I was sitting in my garden this afternoon thinking about a bumper sticker I had seen recently. It proclaimed simply, Compost Happens. I can not think of this without that scene from Forrest Gump creeping into my mind. You know, the one where Forrest gives the idea for the ubiquitous hippie saying, Shit Happens.
Well, they do both just happen. And often they are the same thing!! Many manures make excellent compost, cow, horse, poultry, even human! Rabbit is a lucky one that needs no composting. Just add directly to your garden.
Generally though, compost simply refers to the act of decomposing carbon based matter into soil. Just about everything can be composted; some just take a lot longer. Manure, food scraps, yard waste, leaves, newspaper, coffee grounds, wood shavings, even animal bones and bodies. Usually, in a home environment composting bones and meat would attract pests and encourage funky smells. Animal foods and wastes should be composted carefully and thoroughly.
Starting a compost pile is simple. There is no need for a bin, unless you choose. We started with an open pile, eventually enclosing it with cinder blocks, when it go too large to stay in one spot, as shown below.
This is a three stage compost pile. The brown on the right is finished compost. The green in the middle is a working pile. The straw on left is chicken bedding awaiting composting action.
Layer the above materials in your pile, try to keep it even parts wet nitrogenous materials (produce, grass, coffee, urine) with dry carbonaceous materials (straw, newspaper, cardboard (not waxed), nut shells, yard waste/dry plant materials). Keep adding materials as you have them and keep it moist, if necessary to your climate. We have an extremely dry climate, so watering is necessary. In a moist climate, a cover may be necessary to keep rain out.
When your pile is large enough, 3′x3′x3′, you can start a new pile and finish this one into soil. To do this, stop adding new materials, keep evenly moist and stir it up every couple of weeks. In a few short months it will look like dark brown/black rich soil. Spread it around your garden, top dress houseplants or plant straight into it. An old compost pile is a perfect place for a new tree.
Urine is another free waste fertilizer. Urine is a fantastic source of nitrogen. Diluted with 10 times water, urine is a perfect fertilizer directly applied to houseplants and your garden. Undiluted it could burn plants up, but diluted it’s like free Miracle Gro.
Compost and Shit. They just happen. The substances that come from the Earth know to return to her when they are done; It’s like the Earth calls back that which came from her. As naturally as those things came from the ground, they return to enrich the soil and provide new life. It’s a circle, in nature, that never ends.
Only in civilized society do we completely ignore this necessary cycle and ignore the health of our soils. Let’s change that, one backyard farm at a time.