The Art and Craft of Composting

“I find that a real gardener is not a man who cultivates flowers; he is a man who cultivates the soil. He is a creature who digs himself into the earth and leaves the sight of what is on it to us gaping good-for-nothings. He lives buried in the ground. He builds his monument in a heap of compost. If he came into the Garden of Eden, he would sniff excitedly and say: "Good Lord, what humus!”

~ Karel Capek

BioDynamic agriculture started in the early 1920s as a response from farmers that reported a decline in soil fertility. Soil fertility is important to growing food and medicine because it is what determines not just the amount of vegetables that your garden will produce, but also their quality. Healthy vibrant vegetables are rich in nutrients and therefore are more nourishing.

If you follow my newsletter, you know that I perceive the earth as a being full of life. While some of that perception relates to the earth as a spiritual living being, there is also the more materialistic reality of the worms, bugs, snakes, bacteria and other micro-organisms that call the soil their home. Each one of them is nourished by the others and secrete manure, creating an ongoing composting process that resembles the digestive process in the human body.

Vegetables use a lot of nutrients from the soil in which they are planted in. Areas in the garden that are not covered with plants are more vulnerable to the weather. The rain and the wind erode the soil and carry away the fertile topsoil. Hence the constant need to add compost to your garden.

As BioDynamic farmers, we strive to provide all of the resources that the farm needs from within the farm. During the summer, our goats and chickens are moved from pasture to pasture. The goats clean the walls from poison ivy and mow the grass. The chickens feed on seeds, worms, and ticks. The goats and chickens give us the gift of milk and eggs but more importantly, they give us their manure which we turn into compost. Every spring Elad empties the goat shed and chicken coop from all the layers of manure and hay and creates a new compost pile. Every fall, we collect the dying vegetable plants (green material) and add them to the compost pile. A couple of times a year we empty our house compost pile and add it to the large compost pile as well.

Every spring, after creating the new compost pile Elad buries the BioDynamic compost preparation in the new pile before covering it. The BioDynamic compost preparation can be viewed as a homeopathic remedy for the earth. They are made of specific herbs: yarrow flowers, chamomile blossoms, the whole areal portion of the stinging nettle while in flower, oak bark, dandelion blossoms and Valerian flowers. To learn more about these herbs and why they are being used in the compost preparation please look here. The herbs go through a process that enhances their effect on the compost pile. While we create the compost preparation with the farmer on our neighboring farm, you can purchase it through the Josephine Porter Institution.

Compost piles are really magical. If you will excuse the language, you collect a load of shit and it transforms into a living fertile soil. The element that creates this magic is the element of warmth. The alchemist of the middle ages perceived the element of warmth as the process that transmutes matter into spirit. This is not surprising since you can experience the effect of warmth on water when you warm it and they turn into gas on the same way burned wood turns into ash and smoke. While we do not actively measure the temperature of our compost pile, the ideal temperature is 120-170F. The warmer your compost pile the faster the composting process.

“Good things come to those who wait”

~Violet Fane 1892

In BioDynamic agriculture, we prefer a slow composting process. Our process takes about a year and a half. Commercial compost companies accelerate the fermentation process in the compost by raising the heat in the pile. They do that by turning the compost every week which provides air that feeds the burning process and enhances it. We turn our compost pile about three times in a season in an attempt to keep the pile in a steady warm temperature over a long period of time.

The preparation does have an observable effect on the fermentation process of the compost pile. It moderates the temperature curve by slightly slowing the temperature’s ascent keeping the peak temperature slightly lower and holding the warmth in the pile longer. The compost preparation assists in creating a finished compost with excellent humus structure. (from the Biodynamic association website)

At the end of the season after turning the compost, and just before the frost, we cover the compost with a special compost blanket to protect it during the winter.

Creating your own compost pile from your house food scraps and the green compost from your garden is a very fulfilling process. By doing this, you reduce the amount of garbage that your household produces. You also know what went into your compost and how it was made.

Here are some more tips on creating your own compost:

Do not add weeds to your compost. They will contaminate your compost with weed seeds that you will eventually spread back into your garden. (Seeds can withstand very high temperatures without being destroyed)

Our house compost is kept in a large animal cage. That keeps the compost contained and animals from reaching it.

We layer the house compost with dried leaves to eliminate smells.

If your garden is on a slope you want to keep your compost on the lowers level. Please keep in mind that rain water might stream from your compost to your garden. If your compost is not ripe it will have a contaminating effect on your veggies.

For a small home garden, you need only a couple of buckets of manure. If you live close to a horse, sheep, cow or goat farm ask them if they will be willing to give you some of their manure. You want to use manure from animals that were not treated with antibiotic and hormones and who were fed with organic feed. Manure from animals that are free range is the best.

“With negative energy you can make a positive energy. A flower will become compost someday, but if you know how to transform the compost back into the flower, then you don't have to worry. You don't have to worry about your anger because you know how to handle it - to embrace, to recognize, and to transform it. So this is what is possible.”

                            ~ Nhat Hanh

If you dig your hands into the soil in your garden you come to a direct contact with all these small organisms that keep the earth alive and the plants in your garden healthy.  In the same way that the human digestive system turns matter (food) into energy (life) Compost has the power to bring life into our food and hence, into our bodies. Making your own compost and coming in direct contact with this enlivening process add to the vitality of the soil, your plants, your body and even your soul.