Organic Gardener's Composting
By Steve Solomon

More books about Vegetable gardening

8 chapters

5 hour read


16 minute read

What Is Compost Do you know what really happens when things rot? Have other garden books confused you with vague meanings for words like "stabilized humus?" This book won't. Are you afraid that compost making is a nasty, unpleasant, or difficult process? It isn't. A compost pile is actually a fast-track method of changing crude organic materials into something resembling soil, called humus. But the word "humus" is often misunderstood, along with the words "compost," and "organic matter." And when fundamental ideas like these are not really defined in a person's mind, the whole subject they are a part of may be confused. So this chapter will clarify these basics. Compost making is a simple process. Done properly it becomes a natural part of your gardening or yard maintenance activities, as much so as mowing the lawn. And making compost does not have to take any more effort than bagging...


21 minute read

Composting Basics Managing living systems usually goes better when our methods imitate nature's. Here's an example of what happens when we don't. People who keep tropical fish in home aquariums are informed that to avoid numerous fish diseases they must maintain sterile conditions. Whenever the fish become ill or begin dying, the hobbyist is advised to put antibiotics or mild antiseptics into the tank, killing off most forms of microlife. But nature is not sterile. Nature is healthy. Like many an apartment dweller, in my twenties I raised tropical fish and grew house plants just to have some life around. The plants did fine; I guess I've always had a green thumb. But growing tired of dying fish and bacterial blooms clouding the water, I reasoned that none of the fish I had seen in nature were diseased and their water was usually quite clear. Perhaps the problem was that...


34 minute read

Practical Compost Making To make compost rot rapidly you need to achieve a strong and lasting rise in temperature. Cold piles will eventually decompose and humus will eventually form but, without heat, the process can take a long, long time. Getting a pile to heat up promptly and stay hot requires the right mixture of materials and a sensible handling of the pile's air and moisture supply. Compost piles come with some built-in obstacles. The intense heat and biological activity make a heap slump into an airless mass, yet if composting is to continue the pile must allow its living inhabitants sufficient air to breath. Hot piles tend to dry out rapidly, but must be kept moist or they stop working. But heat is desirable and watering cools a pile down. If understood and managed, these difficulties are really quite minor. Composting is usually an inoffensive activity, but if done...


44 minute read

All About Materials In most parts of the country, enough organic materials accumulate around an average home and yard to make all the compost a backyard garden needs. You probably have weeds, leaves, perhaps your own human hair (my wife is the family barber), dust from the vacuum cleaner, kitchen garbage and grass clippings. But, there may not be enough to simultaneously build the lushest lawn, the healthiest ornamentals _and _grow the vegetables. If you want to make more compost than your own land allows, it is not difficult to find very large quantities of organic materials that are free or cost very little. The most obvious material to bring in for composting is animal manure. Chicken and egg raisers and boarding stables often give manure away or sell it for a nominal fee. For a few dollars most small scale animal growers will cheerfully use their scoop loader to...


29 minute read

Methods and Variations A note to the internet reader: In the the print-on-paper edition, this chapter and the next one on vermicomposting are full of illustrations showing composting structures and accessories. These do not reproduce well on-line and are not included. Growing the majority of my family's food absorbs all of the energy I care to put into gardening. So my yard is neat but shaggy. Motivated by what I consider total rationality, my lawn is cut only when it threatens to overwhelm the lawnmower, and the lawn is not irrigated, so it browns off and stops growing in summer. I don't grow flowers because I live on a river in a beautiful countryside setting surrounded by low mountains. Nothing I created could begin to compete with what nature freely offers my eye. One untidy bed of ornamentals by the front door are my bow to conventionality, but these fit...


33 minute read

Vermicomposting It was 1952 and Mr. Campbell had a worm bin. This shallow box—about two feet wide by four feet long—resided under a worktable in the tiny storeroom/greenhouse adjacent to our grade school science class. It was full of what looked like black, crumbly soil and zillions of small, red wiggly worms, not at all like the huge nightcrawlers I used to snatch from the lawn after dark to take fishing the next morning. Mr. Campbell's worms were fed used coffee grounds; the worms in turn were fed to salamanders, to Mr. Campbell's favorite fish, a fourteen-inch long smallmouth bass named Carl, to various snakes, and to turtles living in aquariums around the classroom. From time to time the "soil" in the box was fed to his lush potted plants. Mr. Campbell was vermicomposting. This being before the age of ecology and recycling, he probably just thought of it as...


27 minute read

Humus and Soil Productivity Books about hydroponics sound plausible. That is, until you actually see the results. Plants grown in chemical nutrient solutions may be huge but look a little "off." Sickly and weak somehow. Without a living soil, plants can not be totally healthy or grow quite as well as they might. By focusing on increasing and maximizing soil life instead of adding chemical fertility, organic farmers are able to grow excellent cereals and fodder. On richer soils they can even do this for generations, perhaps even for millennia without bringing in plant nutrients from elsewhere. If little or no product is sent away from the farm, this subsistence approach may be a permanent agricultural system. But even with a healthy ecology few soils are fertile enough by themselves to permit continuous export of their mineral resources by selling crops at market. Take one step further. Cereals are mostly...


37 minute read

Maintaining Soil Humus Organic matter benefits soil productivity not because it is present, but because all forms of organic matter in the soil, including its most stable form—humus—are disappearing. Mycorrhizal fungi and beneficial bacterial colonies around plant roots can exist only by consuming soil organic matter. The slimes and gums that cement soil particles into relatively stable aggregates are formed by microorganisms as they consume soil organic matter. Scats and casts that are soil crumbs form only because organic matter is being consumed. If humus declines, the entire soil ecology runs down and with it, soil tilth and the health and productivity of plants. If you want to manage your garden soil wisely, keep foremost in mind that the rate of humus loss is far more important than the amount of humus present. However, natural processes remove humus without our aid or attention while the gardener's task is to add...