September 13, 2019
Compost or what some enthusiasts call “black gold,” is the heavyweight champ of the organic gardening world.
The Real Black Gold – Compost
By Ron Krupp
After a short Autumn snooze, there still may still be time to spread some compost in your garden, that is, if the ground hasn’t already frozen. It doesn’t usually happen until mid-November in my neck of the woods, depending on your location. Woodchuck gardeners of the organic bent like myself consider composting the “soul food” of the soil.
Compost or what some enthusiasts call “black gold,” is the heavyweight champ of the organic gardening world. Compost is becoming rather “in” these days as natural food, and organic gardening and farming are making resurgence throughout the United States. Healthy food without the use of harmful chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and genetically modified seeds is a priority for many families. It is especially true because of the increased rates of cancer.
Ironically, most farms and gardens used nothing but organic methods as late as the 1930s. (That’s about the time nitrate fertilizer, (Chilean of nitrate), was dug from the rich bat caves of Chili where the soil is sandy, dry, and easy to mine.) Animal Manure and compost were inseparable in those days, and rotted manure was the main source of fertilizer on small New England hill farms. Mucking out animal stalls was as much a part of life as milking. It was a hard but necessary task. Farmers knew instinctively that animal manures and other vegetable matter were more beneficial to the soil after going through a process of breakdown and stabilization.
* Animal manures add beneficial organisms, disease resistance and organic matter to the compost pile. Some commercial compost operations no longer use animal manures in their mix of organic ingredients. It significantly lowers the value of the compost. The soil needs the addition of composted animal manures. Studies show that animal manure is critical in creating the right balance of bacteria, fungus, and microorganisms in a pile. Today, you can drive through the rich farmlands of Ohio where miles of soybeans and corn are grown and not see a cow. It was not the case fifty years ago. To view a farming landscape without animals is not only sad; animals and their manure are essential to healthy soil.
The art and science of composting began over 5,000 years ago in China where compost is still the fertilizer of choice even though chemical fertilizers were introduced in the 1950s. When you consider that China comprises one-quarter of the world’s population on seven percent of the earth’s cultivated land, there must be something special about compost.
The Nature of Soil – To understand why compost is so critical, we need to learn about the nature of the soil. The soil in a healthy condition can be pictured as a collection of crumbs made up of one or a combination of sand, silt, clay plus minerals, fungi, and other decaying matter- and the bodies (both living and dead) of millions of microorganisms. These microscopic organisms give off sticky substances which hold the particles together into a cluster-like structure. Roots of plants move through a honeycomb of passageways made possible from this structure. Fine feeder roots meander through this maze of tunnels searching for nutrients, minerals, and moisture. Chemical fertilizers and poisonous insecticides destroy the micro-organisms, fungi, and bacteria and can change the very structure and life of the soil. It is where compost comes in.
About the Author
Ron Krupp, teacher, writer, entrepreneur, and community organizer has been farming and gardening in Vermont for more than thirty years. He has a master’s degree in teaching from Antioch University and a master’s degree in agriculture from the University of Vermont. He studied biodynamic gardening and farming at Emerson College, U.K. In the 80’s he edited The Green Mountain Farmer. In the mid 90’s he had a garden column in The Vermont Times and a garden commentary show on Vermont Public Radio. He is a frequent guest for features on the Vermont Public Broadcasting System and does garden and farm commentaries. His book The Woodchuck’s Guide to Gardening is going into its tenth printing revised 2013 with over 20,000 books sold). His second book titled Lifting the Yoke: Local Solutions to America’s Farm and Food Crisis is in its second printing. He is working on a third book titled The Woodchuck Returns to Gardening