Updated: Feb 28, 2021
The growing season might be a little way off, but winter has provided us with plenty of opportunities here in the Community Garden. We've found that creating separate groups to spear-head projects works well, helping to keep us on track - like seed ordering or infrastructure planning. A new and emerging addition for 2021 has been, "Team Compost".
It's come about because of this 'No Dig' thing. The prevailing wisdom from gardening gurus, like Charles Dowding, that what the soil needs most of all is to be left alone. Which means doing everything we can not to disturb the mind-boggling universe of microbes and mycelium beneath our feet. We already have a dozen no-dig beds, but we've also been relying on a tractor year on year to rotivate another acre into long, neat rows to plant. So the pressing question has become: how do we break away from doing this, given the growing body of evidence showing how damaging it is?
Well, we did the sums - quite a lot actually for a home-schooling project with some of the little gardeners! - and it turns out the answer is compost. Tons of it! In order for the soil to feed us, without becoming forested by weeds, we need to feed it.
Great compost requires learning about the balance of nitrogen and carbon. The golden rule is the magic number three - a third green (plant clippings, seaweed, kitchen scraps, grass cuttings), a third brown (sawdust, sileage, straw, paper, wood chippings etc) and a third manure. So 'Team Compost' was created to oversee how to manage this, opting to extend the beds year on year, based on how much black gold we can produce.
We've always had a composting area, but it was a little like a ravaged film star: desperately in need of a make-over. Thankfully, now that's beginning to happen, and so far the results are encouraging. Where once a sorry pile of mish-mashed slops once stood, we are developing a fleet of separate bays, to be mixed with cocktail-like precision. And alongside them, great monoliths to microbes. Stacks we have re-named "Compost Sausages", which stretch out along the hedgerow. We layer these up using a simple process of: green, brown, manure, and repeat, until they reach head height. It certainly helped that we managed to source a mighty mound of horse manure, thanks to a good tip-off!
The kids calculated we'll need about 10 cubic metres of compost to cover the area we currently use. That's a lot of sausages, even with those added bays! But it's a start, and more importantly, like so many of the things we are learning along this journey of community growing: once something captures the collective imagination, there's no telling where it will lead...