Building a Diamond For the Garden

Mmmm…Compost – the art of transformation!

My vision is to tend the most beautiful, abundant, lush garden possible. Step 1: build compost. This pile will have upwards of 5 pickup truck loads worth of horse manure, mixed with straw, hay, woodchips and other stalks and stems from our pile of biomass (“weeds”). This is going to be a HUGE hand-built pile, and our challenge is going to be adding the ratios of high carbon and nitrogen materials with water such that it doesn’t heat up so much that it requires flipping(aerating)! This is to be a static pile, sitting from March-October before spreading around the garden and using to brew tea for the garden and fruit trees – the goal is to build the pile now and have an absolute diamond for the garden come fall.

Well, I am writing this 4 days after the pile was built and I can say that it got HOT! Uh, oh….I mean, its a great thing – biology is happening! But we could have too much activity in there for it to just sit undisturbed until the fall; I think it was the extra chicken manure (super-high nitrogen content) that did the pile in (and heated it up!!). The high nitrogen content is like party-food for the bacteria and other microorganisms that decompose the organic matter; when you have a lot of high nitrogen material you run the risk of fueling too much activity, heat, growth of microorganisms, that use up all available oxygen -thats a bad thing- anaerobic conditions breed pathogens.

The trick is to have just enough high nitrogen material to get the party started, but with a good mix of green and woody material to balance things out.  We may need to split it into 2 piles and add lots of straw – we’ll see. If it wasn’t such a massive pile I would be happy that it has heated up so much – and just tend to the pile Elaine Ingham style for a quick, hot compost – turning and aerating it constantly; we could have finished, potent compost in less than 4 weeks doing it this way. There’s no doubt that the pile is beginning to decompose, but its a fine line between compost with a beneficial soil-food-web of beneficial bacteria, fungi, microarthropods, nematodes, earthworms, ect. and anaerobic compost with pathogens. Regardless, here are some photos of this epic composting adventure:

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Thanks to all the friends who helped out – working together is the way to go! Couldn’t have done it all without them!

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