Green Hands — Soil
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Humus
(Organic Matter)

Function: Healthy soil ecology. See the Canadian Organic Gardeners' Field Crop Handbook, chapter 1, section 3: The Soil Ecosystem

Deficiency Produces: Sandy soil unable to retain moisture; clay soil unable to drain. Weak, unhealthy plants. Poor seed germination.

Recommended Products)

  • Your own compost: gardener's gold.
    • It's easy: from every meal you eat, save any scraps that do not have any meat, dairy, fish....any thing that came from a flesh creature. Everything of plant origin is great: all kinds of peelings, leftover pasta, stale bread, coffee grounds... everything.
    • You don't need a big bucket to keep it in, that just starts to smell after a few days. I keep mine in a pretty one-quart covered casserole dish, right on the counter next to the sink. I don't mind making trips to the garden every day, it gives me a chance to say hello even when I have to go back in & do housework
    • Add grass clippings, leaves raked up, dead houseplants, prunings....
    • Put it in a heap somewhere that gets some sun (all day is not necessary), away from where its untidy appearance will annoy anyone.
    • It will smell offensive only if you put flesh products in it. (The bacteria that decompose those substances are dangerous.) If you put that stuff in it, it will also attact skunks, and rats.
    • If the weather is terribly dry, you can help it by watering it. If you don't, it will work anyway; it will just take more time.
    • You can get fancy bins if you want it to look more organized. (They'll also make it harder for vegetable-loving animals to raid it, but this is usually not much of a problem.)
    • You can also get it to cook faster, and hotter (which kills weed seeds) by
      • turning it (in a pile, use a pitchfork) to aerate the inside
      • using special containers
        — like the CompostTumbler (I bought one, but haven't learned to use it yet. You have to use the right balance of green and dry material — nitrogen and carbon — and you have to monitor the temperature.
    • When the stuff on the bottom is all crumbly, it's ready to use.
    • I put it through a half-inch screen then, which gets rid of big stones, sticks and trash, and crumbles it a bit more. As you save the earthworms from getting mashed through the screen, put them back in the compost pile, not in the garden. The garden needs worms, too — but the kind that thrive there are a different kind than the kind that make compost. The compost worms need that high concentration of organic matter.
    • The result is rich, soft, stuff every plant lusts after.
    • You can use it as a top dressing or mulch; you can mix it into your soil to rejuvenate it. Give as much as you can to your plants, as often as you can.
    • For my whimsical musings on the subject, see my The Columncolumn, "Taking out the Compost."
    • Organic commercially sold compost
      Here in Massachusetts, the best I've found yet is sold by
      Mass Natural Fertilizer
      65 Bean Porridge Hill Road
      Westminster, MA
      (978) 874-0744
      Office hours 8-3 Monday-Friday

      They have two products:
      • Compost
        • Cost:
          • $22 per cubic yard (minimum order 3 yards)
          • plus delivery charge, which depends on your distance from Westminster
        • ingredients (as of last time I asked; I imagine it varies)
          • cranberries
          • apples
          • unused paper pulp
          • fish waste from hatcheries
            • chicken manure
          • Consistency: very heavy and moisture-retentive.
            • This product tends to be extremely fine-particled, due I imagine to the process of mechanical pulverizing and mixing of ingredients. Over the four years I have been using it, this has improved some; now there is more crumb texture to it.
            • In some ways it behaves like clay, forming hard lumps when dry, and making puddles on the surface in rain. But it is very rich in humus, and will nourish your soil's ecology.
            • Very good for amending sandy soil, but must be well mixed-in. Add a lot of greensand with it, and as much of your own compost as you can, for fiber.
        • "Top Shelf"
          • Cost:
            • $ 20 per cubic yard (minimum order 3 yards)
            • plus delivery charge, which depends on your distance from Westminster
          • Ingredients
            • 40% their compost
            • 60% sandy loam
          • Consistency: Not so clay-like as their compost; easier to use but not so rich.
        • These products contain no earthworms when fresh; but after a year, the piles I put behind the garage had the most and the hugest worms I've seen.