Making good compost is a key goal of any serious organic gardener. I have found that biodynamic methods used to enhance the quality of the organic composting process greatly increase the potential for making good compost. Here are my insights.
Firstly, it would be easy to think that making good compost for your vegetable garden and orchard is simply a matter of getting the right stuff together and leaving it to brew. That is what nature does. Consider a forest floor where living organic processes work slowly to break down organic matter into soil without any human intervention.
But your vegetable garden and orchard are not like the forest. Your food garden is likely to have a mixture of many plants and most of them will not be native. You will be combining plants that do not grow naturally with each other and many of them, such as annual vegetables, will be very demanding on the soil and challenging to manage.
Given this challenge, it is vital to realise you need to enhance and speed up the natural organic processes to manage your food garden. In my experience, biodynamic methods are highly efficient in this key task of potentising what nature does, whilst nurturing a healthy living compost. Making good compost is an alchemical process where you become directly involved in creating the conditions for life to flourish in your food garden.
For achieving a guided decomposition of the compost heap into healthy living soil, the four elements of earth, air, water and fire, which are the framework for many biodynamic practices, must be in balanced relationship:
- Earth – The solid matter in the heap, greens, dry matter, manures, minerals, wood chips, some old compost and biodynamic compost preparations.
- Water – Critical in all stages for the series of organisms to thrive as they arrive in the heap to participate in its living process.
- Air – Vital for life so make sure the compost is not too tightly packed so that oxygen is available for aerobic bacteria. A good mixture of bulky and fine organic matter helps.
- Fire – Involves the initial heating in the compost heap due to the living activity of metabolising substance and this will run its natural course, so long as the organisms have the right mix of air, moisture and earth.
Some trouble shooting tips in making good compost:
- If the compost heap does not heat up within 3 days of making, you have either too much earth (soil/minerals part of earth), too little moisture or not enough air. Loosen the heap with a pitch fork and add water and observe for a few days to see if it warms up. Also consider adding some bulky organic matter.
- If the heap is too wet and compacted, it will not heat up, putrefy and have strong odours, thus you need to bring in more air by loosening the heap. This can happen easily if you have very heavy rain falling on the heap a few days after making it. Cover the heap from rain if you know a big rain event is coming. Use a pitch fork to get air into the heap
If the compost heap is balanced among the four elements, the smell is pleasant, the colour will become a rich brown and the worms will multiply once it cools down. The biodynamic compost preparations, added when making the heap, guide the process and enable an ideal balance of the key minerals: nitrogen, silica, sulphur, potassium, iron, calcium and phosphorous. With this balance, the finished compost is ideal for plant growth, soil health, plant vitality and reduction in pest and disease attack.
At our regular introduction to biodynamic food growing workshops, we always make a biodynamic compost heap. People learn the process by doing and its always enjoyable.
I think its the combination of the very earthy activity of making good compost, experiencing the alchemical processes of creating life of the highest quality and appreciating the simplicity of the process, once you know how, that grabs hold of their thinking, feeling and willing. Participants get to touch and smell the finished biodynamic compost from a heap made about 4 months previous. They are astounded at how rich the compost smells and feels.
Our first 2018 introduction to biodynamic food growing 2 day workshop is on March 18-19 in Camp Mountain, Brisbane. We still have some spaces. If that date is not suitable, we have other dates in Brisbane during the year and we are also running one at Ceres Farm in Melbourne during May.
PS: I will be running a series of workshops on using biodynamics in urban agriculture at an international conference on biodynamics in Switzerland in February 2018 and also joining an international group of biodynamic advisers to help spread the word. I will have many new insights from the conference to share at our Australian workshops. The subject matter of the conference is biodynamic preparations and these include the compost preparations.
Author: Peter Kearney – www.myfoodgarden.com.au