The compost pile is a standard feature on almost any organic farm you care to visit. In its simplest form, it is simply a pile of rotting vegetation, which is added to at the top, and harvested from the bottom, and otherwise ignored by the owner. There are, of course, more sophisticated ways of composting.

Composting works better in warmer climates, where the pile does not freeze solid for nine months, which will stop the composting action. In colder climates, hot compost piles which are tended regularly will work better than minimal maintenance ones, because they stay hotter, and do not freeze as readily.

In general, any plant material or animal waste (manure or urine, fur, feathers, etc) may be composted. It is not recommended that you compost meat or dairy, unless you are doing so using grubs or worms for composting.

Grubs and worms can speed up the composting process and provide other benefits as well. But they do require more studious maintenance.

Composting systems are available to simplify the composting process. They can be very costly, and they rarely hold enough to be of practical use for more than kitchen waste. If you are composting significant amounts of manure, they simply won't be adequate. The old fashioned manure pile is usually more effective.

My sister lives in an area with poor soil. She uses this method:

1. Dig a trench. Be generous, 3 ft wide by about 8 feet long, and a foot or so deep is good.

2. Fill it with manure and compost material. Stir it up good.

3. Cover it with black plastic. This helps it draw heat, so it rots down well.

4. Ignore it for about 2 years.

5. Uncover, dig holes where you want to plant raspberries, strawberries, tomatoes, and other heavy feeders. Put a shovel-ful of dirt in each hole, and plant your plants or seeds in the holes. Water well, and stand back!.

This is a method for minimal work - it does take time, but results in planting beds that are rich and which will grow many plants that won't otherwise grow in her soil. We'll be using this method soon - though we'll have to anchor the black plastic down rather aggressively, this is Wyoming, and the wind is fairly brutal.

Composting is something that makes too much sense to not practice. It produces a cycle of productivity - animals feed the plants, plants feed the animals, both of them feed you. Returning the animal waste to the soil keeps your farm healthy, whether you are growing food for yourself, or forage for your animals.


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