Compost (Brown Gold Cadillac)

By Larry Dowell

“Soil is alive” Slogan found on an eraser distrusted by the Missouri Department of Conservation.

In his book, "Crockett’s Victory Garden," James Crockett describes the wonder of compost. He writes “Compost, as far as I’m concerned, is the gardener’s best friend.” He calls it “brown gold” and describes the composter he has devised as the “Cadillac of composters.” The result is a “brown gold Cadillac.’

Compost is partially decomposed organic material that adds richness to the soil. Compost allows the soil to hold more moisture, a plus during dry weather. Compost is created by using the organic materials found around the garden and house and causing them to be broken down and digested by organisms in the soil into a finished product that can be added to the garden plot.

Crockett’s “Cadillac” composter is 9 feet long with three compartments 3-feet by 3-feet by 3-feet. It is framed with treated lumber and covered with wire fencing. The details are found in his book. Barrel-like composters turned by a motor are available for purchase which promised compost within weeks. There are simpler and more economical ways to produce compost. 

Compost is produced by staking layer upon layer of organic waste until the pile is created. Select and out-of-the-way site, as these piles are not attractive and may produce unfavorable aromas. It helps to contain the materials within a structure. My wire tomato enclosures are 4-feet long by 4-feet tall and were just lying there doing nothing this winter. I drove four posts in the ground and fastened the wire to the posts. The result was a porous 4-feet by 4-feet enclosure. Now I can layer the organic material inside the fencing as it becomes available. One side can be opened to add materials. Shredded newspaper can be poured on the fence, but wet cow manure is heavy and sticky.

“How come it is soil when it is in your garden, but it looks like dirt on the carpet?” – Master Gardener’s spouse.

Having described the construction of a simple compost pile and the elements of such as assembly, we can move on to the advantages offered by compost. An active compost pile will get warm as it decomposes. Microorganisms in the soil will breakdown the materials and the heat in the interior can be measured with a compost thermometer. 

The optimum temperature is 130-140 degrees F. When the pile cools, it can be turned over. If you have a series of bins, the material can be shoveled from one to another. If you only have one pile, it can be stirred with a shovel or spreading fork. Earthworms and other large organisms will continue the breakdown process.

The result is a dark crumbly material with no recognition of the original ingredients (egg shells and bones might be exceptions.) The time required for conventional composting is six to nine months or about one growing season even if left untended. 

Compost builds the soil by adding nutrients and organic material to the garden plot. The organisms in the compost and in the breakdown of materials already present in the soil. Compost is generally free of weed seed and can even be used for starting plants indoors or for houseplants. 

Mixing with vermiculite may be desirable. When added to the garden in the spring compost serves to mulch new plants and provides nutrition and weed control. It works as well around perennials, shrubs and trees.

In sum, compost not only builds up garden soil, but solves a disposal problem for grass clippings, leaves, garden refuse, newsprint and kitchen waste.

The accumulation of materials, scooping from bin to bin and spreading of the compost contributes to an exercise regiment. Compost is a gardener’s best friend

MU Extension publication G6956, Making and Using Compost gives valuable information about compost piles and composting.

from the Master Gardener's Notebook, Marshfield Mail