In the second article in our series on humus we highlighted the four main reasons why humus is depleted in our soils, including conventional farming’s failure to build organic matter in the soil. One of the key ways to tackle this issue is compost.
Adding compost to the soil is integral to natural farming. There are plenty of resources available on how to make compost, so I am rather going to focus here on some of the considerations we take into account at Avondale.
The aim of composting is to recycle organic waste into an incredible, stable multi-purpose soil food and microbial inoculant. Well-produced aerated compost is a great source of stable humus teeming with beneficial microbial life and enriching our soils with plant-available nutrients.
Making Compost – Fast or Slow?
Intensive composting involves creating and managing wind rows of compost, requiring equipment such as compost turners and tractors. Water and microbial food is often added to the compost. To speed up the decomposition of the organic matter, the compost is turned often. While turning compost is essential to maintain aeration, it does break the delicate networks of fungi, resulting in compost that is more dominated by bacteria. Using these techniques you can produce healthy, bacteria-driven compost in just 6 to 8 weeks.
In contrast, slow composting involves static piles of organic matter that are turned only every now and again. It can take up to 6 months to make the compost, but the result is potentially as good and can be richer in fungi, more stable and balanced. At Avondale, we favour slow composting, where the more balanced community of microbial life promotes stable humus in our soils.
Compost as Food for Bacteria and Food for Fungi
Soil-living bacteria and fungi are vital forms of microbial life that are both integral in the natural nutritional cycle but also inseparable from humus creation. Bacteria break down simple foods – simple sugars like molasses; and fungi are able to break down complex foods – rich sources of carbon like aloe Vera, fulvic acids, humic acids, kelp and fish emulsions. Ideally, you want to create an abundance of both bacteria and fungi in your compost. Achieving this all depends on how diverse your compost materials are and whether you can enhance the compost by inoculation and feed the food sources mentioned before.
You can also add substances such as volcanic rock dusts, basalt dust, limes and rock phosphate, as well as other broad spectrum food sources which can actively be digested when the bacteria and fungi are most active. This helps to produce a broad spectrum nutrient dense food source.
Biodynamic Compost Preparations
In Biodynamics we also make use of the Compost preparations BD502 to 507. BD 502 to 506 are made from medicinal herbs and they look like humus, while BD 507 is a liquid. These preparations are rich in beneficial bacterial life and minerals. They radiate cosmic influences and forces throughout the compost heap aiding the transformation of compost material into humus.
Every farm should be producing compost using some or other method so that we all create something wonderful and life-giving from our waste. While it takes some effort, it is actually also easy.
A great book that helped me with compost production is ‘The Secret Life of Compost’ by Malcolm Beck.