Where to start. I’ll start with an apology, I’m sorry this is a long post, but hopefully you’ll think it worth the read.
Most of us don’t conceive the macro fact we, as humans, are all flying through space on one giant living, breathing, conscious, recycling/composting, system we call Earth. When you stop, and ponder that for a moment, you come to grasp that microbial processes are critical to life on this planet. Minerals are constantly recycled, and soils are regenerated in a cyclical fashion. Mother Nature’s natural decomposition processes involves the same processes found in composting. When human intervention enters the equation, composting enters the fast-tracking of these natural processes. This is when efficiency of decomposition is maximized. It is a magical process of transformation, creation, and combination. It is alchemy.
If you have been reading my posts, you’ll recognize this is where I usually put a disclaimer of sorts. I am not a pro grower, nurseryman or horticulturalist. I am just the guy who heard a clarion call and has woken up to the BS of a complex societal system that is designed to provide profit to the elite few at the expensive of everyone, especially when it comes to our food and health. Thus, I decided I will consume as little as I can from the industrial poison complex.
With that said, if you just simply want to grow a few cannabis plants and don’t want to go to all this effort, I get that. To that reader, I say buy some good soil, coco or peat, one of the nutrient lines mentioned by Dude & Scotty, add some Recharge, then let her go. If however, you’ve been infected by the ‘I really want to grow organic’ virus, and you want to grow all the way, then keep reading because this is where the rubber meets the road.
Typically, when gardeners who also love the dank first begin composting, most just start by piling leaves, twigs, kitchen scraps and all sorts of stuff in a big pile in the remote corner of their back yard. They check it occasionally, maybe turn it over a little and they hope for the best. Unfortunately most people are not cognizant of the carbon to nitrogen ratio (C:N). This is critical. It is critical to comprehend within the entire framework and every aspect of the ‘Organic No Till’ practice.
If you’ve been listening to the podcasts and/or reading my posts you have learned there are browns and greens and the ratio is roughly 2 browns (carbon) to 1 green (nitrogen). If you talk to composting pros and ask where their ratio is they will almost always answer “round 30”. What? Yup, me too. I had to ask, what do you mean 30? I finally asked the right fella, Floyd a.k.a. Dr. Dirt in my neck of the wood. A 25-30 to 1 ratio, or there about, of carbon to nitrogen is just about right for getting the process where you want to go in as rapid a fashion as your environment allows. Everything has a carbon to nitrogen ratio, even you are roughly 17:1. Therefore it is important to start out your pile or fill your tumbler with the right rough ratio of inputs. Below is a table of common compost inputs carbon(browns) and nitrogen (greens)and their corresponding C:N ratio
|Browns = High Carbon Inputs||C:N Ratio|
|Straw or Corn stalks||80:1|
|Hardwood ash / Biochar||25:1|
|Greens = High Nitrogen Inputs|
|Food / Fruit waste||20:1|
|Seaweed / Kelp||17:1|
|Raw Cow Manure||15:1|
As you can see making sure you have the right combination of inputs is the difference between your compost finishing in 6 weeks or 60 weeks. If the ratio is high, you are going to compost slow. If the ratio is narrow, then you’ll have neighbors complaining about the smell of ammonia or worse. You will develop, via trial & error, your favorite easily obtainable inputs. Mine you ask? For the carbon, I like using saw dust but it IS NOT my #1 choice. I like hardwood sawdust because it produces incredible humus. I like it so much that I devote 1 side of one of my tumblers to just composting hardwood sawdust plus a myriad of nitrogen and amendment inputs. The problem however, with a 400:1 ratio, sawdust takes a lot of nitrogen input and a loooooong time to breakdown into humus.
My #1 carbon choice, by a Grand Canyon sized margin, is leaves. If you think about what trees do, you’ll agree. Every year trees grow their roots deeper into the earth and pull out all the macro and micro nutrients they need and send them up into their solar panels called leaves. Leaves then conduct the business of converting solar energy into whatever that tree produces and stores the extra nutrients for future use. At the end of the cycle the tree drops all those leaves, containing all those left-over nutrients, to be recycled. Brilliant! Plus, with only a 60:1 ratio it is quite easy to find the “25 to 30” ratio zone.
On the nitrogen side, I primarily use spent coffee grounds because I have access to a large supply, they have nearly neutral pH, always around 6.5, they contain high levels of phosphorus and potassium, plus measurable levels of magnesium, iron and zinc. Additionally, I use grass clippings, kelp which also brings tremendous additional benefits, and alfalfa.
Are there things you simply DO NOT want in your compost? You bet. Below is a table of basic inputs that are good & the stuff you want to stay away from.
|NICE LIST||NAUGHTY LIST|
|Fallen leaves||Diseased or insect-ridden plants|
|Used Coffee grounds & Filter / Tea & tea bags||Meat scraps or Bones|
|Hay and Straw||Dairy products|
|Hardwood ash from Fireplace or Lump Charcoal from grilling (not briquet charcoal)||Fats, grease, lard, or oils|
|Peanut shells||Pet wastes like Dog doo, kitty litter|
|Hardwood Sawdust||Anything treated with Pesticide or Herbicide|
|Wood Chips||Black Walnut tree leaves, pruning or chips|
|Grass clippings*||Charcoal Briquet ash (Kingsford or store brand)|
|Garden & Yard trimmings/pruning*||Chemically treated wood|
|Houseplant material||Weeds, cooch and nut grass|
|Fruit & Vegetable peels/scraps (Best for vermicomposting)||Rhizomes|
|Baked & ground Egg shells or Oyster shells||Poultry manure*|
|Shredded paper & cardboard||Fish scraps or Bones & Shrimp shells*|
|*DO NOT USE if treated with commercial lawn fertilizer and/or Pesticides and Herbicides||*Can be used if composting is initially performed at 140° to 155°F|
Here is the answer to why you should consider making this effort. From these inputs, you can expect nature’s bounty. Compost is filled with humus and humus does an awful lot for us, our cannabis and our gardens. It can hold its weight in water. It promotes soil building organisms. It is the best medium to retain nutrients in your soil and to deliver those nutrients to the plant. Humus is the only soil colloid that is equipped with sites to store both negatively charged minerals (anions) and positively charged minerals (cations). This is very important when it comes to the storage of highly leachable anions like nitrogen, sulfates and boron. Humus colloid is the only storage mechanism in the soil for these minerals. Unstable minerals like phosphorus, which is very easily bound up in your soil can be stabilized with the formation of a phosphate/humus bond. Composted humus also serves as the perfect home for microbial inoculum.
Microbes restore biodiversity and balance in your soil. Balanced soil is disease suppressive. Beneficial microbes neutralize pathogens through competition for nutrients and space, the consumption of competitors, the production of inhibitory compounds and they induced disease resistance via a plant immune response called systemic acquired resistance.
Sorry for the science bomb but, the delivery of minerals to the plant is largely a biological process. The higher your humus levels, the more microbes you’ll have active in your soil. If you have highly active soil biology with access to an abundance of macro and micro nutrients held in your humus, the higher the medicinal and nutritional level of your plants and produce. Your flowers and your food become a bounty of awesome flavor through this process. This is exactly the reason Scotty raved about Minnesota Nice’s bud he sampled at the Midwest cup.
I add a plethora of amendments in very small amounts (1 tbsp. to 1 cup per about 25 lbs of raw inputs) to my compost starts. Kelp meal, soybean meal, alfalfa meal, langbeinite, greensand, rock phosphate, leonardite, azomite and basalt. Why is simple. If you have a nutrient deficiency in your soil and you make compost with plants grown from that soil, then logically you will have the same deficiency in the compost you make. You also lose the nutrient value of the plants that are removed from the cycle, along with the nutrients lost in the food produce you eat and flowers you grow. Adding amendments to the mix not only puts the nutrients back into your soil, it also gives your soil biology, thus your plants, a veritable smorgasbord of nutrients to work from.
I am researching adding yet another ingredient and it is Dude’s fault. A chitin source. Thanks Dude. No seriously, THANKS. This is an ongoing learning process. I promised in the tea recipe post I would lay out what all these inputs do, so here goes.
Kelp meal brings a multitude of nutrients plus it contains growth hormones auxins, gibberellins, and cytokinins which are readily taken up by plants and put directly to use. Kelp stimulates soil bacteria while increasing soil structure, aeration, and moisture retention. Composted kelp improves seed germination, fosters more extensive root systems, and a provides a greater resistance to pests.
Soybean meal and Alfalfa meal bring much needed nitrogen sources to help the decomposition process to flourish especially when you are composting carbon with very high C:N values.
Langbeinite contains three essential nutrients, potassium, magnesium and sulphur. It is water soluble but the release of the minerals occurs slowly.
Greensand contains potassium, iron, magnesium, calcium and phosphorus plus as many as 30 other trace minerals. It can absorb 10 times more moisture than sand which makes it an exceptional soil conditioner.
Rock Phosphate brings phosphorus, calcium, iron and zinc. It encourages flower production, facilitates mobility of other nutrients within plants and stimulates root growth.
Leonardite brings humic and fluvic acid. This acts as a chelator in soil. Chelators hold mineral ions to prevent them from reacting in your soil and keeps them available to your plants.
Azomite brings a load of silica along with potassium, calcium and iron. It improves root systems, increases plant vigor, yields, germination rates of seeds and enhances pest and disease resistance.
Basalt is my favorite rock dust. Basalt is formed by the rapid cooling of magma from volcanic eruption. It is comprised of 53% silica, it provides an excellent source of macro and micro nutrients, it increases the moisture holding properties of soil, it greatly enhances cation exchange capacity, and it improves soil structure and drainage. That is fantastic. You cannot talk about Basalt though, without talking about paramagnetism.
Dr. Phil Callahan identified paramagnetism as the reason that volcanic soils always outperform non-volcanic soils. Basalt is almost always present in volcanic soils. Basalt attracts, stores and converts atmospheric energy known as Extra Long Frequency (ELF) radio waves created from lightning into tiny light particles called photons. Photons released from Basalt effectively deliver a light source to the roots and the living rhizosphere. In his book, Paramagnetism: Rediscovering Nature’s Secret Force of Growth, Dr. Callahan cites an experiment he conducted with German Professor Dr. Fritz Popp, who is a leading researcher in light energy. They tested Basalt from Oregon for its paramagnetic conductivity. To their amazement, their sample had a reading of 4000 photon units released per minute over the test period. This demonstrated that Basalt alone was steadily releasing photon particles.
Additional testing, that involved a combination of the same Basalt worked into compost, revealed an increase in the photon reading by 100X to 400,000 units! Further lab testing shows paramagnetic stimulation can triple the activity of beneficial microbes. Holy magma Batman! This lab testing provides clear evidence that there is a proven synergy between compost and paramagnetic Basalt. You will tremendously enhance your compost and increase the overall efficacy of your soil with the simple addition of Basalt. The best part, it does not cost very much.
There are two stages in composting. Thermophilic stage and mesophilic stage. During the initial ten to fourteen day period, is the thermophilic stage. High temperatures are produced and organic matter is broken down by heat loving organisms. They produce amino acids, sugars, plant wax and lignins in your compost. You’ll need to watch your temperature during this stage to obtain the best results. The temperature should exceed 140°F for at least three or four days to kill any nasty pathogens and inadvertent seeds. The temperature should not, however, rise beyond 150°F because beneficial microbes will die. During the 2nd or mesophilic stage temperatures drop and oxygen needs to increase. New groups of micro-organisms now get to work and bind the lignins, sugars and aminos into a stable humic substance.
There are several methods of composting. Commercial operations almost always use windrow composting called Controlled Microbial Composting. Many large farms use the same method or simply make several very large holding bins and layer in their carbon and nitrogen inputs. That is known as the Howard/Higgins method. Home gardeners like us typically use piles as I mentioned at the beginning of the post. I do. I circle up a sixteen foot cattle panel and dump inputs inside. This is where I store a lot of excess twigs, branches and leaves when they fall by the zillions and grass clippings.
I swear by the tumbler. I utilize 2 different tumblers. I started with a small one (35 gallon) I bought for $65 called a Yimby. It works great, and is well worth the price tag. I also have invested in a 106 gallon Jora form tumbler. I say invested because the price tag is around 800 greenbacks. The Jora is designed by Swedish engineers to work year-round, even in Colorado’s winter conditions Dude. Worth the investment? Yes, if you are going all in on the whole no till organic practice. The construction quality and design are superior to a lot of other stuff out there, Jora’s customer service is exemplary, and it turns out compost with blazing speed. If I were to buy another tumbler, I would purchase another Jora. BUT I would not recommend it to someone that is just getting started. Start with an open air pile or something like the cattle panel which only will run you twenty beans.
So, how do you know when your compost is done? There are no hard and fast rules for finishing time. The length of composting can vary based on C:N ratio, temperatures, microbial activity, oxygen levels and moisture content. Your eyes and nose will help you decide if your compost is ready. Take a sample from deep within your compost. The material should be dark brown in color rather than black. Black suggests that the compost was overcooked. If the compost stinks, it is not ready and may require turning or tumbling. You may need to modify your recipe for improved C:N ratio or aeration. A slight ammonia smell may still be evident in finished compost but this may also indicate the need for more carbon. It is always a good idea to check the temperature. Your compost is ready when temperatures inside the pile are dropping and under 105°F and your compost is mostly humified. You’ll recognize that strong, earthy, forest floor smell.
I cannot scribe out a post about composting without mentioning vermicomposting. Earthworms are little fertilizer factories that also aerate and improve soil structure. If you don’t already have a couple nightcrawlers in your pots or garden beds, get some and put them in. There is something crazy special about what happens in the digestive tract of an earth worm. Worm poop is proven to contain more nutrients coming out than the food consumed by the worms to begin with. How does that phreakin work? Worm castings are the most effective compost available. In fact, comparative research done at Cornell revealed that worm manure was around twenty times more potent than composted cow manure. Part of this enhanced performance is linked to the inoculum contained in that shit. The microorganisms incubated in the worm’s tummy are unique to worms and they offer an invaluable contribution to any soil. Worm castings are the Cadillac of compost.
This post is barely scratching the surface regarding composting. There is a library of information available on the subject. Trust me when I tell you, scientists like Dr. Callahan or Dr. Elain Ingham have forgotten 20X more than I know. The purpose of the post is to simply give you the basics in the hope you’ll get started and at the same time stop sending your gardening dollars into the coffers of the petroleum based fertilizer complex.
I’ll conclude by saying that composting, and the building of humus, is arguably the most important thing that any of us can do to help our garden soil. Building humus through cover crops and composting is the single, most effective way to build soil fertility. If you are going to buy in on growing organic, you should start composting today.
LOVE ~ LIGHT ~ PEACE All.