Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Recipe 2: How to make soil from scratch!

Casey talked about this in her blog, which I read after starting mine, but it’s worth recycling (warning: some pretty bad puns might *ahem* "worm" their way into this post)…

Last Saturday, the Abundant Table Farm house hosted its first community education event on backyard composting. Since August was Erynn’s “sustainability topic” month (we’ll focus on a different topic/ issue each month – next is water!), she invited Brian Critchley from Agromin, a local organics recycled soil company, to come and share with us and our broader community about how to do backyard composting, and do it well. If I may say so myself, it was quite a success - a totally “trashy” time, just as advertised! ;) hehe.

Here is a basic recipe for what you need to make SOIL from scratch:

Onion skins
Carrot peels
Other vegetable scraps
Melon rinds, orange peels
Pits of plums, nectarines, apples, etc.
Lawn clippings
Coffee grounds, tea bags (minus staple)
Wood chips
Leaves, plant clippings
Old newspapers
Pretty much any plant matter that decomposes.
Do not include animal products like milk, cheese, grease, or meat. These will ruin the recipe, and invite unwanted guests to your compost container.

As you cook and eat throughout the day, collect the scraps from the above listed ingredients. We use a little bin with a lid next to our sink as a useful depository for our vegetable and fruit waste. There are special containers you can buy that fit under your sink, but that’s a little too fancy for us. Once you’ve emptied a few pail-fulls of your kitchen waste into an outside compost container, you are ready to start aerating that hot pot of potential. (The blog site http://compostinstructions.com/home-composting-is-easy/ shows a range of container types that are available – our newest one will be made of chicken wire.)

STIR IT. Compost needs to be stirred so that the material will break down faster, so get those blender muscles whirring and stir it up! Use a small 3-pronged pitchfork or thin shovel to turn the dense bottom layers onto the top and thoroughly mix all the different ingredients. As in baking, dry and wet must be totally combined. If you stir at least once a day and keep the contents moist, you may see beautiful, freshly made soil in as little as three weeks.

MIX IT. By mix it, I mean mix in all different kinds of material. The best combination for making great soil is the pairing of carbon and nitrogen-based materials. Carbon comes from more woody substances like the wood chips, old newspapers, and plant stems listed above. Wood ashes can also be used occasionally. The fruit and vegetable matter will pump up your nitrogen factor, as will leaves and coffee grounds. Along with your carbon and nitrogen-based materials, you can throw in old (biodegradable) dishwater, dog water, or regular water into the bin to keep it moist for optimum soil production.

BAKE IT. Well, not really. It’ll do this on its own, and can get up to 150 degrees Fahrenheit. A good range is anywhere from 110 – 140 degrees (correct me if I’m wrong, folks), but this isn’t really going to be your concern. All the wonderful earthworms churning the earth, bugs and bacteria gobbling up what you can’t eat, and good ol’ sunlight will generate so much warmth, you’ll be able to feel the heat practically pulsing from that container.

ENJOY IT. Last step to this soil recipe: given time and minimal proper care, dark, fertile soil will soon form! It’s really just nature doing its thing here – decomposition isn’t your doing, you’re just helping the process along. And it’s better to let the process run in your own backyard, where you and your family/ friends can watch the miracle take place, rather than taking up space in some dump where it’s too tight for the waste to even break down. Use the soil created in your garden as soon as it’s not clumpy or smelly, but sifts easily through your fingers. Even a layer of half an inch will improve your lawn or garden, and your plants will thank you in growth spurts and blooms.

Here are some of the pictures from our composting event:

Abundant Table supporters and community members gather first in our family room for a q&a session on composting.

Ahhh! Nothin' like a whiff of waste. Brian takes in all the information he needs about our pit in one sniff. Woo - eee. Too much compacted grass, not enough water, and who last stirred that thing?

Erynn has at it. Casey has a gentler stirring technique, but this lady shows that pile o' detritus who's boss.

You can actually feel the heat from all the activity going on in this bin.

We look on as Mike Taylor investigates the bottom layer and says, "Anaerobic! No No NO!" Reaching back to the recesses of our brains to remember 11th grade chemistry classes, we nod and grab the pitchfork.

Thanks to all involved - we learned so much and anticipate some quality dirt.

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