Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Compost Campfires

Last Wednesday, as we approached the fall equinox and the new moon, the air was as warm as a midsummer day, but carried the faintest promise of winter. (Maybe it the smell of oak and bay leaves, finished with their sun-collecting labor, resting dry on the hillside trees above?).  Busy with preparations, as we humans know we must be this time of year, we turned our attention back to the compost piles.

“Think of the compost pile as a campfire” Steve advised. "You want to keep it burning."  And burn it must!  Especially if you're hoping for Organic certification.  A pile must reach 140 degrees and be turned three times before it may be used in the garden.

Look at the decomposition.  The first shot is day one.  The second was taken after a week.

After two weeks, the compost piles had shrunken significantly, which was a good sign that our “campfires” were burning a slow and steady burn. Now it was time to turn them inside out. The goal is to take the dry materials that served as framing the first time around (and therefore did not benefit from the interior heat), and move it to the inside. We turned our five piles into three, and took a good look at what was going on inside as we rebuilt.

Suddenly, we smelled The Stink…and saw an orange-ish, brown-ish, slimy gob of former something. "We’re going anaerobic!!!" Steve shouted. (he's admiring a bit of the goo in the photo below). With the right oxygen-free interior environment, you get all kinds of bacterial action.  They're like microscopic oompa-loompas in there, working hard for the cause of Decomposition. They give off pretty nasty gases when they get going, so in this case, Bad Smells Are A Good Thing.

I've equated soil care to wildlife management in a previous blog.  The fauna of our compost piles seemed disgruntled by the rearranging of their homeland today.  So much so that one caterpillar tried to hitchhike out on a lizard ...then thought better of it (see below).

 We all got in a lot of trouble from Wendy and Steve for not being “edgy’ enough (I think I lost that when I moved from the city years ago). It’s difficult to take the partially decomposed wet inner material and use it to make a solid well-edged 5’ x 5’ (which is the ideal size) wide based, broad based, wide-shouldered square pile.

Here Wendy decided to give our rambling pile a makeover.

Meanwhile, some had the pleasure of using the finished compost , prepping rows for new crops.

As is true with almost EVERYTHING while farming and gardening, you must determine what amount of Organic Matter (OM) works best for your rows.  At the farm, we add 5 inches or so to our prepared rows.

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