Compost: Hotbed for New Life (2/5)

Veronika Bond Humus

Photo: Ian Voce

“Put your faith in the two inches of humus, that will grow under the trees, every thousand years.”Wendell Berry

1 – Ingredients for the Compost

A ‘classic compost’ is made of a mixture of ‘brown and green organic materials’. The ‘brown materials’ don’t refer to animal manure. These are woody plant substances like chopped twigs and small branches, and they contain carbon. The ‘green materials’ contain more nitrogen.

Standard instructions also often suggest ‘grass clippings’. The authors of gardening books must assume that every compost maker has a lawn. We use many wild companion plants, also known as weeds. They grow prolifically, especially at this time of year, you can harvest as many as you like, and they grow back. Moreover, wild plants are produced by the soil to give the soil what she needs. They are part of the local natural humus-cycle of your soil.

Carbon and nitrogen are essential nutrients for soils and plants. For the carbon part we use prunings from our fruit trees and vines, and wild companion plants from the veg patches and garden provide plenty of nitrogen and other nutritious stuff.

Animal manure can be added to the compost, and garden soil is another good ingredient. Animal manure and garden soil contain microbes which introduce a desirable population into the compost.

Did you know that the green and woody parts of plants are populated by bacteria and fungi? Fresh green plants have more bacteria, and the woody parts have more fungi. This is an important piece of information for any aspiring composting artist, since they determine the quality of the humus.

Two more important ingredients for the compost are easily overlooked: water and air. Conventional composting instructions tell us that ‘the decomposition process needs air and moisture’. It’s actually the earthworms, microbes, aerobic bacteria, fungi and all the other microorganisms that need oxygen and water.

The soil population doesn’t like their burrows and feeding grounds to be dripping wet, but if the compost dries out, then they go into a kind of hibernation, and that means they stop doing the work we want them to do.

(This is not a comprehensive list of ingredients for compost, by the way. It covers basic principles which is useful as an orientation for the creative process of composting.)


to be continued…

The humus revolution has begun — you can be part of it