Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Using Compost

Compost seems to be a hot topic. I'm frequently asked to sell my stash to others, but it's a valuable product on this farm and I never have enough. So how do I utilize compost in my system? 

Compost is one of my main sources of fertilizer and soil improver. My homemade compost is comprised of a wide assortment of plants (grasses, weeds, brush and tree leaves), manures (chicken, equine, sheep, goat), and kitchen & fruit waste not eaten by the chickens. Occasionally slaughter waste and dead animals end up being composted too. Plus small amounts of garden soil, lava sand, coral sand, ocean water, fired bone, and biochar end up in the mix. 

The most common method to use my compost is to till it in to the top 3"-6" of soil when I refresh a growing bed between crops. I will fork a 2" deep layer onto a bed then very quickly and lightly till it in. By far, this my number one method. 

Another frequently used method is to use the compost as a mulch. About one or two months into growing a crop, I will spread a light layer (about an inch) of compost, like applying a mulch. Then I try to cover that with a light layer of fresh grass clippings as soon as feasible. When possible, I'll time it when I'm expecting a rain. If I'm not lucky to get rain, then I'll give the bed a watering. I don't think this is as good as tilling it in, but it does seem to give the growing crop a boost without disturbing its roots, as tilling would. 

Compost tea. I haven't developed the habit of using lots of compost tea. My neighbor is a big advocate of compost tea, using it about one month into growing a crop. Via his gentle prodding, he's gotten me to add a couple shovelfuls of compost to a trashcanful of water, give it a good stir, and let it sit in the sun for day. Then use that water at the end of the day to water the plants that need a drink. I've never experimented to see how much of a difference it makes, but I figure that it can't hurt. 

And the final use, I add it to the layers as I make the next compost pile. It acts as a starter, introducing the micro organisms into the pile. 

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