Tuesday, August 2, 2011
I really like compost and love the idea of scraping together piles of old festy stuff, grass clippings, weeds, garden waste and the like and mounding it up so it rots down into stuff that you can grow food out of. When I drive around Samford Valley there are often miles and miles of grass slashings that have been left in big rows by the side of the road. They don’t stay there for ever, and I’m pretty sure no one comes along and picks them up, so what happens to them? They all rot, disappearing back down slowly into the ground so that more grass can grow up. I like the fact that it does this without any one doing anything to help it along. It seems simple and easy.
I like the fact that whenever you read about compost in garden books or hear people talking about it on the TV they always refer to completed compost as having a “rich, dark, crumbly texture”. It makes me think of chocolates, Flakes in particular. Delicious.
Most stuff that I make compost out of has to be mixed with manure so that it rots down properly. All of the fibrous sorts of things need some kind of sludgy, muddy sort of stuff to get it composting properly. Because of my love of composting I have also developed a love of manure. Cow manure in particular. Sometimes, I will lie awake at night thinking of all of the poo out there that I can collect. I will often load up the car with old chook food bags and a shovel and driven out to a friendly paddock to get bags and bags of cow poo. Ute loads. Trailers full. Sometimes my friends or Wwoofers come to help me. It is a nice way spend the afternoon. Warm sunshine, cool breeze. If the poo is still a little bit moist and sloppy (the best kind) some liquid leaks through the weave in the bag and makes your lovely clean T-shirt a little bit festy. This makes picking up a few things from the shops on the way home an entertaining experience.
When making a compost heap I think that the best way to apply the manure to the heap is as a “soup”. I make it by putting a bag of poo in a big drum and mixing it with water. I use a plastic 44 gallon drum, cut in half. Good fresh poo should achieve the consistency of a smooth, runny paste with the addition of water. If the poo is old and has been sitting in the paddock for too long drying out you really have to let it soak for a long time and then give it a good mixing with your garden fork. This kind of poo usually turns to croutons in a broth rather than a smooth soup. This is still ok to put on, but fresh is better. Once you have your pasty soup all you need to do is make layers of rotten grassy stuff and then cover it with the soup. Because the soup is so wet it slops down through the grass and makes it all wet and stinky. This is very good. Grass sodden with poo soup is great because all of the lovely little bugs and bacteria that make their little houses in the poo are the things that break the grass down into “a rich, dark, crumbly texture’. It usually takes about one drum of poo soup to cover one layer of grass although as the heap gets higher it becomes more narrow at the top so your poo layers can be thicker. My friend Yann says it is like making a giant poo flavoured lasagne. Once you have about ten or fifteen or however many layers of crusty old grass and poo sauce you cover the heap in a thick blanket of dry grass, tucking it in around the edges. It seals it from the weather and makes it whole. Yann thinks of the blanket of grass as the cheese on the top of his lasagne. A finished heap reminds me of a docile bovine, resting and slowly chewing its cud.
Many gardeners have their own different ways of making their perfect heap. They will add extra things to improve them: comfrey; other poos like horse, sheep or chicken; soil; leaves; kitchen scraps – all of which are great if you have them handy. I add some specially made Biodynamic preparations after my heap is complete. I mentioned earlier that the heap is a whole, a complete organism in itself, like a cow. The biodynamic idea is that these concoctions made from specially prepared plants and herbs act as the “organs” of the heap, helping it to function as its own organism.
A few days after you have made the heap it will start to get very hot. On some mornings, especially in the winter, you will see steam rising up off the pile as all of the little bacteria get busy and start eating away at the grass. It is like getting a whole lot of little kids and giving them something sweet to eat and then closing them into a small room and watching them run around like crazy. That is what is happening in a compost heap. All of the greeblies are getting busy and it is getting cramped in there under that blanket and they are doing cartwheels and star jumps and the whole heap gets really hot. It is a process of fermentation, like brewing beer. After a few weeks the heap will slowly cool down and then another process of decomposition takes place. Now that it is cool enough whole armies of worms will come up out of the soil to eat the tasty heap. At this point, after about a month or so, you will notice the heap sinking down on itself. After about six months everything that you put into the heap no longer looks like what you put in and you can see that if you shovelled it out and crumbled it through the soil, plants would just fall over themselves to grow in it. It is like a condensing of all the fibrous bulk of the grass clippings and all of the potent pooey power of the cow manure, coupled with the effort and sweat and care that you have put into it.
I have found that some people don’t like the idea of mixing dead organic matter and poo together. They say it's icky. I really find it immensely satisfying. It is good sport watching a freshly built heap go from being big and shiny and new to just another mound of stuff lying around the yard. Those who have made a heap before however know that rather than losing its former grandeur the heap is actually becoming more powerful and potent. I really like that this stuff, collected, cared for and organised in a discreet spot under the Loquat tree now has the power to feed people. It is all so simple, and wholesome. It is honest. It is what I want to do.