The Art of Composting

Wooden Road In Forest
“Everything is a process, even the [farmer].”

– Michael Phillips

Maximizing the soil food web for your farm and garden ecosystems is not only possible, but inevitable. As topsoil continues to be depleted and lost at record rates worldwide, farmers are feeling the pressure to adopt new strategies for ensuring the long-term productivity of the land. The agricultural community at large is becoming more aware of the ways in which plants depend on healthy soil, and the soil food web is coming into the spotlight. Those who treat the soil as a living ecosystem are experiencing breakthrough success, as their farms demonstrate more resilience to droughts, floods, and other extreme weather events. Farmers and gardeners who treat their soils as a living ecosystem are tasting the results; more vibrant, nutritious, and abundant yields than ever before. And the ecosystem of beneficial insects and pollinators are coming back with authority. (citations)

An increasing number of farmers, gardeners and scientists alike are adopting this new paradigm of “living soil.” It’s not like adopting a child or even a family. When you adopt the living soil paradigm you adopt an entire community; in reality, this shift in understanding is an acknowledgment of an entirely new world. It is changing people’s entire relationship with the process of farming, gardening, and scientific study. The time has come to reform our notions of superiority in the web of life. Nature is not an inanimate resource bank awaiting our plunder. It is an ever-evolving dance of mutuality, collaboration, and adaptation. Time has come to see ourselves as part of this dance, not separate from it. Our roles as participants are many. The integrity and health of the niches that we occupy are largely the result of our attitudes and approaches to management.

Thus, the art of composting has as much to do with your approach as it does your execution. When you approach composting (and farming as a whole) with a sense of reverence and respect, your relationship with the process changes. If you can let go of the assumption that you’re the only intelligent life form on your farm, you can access an even greater ability —a greater sensitivity— to the process. The art of composting is the art of transformation, the art of succession and evolution. If you’re willing, you can begin to tune yourself to that process and become sensitive to the relationships between plants and the living soil. If you’re bold, you might even begin to treat your soil and plants as legitimate business partners and listen to their ideas about how the farm should be.

“Organic gardening is complex and simple, a blend of good science, fact, experience, intuition, experiments, play, speculation.” -Robert Kourik

Please remember that the science of compost, the science of the soil food web, is all metaphor. Cation exchange capacity, the nutrient cycle, carbon to nitrogen ratios – are all metaphors. The reality of the soil food web is something beyond our ability to express in words, which is why plants don’t grow in books. All the information up to this point in the paper, especially in Part 1, has been expressed in linear terms. Nature is not linear; nature is non-linear. The intelligence in the soil food web goes beyond our maps and diagrams, and cannot be explained by our facts and figures. The reality of life (and composting, farming) is not easily predictable. And this is the difference between living soil and dead soil, between an ever-depleted soil from which we extract life, and a regenerative soil that is teeming and overflowing with life. The paradigm of living soil acknowledges the vital interconnectedness between microbes and plants, air and water, sun and people. What we do to the web we do to ourselves, the earth is not a machine. And even the tiniest changes in one place can change everything in ways we wouldn’t expect. Living systems cannot be reduced to their component parts; the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. This is already well-established. This is the glory of natural law; this is the genius of creative intelligence. We are meant to live in abundance, but we need to drop our arrogance and learn how to listen again.

“When it is understood that one loses joy and happiness in the attempt to possess them, the essence of natural farming will be realized. The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings.”
― Masanobu Fukuoka

I understand that if you’re committed enough to have sought out the information in this paper, you probably already consider yourself a natural farmer or gardener. Let this be an appeal not to reason but to intuition. As you take the information, the compost pile recipes, materials lists and instructions, and prepare to apply it to your current operations, do your best to carry yourself more as a midwife than a chef. Realize that with every compost pile you make you’re giving birth to an entire community of new life forms, and your farm will be a stronger community because of it. Like any good community organizer (which you are), you’ll need patience, compassion and understanding, as you already know. Engage in the process of growing more abundant and healthy plants so that you might become more healthy and abundant in spirit. Farm so that you might create more harmony on earth. Your job is not easy and you know it, and it never ends

Exerpt, taken from the full paper: The Art and Science of Compost: Maximizing the Soil Food Web For Your Farm and Garden Ecosystems

To All Soil Professionals…

(Written by Jacob Krieger)

To all soil professionals,

That means the farmers first and foremost. The stewards of our soils.

There are plenty of silly facts about global warming that don’t change anyone’s mind. Especially in the mid-west. Whether CO2 changes the global temperature or not does not change the fact that we have raised the amount of it in the atmosphere. Two primary ways of raising the CO2 levels have been burning carbon based substances and removing or killing the natural “resources”, or the Earths biota.

We can see the cars and factories for ourselves. We can all see the lack of trees while perusing Google Earth. We can all see millions of acres of exposed soil through vast amounts of the year with a short drive. We pride ourselves at the coffee table on our tidy little barren soil beds being prepped and poisoned for next years synthetic crop. Yum, yum, down on the farm, home grown goodness, eh?

Here is a fact that soil professionals should know when preparing beds of soil.

Professor of Soil Science at Ohio State University Dr. Rattan Lal has calculated that 476 Gigatons (Gt) of carbon have been emitted from farmland soils due to inappropriate farming and grazing practices (Christine Jones, PhD, In contrast, 270 Gt have been emitted over the past 150 years of fossil fuel burning (Jones,

In their study, “Carbon Sequestration Potential Estimates with Changes in Land Use and Tillage Practices in Ohio, USA,” Zhengxi Tan and Rattan Lal explain that the conversion of natural ecosystems to those managed agriculturally can reduce the soil organic carbon pool by up to 50% in the top 20 cm of the soil and 25-30% in the top 100 cm depth after 30-50 years of cultivation (Tan, Lal, 2005).

It makes sense that more carbon comes out of the soil being tilled than the carbon released making and running the engine tilling it. For, fossil fuels are mostly buried and compressed landscapes of once living organisms. These fossil organisms are no different from the organisms in our soil still. Destroyed, they release the same kind of carbon that was put there by the same photosynthesis.

All exposed soil will lose this soil-organic-carbon. Inappropriate tillage expands the process exponentially. Today we have realized that inappropriate agriculture has successfully released the carbon of a 30 foot thick organism that once covered the entire Midwest, the topsoil and root system of the tall-grass prairies. Bare soil is potentially a more feasible culprit for global warming than even electricity.

What’s more disturbing is that we now farm fuel despite all the free sources of energy. (Yes, free energy. It’s here and being denied)
Farm soil and keep it covered. For better crops, better health, and a cooler planet. Soil is an organism that cannot be disconnected from the plants that it works with symbiotically. It is a single organism. Plants and soil both die when separated. Hence the need for chemical supplements that further the biological selection and destruction. Stop bare soil and start capturing CO2.

AGRICULTURE COULD BE USED TO BUILD SOIL at rates scientists once believed would take thousands of years.

It is being done in most 1st world countries and has been since the 1950’s. It is a shame we don’t take it seriously here. Carbon farming is a concept that pervades the planet aside from the American discussions. Proper grazing, rotation, soil conditioning, reestablishment of proper biology and biodiversity, and the end of monoculture could curb our global catastrophe in a growing season. No-till is a start, perennial poly-culture is a possible future, there are hundreds of solutions to start improving and expanding upon. Regenerating what we have destroyed is first on the to-do list avoiding the next dust bowl.

Row crops and CAFO’s are two ends of the same goat. Putting the cows back to pasture has fixed over 15,000 acres already by way of Darren Doherty Everyone should know this by now and realize it’s a scam. We are down to a few million farmers who bought out all their former cooperation by just playing the market by the rules. We are mostly farmed by contractors and satellites now. Monopoly is not about calories produced per acre. It is about control. It is extremely important for everyone to produce the same thing for the few to have power over the many.

Stop playing their game. Research regenerative agriculture and help improve it. Help revision. You be the scientist. You change the world. Any lawn or large acreage can be a part of the solution. And there are way more solutions than problems, but it starts with a mind change. Learn what science has discovered about soil in the last 25 years! Even in the last 3 years we have completely re-written the book on soil and how plants grow! Get on it SOIL PROFESSIONALS!

If farmers knew anything about the role they play today and what they can change tomorrow, the world would see a revolution by spring.