Compost is the breakdown product of organic wastes, containing large proportions of humus which is a long-acting soil fertility booster. Any organic material (not talking about certified organic designation, just the carbon-based once-living kind of organic) can be composted, eventually becoming soil again as it once was before being integrated into an organism.
“Composts offer a practical means of maintaining the soil fertility which is the most important factor in the successful operation of a subsistence farm….There are available on practically all farms and gardens many materials which are useful for composts, although the farmer or gardener often fails to appreciate their value. Some of the common materials which are often wasted are leaves, straw, muck, vegetable tops, grass clippings, and garbage material which is inedible for chickens or pigs.”
~C.C. Fletcher, 1935 USDA Yearbook of Agriculture
Compost’s contribution to farming is unable to be valued. Your time can be the only cost involved, but your gains will far outstrip every hour that you put into making it. It really isn’t rocket science and even the parts green to brown don’t matter so much, so don’t worry about getting it perfect. Something is better than nothing, and with hard work, faith, and practice you will be able to tell what works best for you.
I like to compost in many different small piles at the end of each of my beds, rather than in large batches. Every few days I will take out our kitchen scraps, of which we create about a gallon per day. I use a rake-hoe to scratch a depression directly beside the current pile, pour the scraps into the depression, and then use the rake-hoe to move the whole pile over top of the new deposit. I will make these deposits in a round-robin, going from bed to bed, and in a couple weeks when I get back to the same pile and turn it over top of the new deposit the previous scraps will be almost completely composted. I will continue in this fashion all year, also adding straw, spoiled hay, weeds, manures, leaves, and pond muck as they become available. Using a varied supply of materials is key to ensuring that no matter what you are growing, it will have ample nutrients and micro-nutrients to keep it healthy and thriving.
During the early fall I will begin a new pile at the opposite end of each bed, allowing the current pile to finish its work before spreading it evenly across the entire bed, preferably after a few frosts have begun to slow bacterial activity to a crawl. I sometimes will compost towards the middle of the bed just so that it isn’t always over the same spot, but I find that the end of the bed is the most convenient place where I won’t be stepping on anything to get to it. It is obvious the next year where the pile was, as the plants in that spot are far and away more healthy than the rest of the bed, having the benefit of the leached nutrients and deeper, looser soil at their disposal.
Over time, if attention is paid to composting in combination with thoughtful crop rotations, you will likely see improvements in your soils capacity to raise thriving plants.
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