Compost International
Saving the earth one compost heap at a time



Organismic gardening is a term I coined to parallel organic gardening.  The difference is that in organismic gardening you concentrate on feeding the soil organisms, and leave them to feed the plants.

My lecture on Organismic Gardening begins:

In late June of last year I went to Compost School in Maine.  It was great.

I really like school, and I got 103 on my final test, which means that I learnt a LOT. Probably the most important things that I learnt were:

  • You can compost ANYTHING
  • There is good money to be made from compost
  • It is all about the microbes

All three of those are pretty amazing facts. And they are closely interwoven.  The fact that you can compost anything means that enterprising people can make money by composting stuff that otherwise is a problem, and you can compost anything because somewhere there is a microbe that will digest whatever organic material you throw at it.

I think that to my dying day I will be telling the story of the talk that we were given by the Director of Woods End Research Laboratory, Dr. Will Brinton.  He rather diffidently told us of the occasion when the US Army approached him and asked whether he could possibly compost some TNT that they happened to have lying around.  He could, and he did.

Not only that he composted a bunch of other nasty stuff that they were trying to decontaminate, with his method being somewhat slower but many, many times cheaper.  If only the powers that be would extend the idea to other problem spots like oil spills and industrial effluent.

Maine takes composting very seriously, and they view the process not just as a way to emulate the natural process of decomposition, or the recycling of organic matter that comes from the soil, back into the soil, but also as a way to solve many environmental problems.

Just think about what compost does.  It:

  • Improves soil structure increasing aeration
    Improves water retention
    Neutralizes soil pH

    Increases microbial activity, by providing ideal conditions
    Increases availability of nutrients

In other words, compost produces exactly the right conditions for good, fertile soil.  It encourages large numbers of microbes, which in turn nourish and sustain plants.

But it also
·    Eliminates the need for chemical fertilizers
     Reduces run-off and erosion
     Reduces pollution of aquifers and rivers
·    Neutralizes many toxins

·    Increases plants' resistance to disease
·    Controls many pathogens in the soil
·    Reduces need for pesticides

And most importantly, it recycles natural nutrients back into the soil where they belong and

·    Keeps organic matter out of landfills

Not bad for a pile of rotting garbage.

The benefits listed above are what one might call the pro-active side of composting.  The other side is re-active, like the TNT.  In other words, there is a problem substance that needs to be dealt with, and composting can be the answer.

The Maine Compost School is run jointly by the Maine Department of Agriculture, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, and the Waste Management & Recycling Program of the Maine State Planning Office.  A representative from each of these makes up the so-called compost Team, and they are on hand 24/7 to cope with environmental problems.

For example, one of our class exercises was to figure out what to do with 300 cows that had been drowned in a flash flood, a scenario that was no doubt inspired by a real-life event.  We had to figure out where to put that many carcasses, how to stack them most efficiently and where to get hold of enough material such as straw or horse bedding to form piles that one could stand to be near.

One project that the Compost Team did take on was contingency planning in case avian flu struck one of the huge poultry factories, with possible mortalities in the hundreds of thousands.  Fortunately they have been spared the flu, but the Team tried composting chickens on a small scale and now they are prepared for the worst.

Their challenge biggest - and I do mean biggest - we were told was, figuring out what to do with a beached whale.  You may not want to know how they did it, but they did - they composted several tons of blubber.

I think it is wonderful that there is an environmentally friendly solution to problems of this nature, and at the end of it (about a year later in the case of cows) one has a wonderful product that alleviates or fixes other problems, and enriches the soil.

And it is all thanks to bacteria, fungi and other microscopic entities in the soil.