads of trees and shrubs each year. The nursery was always full of plants. In the fall when the leaves fell off the trees, landscapers would bring in loads of leaves that we would spread between the root balls of the plants. As the leaves decomposed in the winter, the root balls were kept warm and our plants came through the winter with very little winter burn. Each year leaves decomposed and gave us leaf mold which my father called “black gold”. This was one of the main ingredients we added to our soil mix.
Materials that came back from landscape jobs were grinded up in the wood chipper and added to the compost pile. We grew all our plants in our own soil and composted products so that we could produce a rich organic soil. We never used packaged artificial mixes sold on the market. My father’s soil mixture became sought after in the County and the nursery staff hand packaged it in bags which we sold. My father preached the strength of any plant is in the soil mixture it is grown in. We mixed our own soils in a large soil shredder using compost and leaf mold as our base but also added a large mixture of other soil organics into it. We were known to grow the best plants in the County. This was due in a large part to the soil we grew them in. Composting was a part of my every day work ethic. Once you get used to it, it becomes matter of fact. Once you see the results from it, you never question it. Conditioning your soil is part of growing a healthy plant.
Compost can be used to improve the soil structure. It can also be used to improve the soil by top dressing existing soil with a good soil structure where the nutrients work their way from the top down. In both cases the organic matter filled with a large number of microorganisms tremendously benefits the existing soil. Composting is one of the key ways we can help turn global warming around and grow healthy strong plants. A healthy organically grown plant takes carbon out of the air and locks it up in our soils. Composting needs to become a matter of fact procedure for every gardener to follow.
COMPOST TEA: Once you are able to produce good compost, you can easily brew compost tea. I consider this to be the most under-used but best method to add health to our gardens. When you apply compost teas monthly or at least 3 times a year, the results are astounding.
Compost tea results from brewing a finished compost product. The brewing process consists of adding good compost to chlorine–free water, adding microbial food and microbial catalyst to grow and multiply the population, and finally bubbling in oxygen to fuel the process. Compost tea is used in addition to, not in place of, compost. The purpose of applying this tea to the soil and the plants is to greatly multiply the number of beneficial microbes. It contains lots of bacteria, fungi, nematodes and protozoa. It allows us to multiply and grow the life in our soil. The tea by greatly increasing the microbial life in a soil helps to suppress disease, provide nutrients to plants and soil, and increases plant growth. The tea helps to develop a good food web. Everything in nature works together and plays a vital role in natural gardening.
The brewing process takes 24-36 hours. The food sources which are introduced can vary. Good food sources are non-sulfur molasses, cane syrup, maple syrup, fruit juices, kelp and fish powder or ground up fish extracts. Make sure none of the ingredients contain preservatives. Two tablespoons of any of these sugars in 5 gallons of water will help bacteria multiply. Good catalyst for fungal growth are Aloe vera extracts, rock dust, fulvic acid, yucca extracts ,blueberries, apples, and the pulp of oranges. Fungal mycelium can be grown in compost prior to adding it to a tea. Cooked oatmeal mixed into compost can produce mycelium in 3 days. Through an aerobic process, you can grow large populations of beneficial microorganisms. A bacterial population can grow from one billion in a teaspoon of compost to four billion in a teaspoon of actively aerated compost tea.
There are many methods and a lot of expensive equipment that can be used to make compost tea. I will focus on a simple, inexpensive method for homeowners to use. What you will need is a 5-. 10-,or 15 gallon bucket. Fill it ¾ full of water. Buy an aquarium air pump preferably with two air outlets or use two pumps. The larger the container, the more air you will need. If your water is chlorinated, let the air pump run one hour to remove chlorine from the water prior to starting the process. Rainwater is the best water source.
Twenty five percent by volume of well aged compost placed in a burlap or porous non dyed fabric sack should be hung on a wooden crossbar into the water.
Compost tea should be made at room temperature and kept out of bright sunlight. Timing is important. At the end of 24-36 hours of brewing, apply the compost tea to your property. Waiting too long can cause an anaerobic mix to develop. Before applying, smell your mixture. It should smell sweet and healthy, if it has a foul odor don’t use it.
A simple method of distribution is to attach a siphon to your faucet to make the application. Drop the siphon into the bucket of compost tea, turn on the water and water your plants. The dilution rate is usually 16 – 20 to 1. The diluted mixture will distribute your microbes evenly and gently and is an easy fast method of application.
A good rule of thumb is to apply 10 gallons of concentrated compost tea to 40,000 square feet monthly or at least 3 times a year. Apply in the evening when the sun goes down so as not to expose the microbes to the sun. If your water source contains chlorine, buy yourself an inexpensive chlorine filter to attach to your water spigot. The Dram Company sells a siphon jet which dilutes the concentrate as it mixes in your hose. You can also attach your garden hose directly to a sump pump, which is dropped into the mixture. You can dilute your concentrated mixture with chlorine free water as much as you feel you need to in order to distribute it evenly over your area.
Compost tea has the extraordinary ability to quickly build a large population of microbial life injected into your soil. Microbial life supports a strong food web. It is the food web that supports vigorous plant life which pulls CO2 out of the air and puts oxygen back into it. This is the strategy we are imploring to reverse global warming. It is a strategy gardeners can understand and something each person can learn to do to help. It is rich organic soil that will grow healthy vigorous plants that will save our earth. Global warming is real and we all need to play our part in fighting it.
It is frustrating that the middle of the week is warm and the weekends are freezing cold. We all want to get going in our garden but we are huddled in our house trying to keep warm. Last Sunday with temperatures in the low teens and the winds blowing, I was not able to reach 60 degrees in my house. I was going to stay home to write my email but couldn’t take the cold. I escaped to the back greenhouse to fill flats of 4 ½” pots with our organic soil to get them ready for spring planting. I had a ball.
When the sun shines in a greenhouse on a sunny day the temperatures build up. I enjoyed the afternoon listening to Pandora on my eye phone feeling close to nature and stripping off my jacket as temperatures reached 80 degrees. I checked out the temperatures in Krautters Year Round Organic Vegetable Garden and it was a pleasant 78 degrees. I thought how relatively inexpensive “Krautter’s Year Round Organic Vegetable Garden” is to build. How enjoyable and profitable it would be for my customers to grow nutrient, rich organic vegetables during the cold winter months. It is a structure that does not require a water system or a heating system. There are no energy costs to keep it running. It’s a pleasant warm place to be on a sunny cold winter day.
I was thinking of how great it would be for school children to be part of this learning experience. Of the hundreds of lessons that could be taught here. Lessons involving compost energy, solar energy, thermal energy, a means of recycling water, raised beds, organic soil, growing organic plants, nutrient evaluations, the ability to move water in poly tubes and the unending list of nature’s lessons that can be spun off any of these subjects. The lessons that can be taught go on and on. The impact on this kind of learning is essential for our future prosperity and ties in with our solutions for global warming. It is a learning curve that is at its infancy and needs to be developed. Maybe we need to call it a “Laboratory for Learning Nature’s Ways” to achieve greater recognition in our learning institutions.