When bull dozers came in and cleared out the trees and grasses growing on county land by the canal behind my house, I planted trees and threw seeds.
Sun coming through a mighty slash pine tree.
Old Live Oaks with Resurrection Fern beards in Fort Pierce Burial Mound Park, Fort Pierce, Florida
Rain Lilies flower after rain. These are at my front walkway.
Understanding the Food Forest, and employing Forest Guilds for Florida: Find out how you can do your part to save our world.
I have posted new pics from our food forest project at Peak/LOVJuice in Vero Beach Florida. If you are interested click on this link to see the newest blog post at FloridaRegenerativeLandscapes.com and those amazing pics from our 8 months old project.
Lucie and I are presenting another Layer Mound Workshop. This one will be at the Sebastian/Roseland yard of Joann McGrath. The property is on a sandridge, and this workshop will be the first bit of work we will be doing on this yard, though we expect to be helping Joann to transform her property to better meet her super lush vision for its future as an edible garden. We are excited at this beginning. Joann’s yard has mad potential. See the flyer below for details.
Two weeks ago we built a layer mound in our Layer Mound Workshop at Mark Stanley’s garden in Vero. Saturday we will be having a Planting Seeds Workshop. We will spend some time learning a bit about planting seeds, about different types of companion plantings, and poly-culture, and then we will plant Mark’s seeds in his new layer mound. This workshop costs $10 or $5 for those of you who attended any of the Layer Mound workshops in 2013. See the poster below for details.
Due to popular demand and because the timing is right we are presenting the Lasagna Layer Mound Workshop again. This class will take place at the garden of Mark Stanley in South Vero, on Sunday November 3, at 9am and will go to approximately noon. The cost of this workshop is $20 to help cover the cost of time and materials. Mark gets a garden, attendees get handouts and hands on experience in this method for setting up an instant fertile garden. Wear clothing and shoes appropriate for garden work, bring your gloves, and prepare to be out in the sun. Mark has very good filtered water, so you can bring your own, or bring an empty and he will fill it up for you. See the flyer below for more details.
Lucie and I will be presenting a Layer Mound Garden class and workshop Saturday August 24, at 10am at the Peak Health and Fitness project location in Vero Beach, Florida. Come take the class, have a live organic vegan juice on us, and learn hands on how to layer up a garden for an instant fertile garden. We are just weeks before planting of fall and winter annuals begins, so the timing of this workshop is perfect for South and East Central Florida gardeners who want to grow this season. See the flyer below for details.
In April bull dozers came to the canal behind our property and pulled down all of the deep shade that had grown there. The water management district had a project to do back there, and in a few days my west side fence that had been buried in the deep shade of Brazilian pepper trees was 132 feet of bright bare soil, and from my back porch I could see the houses in the development on the other side of the canal. I know Brazilian peppers are a class one invasive, but they were a dense deeply shady class one invasive. I was pretty unhappy about what had just happened, but it wasn’t long before I saw the awesome opportunity that had been laid upon my back door step. Like most gardeners I had many plants and trees in pots that were just waiting for an opportunity to take a place in the earth. Many plants in my landscape had rooted stems in the ground, made pups, or sprouted seedlings nearby, so finding perennial plants to put back there was easy.
The day that the bulldozers finished their work some excellent friends from Sustainable Kashi in Sebastian came out to Fort Pierce to visit and to lend a hand. Our friend Lucie Burke from Florida Regenerative Landscapes showed up and after lunch 6 of us dug 132 feet of swale and planted some trees. That work was done in just 2 hours. The power of friends with shovels is not to be underestimated. When they left I went to dig up some more plants and worked another 2 hours to get more trees and plants into the ground.
I spent a couple more days installing perennial plants from the yard, and I put some old hay mulch around each one. Next I threw seeds. All kinds of seeds. I threw every seed I had around that might take some heat. I sprinkled straw after I had spread the seeds, and then it rained.
This land is not mine. The county or the water management district could doze it all down. I have done this fully aware of what may happen. So far, only a hog has been in to dig there. The whole length of the canal is now fully covered over in the natural wild plants that start the succession process. The part behind my house has some of those, but I have chosen the plants for that part of the succession, and the experience has been a blast.
A succession begins when soil is disturbed and a place opens up for long buried and dormant annual seeds to grow. Soil was disturbed in a big way on that canal bank. Trees were ripped down and the soil was churned up and moved around. It is this affect that farmers go for when they plow a field, and the first time it is plowed, Wow! There is a huge release of nutrient as soil microbes are destroyed, and the stable nutrients they held are released into the soil. This is also a great opportunity for nutrient to wash away in the first rain event after soil disruption, and the way that wild plant seeds that were buried in the soil are brought to the surface and sprout, so getting plants and seeds into disturbed soil immediately is the way to take advantage of that huge nutrient release and to encourage re-establishment of those oh so important soil microbes.
A natural succession may result in the eventual re-establishmen of a forest, or it may remain in a meadow state if tree seeds do not succeed there. Unless the county sends dozers back to this area, and hogs willing, this soil will not be disturbed again. In that case, the perennial shrubs and trees I planted will grow to overtake the soil with shade and leaf mulch, and once again the annuals will disappear leaving their seeds behind for the day when soil is once again disturbed, and the sun comes through.
The seed list: Buckwheat, Pink eye purple hull cow peas, Pigeon peas, Seminole pumpkin, Shallu (a type of sorghum), Millet, Corn, Phasey bean, Aeschynomene, Okra, Roselle, Amaranth, Rattlesnake beans, Lima beans.
The Transplants List: Red Maple, Red Cedar, Bismarkia Palm, Sweet Acacia, Crepe Myrtle, Firecrackers, Firespikes (red and purple), Variegated Mahoe, White Duranta, Jamaican Poinsettia, Coontie, Scorpion tail, Aster, Plumbago, Everbearing Mulberry, Black Mulberry, Red Pineapple, Jamaican Curry, Fishtail Palm, Papaya, Cassava, Cranberry Hibiscus, Sweet Potato, Tithonia.
I promised my friends from Sustainable Kashi that I would photograph the project as it grew. Here are some of the pics.
Here is a link for our newest article at Florida Regenerative Landscapes. Florida Regenerative Landscapes is the name of a new partnership fellow Permaculture Designer Lucie Burke and I formed to handle Permaculture Landscaping jobs.
This front yard project started in mid February. I am posting pics from before and from time to time. This is an ongoing project as gardens are constantly changing themselves, but the instant results are stunning even in pictures. Seeing the speedy evolution of this garden project is a thrill. Mark is really excited about how its going, and Mark’s neighbors have gone from speculating on Mark’s sanity (when it appeared that his front yard had been converted to a large golden pile of straw) to really enjoying their walks past his madly growing yard. Mark works 5 days a week. We did this project in just 3 half day segments. The first and most intensive attended by a great host of Mark’s friends whose many hands made light work. Throughout we have been adding in young perennial plants and trees including rose apple, cassava, carambola, miracle fruit, moringa, sweet potatoes, papaya, pineapples, tithonia and cranberry hibiscus.
I started this project before my permaculture design course, and have continued to work on it since then. Also since then I have teamed up with Permaculture Designer Lucie Burke to start the Florida Regenerative Landscapes partnership. We are currently working on a new landscape at the Peak Fitness and LOV Juice juice bar at 801 20th Place in Vero Beach Florida. We are available for hire if you would like a healthy edible landscape for your own property on the Treasure Coast.
Hold onto your hats, I have some work to do on my blog and there may be some disruptions and there are going to be some changes in our look here at ManureDepot.com.
Thanks for your patience.
I have been working hard on my education over the last 5 years and now I have just completed my first Permaculture Design Course.
The Permaculture Design course was March 15 − 26, 2013 at the Sustainable Kashi Yoga Retreat in Sebastion, Florida. It was presented by Koreen Brennan of GrowPermaculture.com. With guest presenters Richard Powell of The Orlando Center for Urban Permaculture, and Permaculture Designer/ Woofer Eric Phillips.
I have taken three different introductory permaculture classes and workshops, and one of them twice. It has taken nearly half of those classes and lots of internet time for me to figure out what exactly permaculture is. The permaculture design course is best taken by a student who has been learning a bit about permaculture ahead of time. It is also useful to have spent some time gardening before undertaking a permaculture design course. It is too much to try to learn both at once.
Permaculture looks at everything we attempt to accomplish in our lives and tries to observe and copy the way in which nature would achieve such things. We do this because nature chooses the path of least resistance meaning that for us this will be the simplest way to achieve our goals.
Though permaculture is appropriately applied to education, relationships, economics, building, and many other aspects of human activities it is most simply applied to our agriculture. So while we may observe the way that the army corp of engineers redirects a river, or the way the farmer farms, or how the neighbor gardens, in order to instruct ourselves we observe nature, and then we apply what we see in nature to our design plans. A stream slowly meanders back and forth down a forested hill side soaking in as it goes; Annuals grow in diverse masses where the soil can hold some water; Forests grow as complementary layers of plants shrubs, vines, and trees, and are less subject to extremes of temperature, precipitation, and wind than lone standing trees; A fallen tree creates a rich habitat for soil microbes, invertebrates and fungi as it lays rotting; Trees’ roots hold the soil on a river bank, or on a hillside; Meadows are diversely populated with many different grasses and flowering plants that are constantly dying down and regenerating to create deep rich soil (the American plains).
What we observe about nature can instruct us in our pursuit of a good permaculture garden design. Noticing the specific ways that these basic natural rules take place on our property gives us hints about how best to proceed with new projects on the land. The main reason to mimic nature’s designs and tendencies in the garden is because nature is regenerative. The forest does not require the gardener to water, fertilize, pull weeds or battle with pests. It is not costly to us or to the environment, and it puts forth abundant yields in the most natural way.
You might ask then why we even need to learn about permaculture if nature knows how to do everything. The permaculture designer is needed because we have so thoroughly changed our home garden environment through rigorous unnatural gardening practices, that the gardens around our homes do not survive without our constant and costly intervention. Through permaculture design applied to these unnatural habitats we can recreate regenerative systems that function effortlessly so that we can actually get a minute to enjoy the garden.
I have completed the permaculture design course, and earned the certificate. What I have learned will help me to apply permaculture design principles more effectively in the garden and to more aspects of my regular pursuits. Having completed the permaculture design course I plan to actively pursue permaculture design jobs. Now I have the right to call what I have been teaching by its name, Permaculture. Boy howdy, I’m glad!
Slow Food Gold and Treasure Coast is offering a series of garden classes. On Sunday April 28th at 1pm to 3pm I will be presenting Planting The Summer Garden In Florida. This class will be held at Heathcote Botanical Gardens in the old house at the back of the property. It is a good idea to pre-register with Slow Food Gold and Treasure Coast.
I will be discussing the summer garden choices for Florida gardeners. Whether you chose to go fallow, plant nutrient building cover and mulch crops, or plan to grow edible crops, or some of each choice we will be discussing how that is done and which crops are appropriate for the summer season in Florida growing zones 9 and 10.
This fall and winter there is a great deal to see and to eat in my South Florida Garden. I have gained a little extra time this year to spend at the homestead garden and I can see how that is paying off. I have been harvesting turmeric and ginger that grew all summer in my garden. I am planning to grow much more next summer.
My pigeon pea plants are full of flowers and peas, and the black seed variety that I got from my Melbourne forest farmer buddy John Rogers is huge and loaded, and it barely quit fruiting from the summer before it began again in the fall. It is a more cold tolerant variety of pigeon pea than the beige seed variety, so I don’t worry about it a bit when the temperatures drop. It has been warm enough this winter that I have also been getting a decent harvest from the beige seeded variety of pigeon pea, and that is my favorite type to eat.
I had a strange winter pineapple, full sized and still green, hidden in the back of a mass of pineapple plants, all of which fruited properly in the summer except that one. The last three pineapples I harvested from a different area were quite late and though they had excellent pineapple flavor they were not very sweet. I didn’t get to taste this late fruit as it disappeared before it began to ripen. I am guessing one of the creatures of the woods got it. It is March now and I have many pineapples that have begun flowering as well as an early bloomer that is nearly full sized already.
When Hurricane Sandy sent tropical storm force winds ashore while passing by Florida, the shady hedge plants on the south side of my property came down. We cut it all up, putting the logs aside, moved a compost heap that was suddenly in full sun, and made a new garden with the logs and a pile of broke down manure. That garden is soaking up the best sun on the property,and producing well.
One of my annual garden areas is succumbing to a managed succession to perennial food crops. That is, it is getting less sun than the winter before, so the annuals there are having a slow start this season and will be producing later than other areas of the property. In that garden I had a good seminole pumpkin crop over the summer culminating in a hidden pumpkin suddenly becoming visible hanging in the loquat tree. It weighed in at seventeen and a half pounds. The first one I plucked from that tree was big at eleven and a half pounds. The vines from that pumpkin plant are still alive and traveling around the garden. If the winter weather remains mild I expect that same plant will continue its roam around the garden next summer too. If not, I have more seeds.
I really enjoy the hidden fruits and the surprise fallen fruits that suddenly become visible. It is interesting to discover that the fallen pumpkins I have found on the ground so far even though they have shown signs of having been on the ground for long enough to have rotted were not decomposing. I have even picked up pumpkins that were a quarter buried in the ground where they fell and earthworms were busy in the soil beneath, but the skin of the pumpkin remained intact.
The banana plants that are growing in the chicken litter are humongous. The flowers I have been waiting for have emerged, and I can count 6 hands so far. This year I won’t be climbing for bananas, they have grown too tall. I will have to pull the plant down to get the fruit. Passion vines are still producing in that area, but as I have done all summer long, I am sharing with squirrels. The carambola tree is loaded with fruit and we have had the pleasure of eating star fruit every day. The papaya has lots of fruit on and I am hoping for ripe fruit, squirrels willing.
The loquat tree had lots of fruit, but it wasn’t very good this year. Below it a new rose apple is growing well. Below the rose apple I have collard greens, lambs ear and vanilla grass and now summer crisp lettuce seedlings. My other new fruit trees white sapote, olive, almond, and lychee are doing well so far. If they are as well in the spring it will be a great summer for them.
The mango tree, and the Choquette avocado tree (It makes football sized avocados.) are in full bloom madness.
At the shed area I am still battling with running bamboo. Some friends helped me dismantle a hugel mound and we began to dig out the bamboo that had invaded it. I reassembled the hugel mound and planted fingerling potatoes in it. Nearby, where Rattlesnake beans grew this summer I have sugar snap peas up and running, with stinging nettles and some kale, lettuce, broccoli and parsley transplants there as well. A volunteer rattlesnake bean has joined the climbing mass of peas and I am harvesting those sweet purple spotted green beans along with the peas.
Near the pea garden I planted a mound in clover and tomatoes. Papaya volunteers came up there too. Now I have papaya plants with tomato plants and a clover understory that is keeping the soil covered below. It is such a cool garden, and even though it is mounded nearly two feet up from ground level it rarely needs water.
The shed garden vege patch is doing real well. I have had to disassemble it every summer to remove the bamboo that runs into it. This summer was no exception, and I have already clipped bamboo shoots this fall, so I know what I will be doing again next summer.
East of the shed garden vege patch I put in wheat and a good bit of sweet white clover. A gopher tortoise ate down my entire first and second wheat crops. I have since covered that area over and planted corn and more clover, and yeah I will go ahead and fence in the corn against the tortoise. I was surprised to discover that the tortoise does not seem to be the least bit interested in the clover.
I ran out of space for the transplants I was thinning from the gardens I seeded. In desperation I moved cabbages and broccoli to the mulch around young fruit trees. I have found that a handful of rotting manure encourages their development in the fruit tree mulch. It is a good practice for me to move annuals out into beds with perennials. I often miss obvious spaces for transplants because I was, until recently, unaccustomed to mixing annuals with perennials.
I have been harvesting salad greens and radishes for months now. I have just begun to harvest cooking greens and now the broccoli is flowering. A broccoli plant that limped through the summer when all the others were dead became vibrant in October and was providing me with lovely side shoots before the new broccoli crop had gotten up six inches. I am allowing it to go to flower now and have been collecting mature seed pods from it for next fall’s planting season. While the broccoli plants have been large and vigorous this year the florets even the first center florets have been small. Since this is happening in all of my gardens, and I have heard the same from some of my friends, I wonder if it is because of the record warm temperatures we have experienced this winter. I am making an effort to harvest carrots following our cold snaps. I think that gives the best chance for sweet carrots in a rather warm growing season. They taste good so far, but not as delicious as the nearly translucent super sweet carrots I harvested after 2 straight weeks of mostly freezing night time temperatures we experienced a few years ago.
We have been eating lots of Lima beans and there are still lots of beans on the vines. I am surprised to see that the lima plants do not seem to mind the few cold nights that we have had so far.
Certified Tree Service came out during the summer and thinned the vines in the woods on the east and south of the circle garden. It was amazing how the air came through after they were done. The garden is getting better sun too and is growing very well. There is some of everything in the circle garden including a non-native chickweed that I am hoping will become native to my garden. It is very delicious, and grows just as vigorously as the native chick weed does.
This is how it goes in the natural garden where most of my time is spent planting and harvesting and none of my time is spent battling with insects, or throwing fertilizers.
You can do this too.
I believe this the the third article I have written about sweet potatoes. It may seem ill timed as sweet potatoes are summer crops, but I hope readers will find value in this post at this time. Click the links below to read the sweet potato articles written here in the past. In The Garden: Growing Sweet Potatoes
In The Garden: Revisiting Sweet Potatoes
Most of us have been harvesting our summer sweet potatoes since November. Here in South Florida sweet potatoes function like perennial plants. While a frost and freeze will damage sweet potato vines our soil doesn’t freeze. The parts below ground do fine all winter long so that once you have sweet potatoes you will always have them. It is only necessary to create your slips once. After that there should always be sweet potato vines somewhere in the garden from which to take new cuttings. I have even discovered that discarded vines can not be trusted to die and decompose, rather, they grow where ever they are thrown down.
If you are a no till gardener like I am you understand when I say it gives me pain to dig up sweet potatoes, so when I harvest them from my winter garden I take the vines out as well as potatoes that are obvious from the surface. I don’t turn up all of the soil where the potatoes grew, and that has worked well for me. Then in the spring, as my winter crops are finishing, the parts that were left below sprout again just in time to cover the soil for the summer.
This year I have kale and cabbage transplants growing in the bed from which I took the sweet potatoes. While we had some very cold weather in October, we have otherwise had a mild/warm winter (It is the beginning of January now, so we may yet have cold weather.). Usually sweet potatoes will lie dormant below my winter garden only surging in the spring as the temperatures rise. Not so this year, even as the cabbages and kale are taking hold I am finding sweet potato sprouts coming up through the mulch between them.
I have been able to push my fingers into the soil around the potato sprouts, and slide long slim potatoes out of the ground without disturbing the young transplants on the surface. I have, so far in this way, harvested many lovely sweet potatoes from the garden this winter. In one case, as I began to push my fingers in to grasp the potato below, a very large earthworm ejected itself from the soil. I have to admit I was startled. It was a very big earthworm, night crawler size, and it actually launched itself out of the ground, and then quickly found its way back down into the soil where it landed, which brings me to another point about sweet potatoes.
Sweet potatoes are good for the soil. All summer long their vines and heart shaped leaves keep the soil covered. The mulch below the vines breaks down in cool comfort. The swelling potatoes gently move the soil repairing any compaction issues that existed before them. I find the soil below the potato vines to be black, well aggregated (lumpy) and loaded with worm castings. The weeds that are coming up around my transplants are easy to slip out of the soil where the potatoes were. The new crops are growing as if all of their soil needs are being met, and the soil is holding moisture much longer than the native soil.
Knowing what I know now about sweet potatoes preference for sandy drier soils I have often said I would not again put sweet potatoes in my better soils, but every spring like clock work the sweet potatoes re-sprout in this garden section where I originally put them, and I find that I like the effect they have there as much as I enjoy the food they produce.
Finally, South Floridians, put your sweet potatoes in the refrigerator. The cool temperatures increase the sweetness of your crops, and will inhibit sprouting.
A few years ago I began growing Lima Beans (Phaseolus lunatus) in the garden when I scored some Violet’s Multicolored lima beans at a seed swap. Lima beans will grow well in the hottest weather we have here in South Florida, and when they begin to yield, they will supply lots of very nice buttery lima beans, and they will thrive until the weather turns cold. The variety I most enjoy eating is the King of The Garden. It is a pole bean variety. It is an open pollinated heirloom so I can save seeds for my next crop, and the white beans are huge. I am careful not to grow any other Lima bean varieties at the same time so that when I save the seeds I am not accidentally making hybrid varieties.
There are bush and pole varieties of lima beans. The pole varieties will go as high as there is support for them, and then they will lean over to whatever is nearby and grow to that. Be aware that however tall the support structure is for the pole bean, that is how high you will be reaching for your harvest. Also the plant will grow back and forth along the top of your support creating lots of weight up there. That can be disastrous for beans growing on a weak support on a windy day. I use bamboo poles and I have had to tie the bamboo to a support post to keep it upright.
I really like lima beans because they are very hardy plants, and the beans are cased in a very thick walled pod that protects the beans from everything. The pod will develop into a large size before the bean puts on any size, so it is a good idea to feel the bean before pulling it from the plant. If you are not certain, you can see through the pod by holding it up to the light until you become accustomed to the feel of a full size lima bean.
I have discovered that lima beans are day length sensitive, so the plants I started in June, and the plants I started in August are both producing pods at the same time, so while Lima bean plants are glad to survive through the long summer days, they won’t feed you until the days are shorter. It is October, still hot and the lima pods are filling up quickly now.
Lima beans can be cooked and eaten while they are fresh, or they can be dried for later use. They are not meant to be eaten raw however as they contain linamarin, a cyanogenic glycoside which when mixed with digestive enzymes creates hydrogen cyanide. Even a few lima beans eaten raw can cause some serious gastric distress. Cook fresh Limas in water to deactivate the toxins, and discard the cooking water. Dried lima beans should be soaked for at least 8 hours and then thoroughly rinsed, and then cooked in fresh water. Some varieties of Lima beans have lower linamarin levels than others.
Lima beans like other legumes have excellent beneficial effects on health and metabolism. They are fat free, rich in soluble fiber, and the carbohydrates digest slowly so they do not create spikes in blood sugar. They have positive effects on vascular and heart health, improving circulation, and lowering cholesterol, they help prevent heart attack and stroke. The amino acids and minerals in Lima beans have other beneficial health effects as well.
As I learn more about the foods I grow and eat I am frequently stunned to find that these crops when properly grown (and properly prepared), are full of nutrients that have multiple beneficial effects on our health. It causes me to reflect on the true meaning of the Hypocrites quote “Let food by thy medicine.”. This above all else helps me to realize that I was made from this planet, and it is not only possible for us to be in sink with our beautiful blue/green earth, it is natural.
I was at the first Living In A Watershed Workshop Sunday afternoon. It was an excellent class. It is the first of 5. There are 4 classes left, and there are just a few spaces left for those who may want to jump in. Here is the course description.
Heathcote Botanical Gardens offers Watershed Workshop
Join Heathcote Botanical Gardens and its community partners for Living in a Watershed, an Interactive Workshop and five-part series to begin September 30th. Through seminars, guided tours and hands-on activities the workshop facilitates an understanding of watersheds and the threats that our local rivers and estuaries face. Participants will learn strategies for protecting our vital water resources – beginning right in their own backyards. As part of the course’s $50 fee, participants will receive a rain barrel and a membership to Heathcote Botanical Gardens. Sessions meet on Sunday afternoons from 3:00 p.m. until 5:00 p.m. Space is limited and pre-registration is required. For more information or to register call (772) 464-4672.
September 29: Watershed Basics – Hydrologic Cycle; Water quality & quantity; Watershed models
October 7: Watershed Walk – Interpretive walking tour on the St. Lucie River watershed
October 14: Rainwater Catchment; Gray Water Management – Rain barrels; Household water reclamation
October 21: Boat tour of the Indian River Lagoon – Watersheds & connectivity; IRL history & ecology
October 28: Water Conservation in the Garden – Irrigation & Soil, Pests, Disease & Fertility Management & Native Plants
Heathcote Botanical Gardens
Wrensong Science & Environment Education
The Compost Gardener
Univ. Florida / IFAS & St. Lucie County Extension
Indian River Lagoon Boat & Wildlife Tours
Heathcote Botanical Gardens
210 Savannah Road
Ft. Pierce, Florida 34982
I will be presenting Harvesting In The Garden @ Heathcote Botanical Gardens in the office 10am Saturday September 22 2012. Learn what we grow, what parts we harvest and use, how we use or don’t use water during the harvest, and how to use store or save what we grow.
The cost for this presentation is $20 members, $25 non-members. Pre-registration is recommended.
To register call Heathcote Botanical Gardens (772) 464-4672
210 Savanna Road, Fort Pierce, Florida 34982
This is a complicated time in our society. We use complex tools to accomplish every day chores. It is easy to forget that much that is happening in our world that gets done quickly, efficiently and with little effort from us or our technologies, uses no fossil fuels, and generates no pollution, and is being done by a universe of tiny creatures, some, so small we can’t even see them.
Let me tell you about the fascinating universe of creatures that make up the work force of your everyday compost pile and the earth’s finest soils. You can make compost happen in your yard without knowing any of this, but if you want to be the master organism in charge of the compost and you have never made a compost before it will help you immensely to know how your kitchen garbage and yard wastes become the finest soil a plant could want.
Long before people began making compost piles composting was happening. Compost is the result of the decomposition of organic materials. Everything that came from the earth goes back to the earth. That is the natural rule that has kept the earth clean for as long as it has hosted life. Without the agents of decomposition the earth would be overrun with plant and animal wastes. Imagine if every leaf that fell to the ground never changed, if every bit of manure that hit the ground, and every creature that perished simply stayed where it fell. Throughout the ages, whether it be rock, tree, or crude oil, everything decomposes. Here is how it happens.
Some of the smallest organisms that are responsible for the decomposition of organic material are bacteria. They make up 80 to 90 percent of the billions of micro organisms found in a gram of compost. What are they doing there? They are eating. They are eating, excreting (good stuff), reproducing and dying at a furious rate, and they are also being eaten. Slightly more visible diners in the compost are fungi, mold and yeasts. There is an organism that you can’t see, but you can recognize it by its very special signature odor. Actinomycetes (Ak-tin-o-my-seats) give composts and soils their very desirable earthy fragrance. Other diners in the compost cafeteria are archaea, protozoa, rotifers, mites, snails and slugs, earthworms, centipedes, millipedes, sow bugs and pill bugs, white worms, soil flat worms, nematodes, springtails, beetles, and ants. They are all eating, and another cafeteria springs up every time organic matter begins to pile up on the ground. We can take advantage of this.
Everything of the earth will compost, eventually even rocks break down to make soil. That being said there are things that we don’t put into our compost piles. Don’t bother with rocks or sand… we have plenty of sand in our soil already. Big things like logs and palm fronds take too long to decompose, so we don’t put them in this compost pile either. They go into another type of compost. We don’t compost meat, bones or fat so as not to attract raccoons and other meat eating creatures to our compost pile, but ranchers frequently do. When adding manures it is generally accepted that we only add the manures from herbivorous livestock, so no human, cat or dog fecal matter. Plastics won’t decompose, so we don’t add plastics, but if they get in there by accident no worries, you will find them eventually, and then you can put them elsewhere. How about fertilizer? You are bound to meet a person who puts fertilizers in the compost pile. Please smile politely when they tell you, and absolutely do not add fertilizer to your compost under any circumstance. It is a counter productive detrimental practice.
So, we know decomposition happens because organisms eat organic matter. We know which organic materials we don’t want to put into a compost. What organic matter do we use to make our compost? Everyone knows kitchen vegetable garbage, and anyone who has put a pile of kitchen garbage out on the ground or in a box or barrel knows that kitchen garbage smells bad, and draws flies. So, to kitchen garbage we add old plant debris like dead leaves. When put together with dead leaves kitchen garbage odors get tied up and the pile soon develops a pleasant earthy scent. The kitchen wastes are called nitrogen or green wastes. The dead leaves are called carbon or brown wastes. For every bucket of nitrogen or green wastes you want to add 4 to 5 buckets of carbon or brown wastes.
In addition to kitchen vegetables green wastes are manures, grass clippings, green hay, fresh seaweed, and green leaf clippings. In addition to dead leaves brown wastes are straw, tea bags, coffee grounds and coffee filters, fine cut wood mulches, sticks and twigs, sawdust, shredded newspaper, torn cardboard, dryer lint, pet fur and human hair (un-dyed). At first you may need to mix or turn the nitrogen and carbon wastes in your compost pile, but once decomposition starts, and even if you are adding more wastes, as long as you add layers of greens and browns (nitrogens and carbons), the cafeteria workers will mix and aerate your compost for you. If you place your compost in a shady location you will not have to water it very often, and if it is beneath a shade tree you will get the benefit of fallen leaves for your compost as well.
In order to work properly a compost pile needs a certain mass or density. The space for composting wastes should be at least 3 feet by 3 feet by 3 feet. Mine are all four by fours, and I try to build them four feet high before moving on to the next one. As it breaks down the volume of the compost will diminish by more than half. I have never met anyone who made too much compost. Every season we all wish we had made more.
The organisms we desire in our compost will come to the organic material we put down. If there is enough mass, air and moisture they will begin eating, and in a few months your pile of garbage, leaves, and grass clippings will be looking a whole lot more like the earth’s finest soil. Well cured (aged) compost has a dense community of organisms that help plants to grow with great health and vigor, and without the need for any fertilizers, but that is for another post.
Bon appetit compost organisms.
Pests and Disease In The Organic Garden will be the subject of my presentation 10AM Saturday August 25th at Heathcote Botanical Gardens in the old house.
We will be examining the roles of pest, predaceous and parasitoid insects in the garden. We will also learn to identify them in their various life stages, (egg, larvae, pupae, adult), and how to discourage or attract them without the use of poisons, and pesticides. The cost for this class is $20 for Heathcote members, and $25 for non-members.
This could be the most useful garden class you have ever taken. Come out and see why I think this is so.
To register for this class call Heathcote Botanical Gardens 772-464-4672.
210 Savanna Road, Fort Pierce, Florida 34982