Local, organic agriculture. Environmental education.

Stinky and Swell

fall composting bed“It’s just hay,” (though eaten and enjoyed), I say to the recent 2nd grade field trip visitors from the South Elementary School in Hingham, as I hold up a still warm piece of manure, which was scooped from the stall where Pumpkin the Pony spends each night. Yes it is a bit gross and yes I will wash my hands before lunch and snacking from the Education Darden. I will also select a fresh piece of manure for a high school group, some adults and middle schoolers too.  The manure is an essential ingredient for compost.  Though full of bacteria and already attracting flies, the manure is also full of nitrogen and will mix and play well with the carbon and other items that are added to the piles.  Making compost is a messy, stinky, enduring activity and quite necessary on the farm and in the community. I liken it to cooking, as all the ingredients are mixed together and ‘cooked’ in the pile, with the help of worms and thousands of micro-organisms. The living product that is created is humus, which like its related word, human, is a living component, and not a Middle Eastern snack for dipping. Compost also needs water, sun and air in order for it to be made into a finished product.  Once cooked, mixed and turned, the compost is ready for the garden and for the farm rows and furrows that will grow our produce.  Compost can happen on its own or the many hands that make it can speed along the process. We gather ingredients from the fields, when plants end their growing cycle (or, as I write, yield to an early Jack Frost), and food scraps from the Corner Stop restaurant, the coffee grounds, egg shells, stirring sticks and even egg cartons from the Coffee Corner-ingredients all for the compost operations at the Farm. And we have only just begun, as there are residents all over the South Shore creating ingredients for compost piles and restaurants too which are spending too much effort filling up their trash with compostable, recyclable items.  Please let us know if you see compost in your future and would like some help to begin.

But how to deal with the yuck factor?  So many people, maybe not those kindly reading this column, find it all so smelly, gross and messy. This compost is the healthy food for our organic plants.  We are not putting the manure next to the head of lettuce. We are not placing a banana peel at the base of a tomato plant.  (Someone might slip, after all).  We purposely make piles of compost, we turn, we mix, we sift and we even have a lovely sweet smelling pile of finished compost. The finished compost helps us grow organic vegetables flowers and herbs. We do not add chemical or synthetic fertilizers, rather the dear to our heart humus.  The smell is gone and the fragrance of basil, the taste of sweet carrots and the beauty of a vibrant dahlia flower are all that we experience.  Someone takes out the trash, someone cleans the bathroom, someone gets their hands dirty. It may not be for everyone, but it needs to happen and the environment, the plants and the worms thank you.  With a garlic planting scheduled for this weekend at the farm at 1 pm, I could write a whole other column on the stink and the smell of garlic. But having worked at a pizza shop, peeled many a clove and having a lot of garlic to thank for my good health, I will pause in writing just yet about the merits of another, stinky aspect of farming.  Let’s focus on the swell aspects, as well as understanding the stinky path we take to grow such great vegetables. Make compost, not trash and grow good garlic.

© 2015, Jon Belber. All rights reserved. Friends of Holly Hill Farm

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