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
Image scanned from 1938 USDA Yearbook of Agriculture “Soils and Men” – Article: “Crop Rotation” by Clyde Leighty
The concept of crop rotation is not a new idea. It is an idea as old as agriculture. Crop rotation, simply put, is growing a variety of plants in a planned manner to ensure that one species is not grown in the same field for multiple years in a row. It requires a certain amount of diversification, and on the larger industrial scale it can present problems in the need for many different equipment schemes for planting and harvesting. Modern agriculture ‘solves’ this dilemma by ‘scientifically’ replacing, in the form of fertilizer, what it considers to be all of the nutrients that the crop has removed from the soil in the previous year, and replanting that same crop. There are many problems with this plan that are not in the scope of this article to address.
I find it interesting to read agricultural texts from different eras of our civilization. At the present moment I am increasing my collection of USDA Yearbooks of Agriculture, which I would recommend to anyone who is curious about agricultural techniques, policies, and studies. Particularly interesting to me are those books which were published during and directly following the Great Depression. In these years, agricultural science was making great leaps and bounds, not necessarily with new discoveries but with scientific proof that the practices of the preceding millennia were indeed spot-on, and that we should continue following our ancestors’ examples of land husbandry.
Our lives rely completely upon soil. My life in the country is very simply and easily attributed to a direct link with the soil. In the city you may feel as if you are a few miles removed from getting dirty yourself, but in reality you are just one small step from having manure under your fingernails just to prevent starvation. Even the astronauts in the space station are not immune from requiring the basic necessities of life which we indeed must derive from the soil. With life itself hinging upon the presence and condition of this most necessary substance, shouldn’t we all feel some obligation to consciously contemplate the crumbly crust of the earth for at least a few minutes each day? Continue reading