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No compost in a full-farm eco system...  RSS feed

 
Jocelyn Campbell
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This is a concept I've heard someone mention just a few times: there's no compost pile in a full-farm eco system.

And then I watched this video: http://www.bassett.tv/inspiration/the-urban-homestead. I understand these are mostly urban permaculturists, but the reliance on compost struck me.

The goal of a permaculture full-farm eco-system is to have a self-sustaining design, right? The animals are in a paddock shift systems that fertilizes crops and forest gardens; any non-people-food prunings or cuttings are left as mulch, burned for fuel, or given as animal food; kitchen scraps are also animal food; polyculture plantings are there for mulch, nitrogen fixing, etc. It's virtually (?) a closed loop and no need for humans to labor over hauling around poo and cuttings and turning or maintaining a compost pile.

Please correct or embellish this description, but I think most on this forum understand what I'm saying.

So here I am in a condo. No animals except a cranky indoor cat. I have a worm bin for my kitchen scraps.

This "someone" who thinks full-farm eco-systems don't need compost piles, also thinks composting is a waste of time. And, he came up with an idea for me to slightly mimic a full farm eco system.

I have a very large container for growing veggies, that's empty now, waiting for spring. This winter, since I've run out of room in my worm bin any way, he suggested layering my kitchen scraps directly on top of this container's soil, and covering them with sawdust and/or hay. The idea is that this compost will be done by spring, and there's no labor-intensive feeding the worms, then sorting out the castings from the worms the next time my bin is full/done. Much more efficient!

So, even if you have land, and animals, what if you score the neighbors manure, and moldy hay from them, too? I suppose that might be a good reason to compost. Though when I did have some land, I was always adding growing beds. With this idea of not composting, I'm thinking I'd want to put the manure and hay somewhere I want it, that won't burn anything, and let it do it's thing right there. Move it once, not twice (or more).

I don't know about you, but less work sounds fabulous to me. Because aren't there always more things to do than we can cram into our days?

Thoughts? Are any of you being so efficient that you don't compost?
 
                              
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Well just because the farm might not have "compost Piles" doesn't mean the farm doesn't have compost.  Organic Mulch is essentially composting.  Anything organic you drop on the ground will eventually break down.  So mulching is composting.  Letting the chickens have a garden bed for a season before moving them on and growing a cover crop is composting in a sense.

You are right about placing manure in a bed to compost/age before planting is less work (provided you have the space to do it.)  Many people don't want to leave a manured bed to age so while the bed is still planted, they compost the manure in a separate place (compost bin/pile) so that it will already be aged when they use it in the garden beds and they don't have to wait before planting more food crops.

Now methods will vary depending on the situation.  I have seen videos of a garden where they say they never add fertilizers or haul in outside compost or mulch after the beds are initially made.  The beds are soft mounds with pathways between.  You never step in the garden beds and all parts of the plants that are not eaten are placed back on the beds as mulch.  All roots that are not eaten are left in the beds to rot and improve the soil.  Weeds are carefully pulled and left to die in the pathways before being placed back on the beds as mulch.  I'm not sure yet if these methods will work here, haven't been able to get the partner to carry through with me on the practice.

There is one more step to all this, if you are going to have a really sustainable situation, humanure should be composted and that definitely requires aging.  I would not humanure compost without a pile or bin since you want to get good hot composting going as you add to the pile and then you should age the pile a full year, that is quite a long time to leave a garden bed fallow or in non edible cover crops.  Now the idea of moving the humanure compost bin around so once the aging is done for a pile, you can simply disassemble the bin and spread the compost right on a new bed location might be a nice way to reduce a little of the work.  By the way, humanure composting is not much work since you simply build and add to the pile, no turning.  I don't turn any kind of compost, you loose material that way.
 
Leah Sattler
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TCLynx wrote:
Well just because the farm might not have "compost Piles" doesn't mean the farm doesn't have compost.  Organic Mulch is essentially composting.  Anything organic you drop on the ground will eventually break down.  So mulching is composting.  Letting the chickens have a garden bed for a season before moving them on and growing a cover crop is composting in a sense.



what he said! I think it is a little nit picky to worry about how things get composted. each situation is different  and even the preferences of the individuals make a big impact on the decision of how to compost.

also..... as far as composting animal waste....I have had animals. alot. they are work. period. rotating them is work. dealing with fencing for rotation is work. moving waterers, feeders shelters is work. so why is raking up old hay and taking a few scoops of manure for compost to a seperate area more work? I don't think it is. in fact its a heck of alot less imo. shelters can be designed for ease of cleanout rather then ease of movement (or require a tractor). they can be more sturdy and last longer or use can be made of natural things for shelter that may not be available in all rotated areas. you don't have to worry about the critters eating down or digging up your perrenials because they happen to think they are tasty. I am a realist. I think there are alot of ideas out there that sound great but aren't realistic in most situations.  and therefore in my mind become rather useless fringe notations amongst some really good applicable ideas that apply to a broader audience. nit picking about how things get composted is one of those things. 
 
Jocelyn Campbell
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Oh, yes, you're right TCLynx that composting definitely goes on even if you don't have a pile. And that humanure is important to compost before using.

The point of my question was/is: how do other folks close their loops to minimize labor? Composting directly in one of my containers is a very simple, small example of this.

TCLynx, where and how do you minimize labor?

Leah, you said
Leah Sattler wrote:
...why is raking up old hay and taking a few scoops of manure for compost to a seperate area more work? I don't think it is. in fact its a heck of alot less imo. shelters can be designed for ease of cleanout rather then ease of movement (or require a tractor). they can be more sturdy and last longer or use can be made of natural things for shelter that may not be available in all rotated areas. you don't have to worry about the critters eating down or digging up your perrenials because they happen to think they are tasty.

which makes sense - I get that. But do you have an example of something that is designed to do work for you, along the lines of composting in place, where you want/need it instead of somewhere else?

I still vermicompost - it's the best method for me in my place. It just piqued my interest to think about ways to stack functions and maximize efficiency and I wanted to hear how other folks do that, too.
 
Brenda Groth
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well i DO keep a compost pile..but i mostly sheet compost my scraps..throwing them where i think they will do the most good..amongst the mulch..and plantings.

i know that my way seems a little "messy"..cause i do have food scraps rotting 12 months out of the year in my gardens..flower or food or mixed beds...however..this is easier for me as i am somewhat handicapped and taking things all the way to the rear compost pile..esp in bad weather is difficult for me.

i had read that things like banana peels are really good for roses..so i tend to walk out the door and toss the banana peels under the rose bushes..they turn black in about a day and no one even sees them and they don't smell..smelly items are generally tucked under some soil or mulch ..but..i do tend to do 90 % sheet composting and about 10 % in the pile.

things that go into my compost pile first are things like riding lawnmower containers of lawn clippings, corn stalks, rotting boards and posts, large amounts of food scraps when i'm canning or freezing items..and larger spent plants..rotton foods etc.

i also keep a pile along the woods of large amouts of wheelborrow loads of seedheads from the perennials..as i don't want those either in my compost pile or my gardens to sprout next year.

as i rake up leaves or bark from the firewood, they immediately get put on the garden beds rather than into the compost pile..my shredder is emptied onto the garden, when i weed the weeds are upended int he garden if they don't have seedheads.

my eggshells and food scraps are liberally thrown between the plants ..etc..i also get loads of bark mulch and composted manure..those are immediately put onto the gardenbeds..so that none of the stuff is lost if it rains ...lost into a pile..my char is saved over the winter along with the ash in barrels and is put where it is needed in the spring..but it also doesn't go onto the pile.

 
Jocelyn Campbell
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Great examples, Brenda!

Brenda Groth wrote:
...mostly sheet compost my scraps..throwing them where i think they will do the most good..amongst the mulch..and plantings.

i know that my way seems a little "messy"..cause i do have food scraps rotting 12 months out of the year in my gardens..flower or food or mixed beds...however..this is easier for me ...


The idea that it's "messy" is what stops a lot of people from doing something simpler, I think - including me some times. I think a lot of permaculture practices are seen as sloppy or unattractive or, as in humanure, just plain icky! (If people only knew more about how "icky" drain fields or municipal waste treatment can be...but that's another forum.)

Brenda, it's reassuring to hear an example of how putting scraps directly in the garden works, and doesn't hurt the plants. Do you notice if it attracts rodents much?
 
paul wheaton
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Jocelyn, whoever it is that you are referring to must be brilliant.  And probably horribly obnoxious.  And giant sized. 

The philosophy goes like this:

Kithcen scraps go into the chickens bucket or the pigs bucket.  Woody clippings go into hugelkultur or the wood pile - or sometimes to the shop where they will dry to be used for wood projects.  Animal poop - all shelters are portable and moved regularly enough that you never get a chance to shovel poop. 

In my first hand experience, there is no compost pile. 

As for your veggie box - what you are doing is making a compost pile.  Entirely because you don't have pigs and/or chickens.  But this compost pile is a little weird.  It'll be closer to ruth stout's sheet composting technique.  There are risks:  it is possible for the soil to be so rich that it is toxic to growing things there.  So you probably should stop adding to it around the end of december. 

TCLynx,

if you are going to have a really sustainable situation, humanure should be composted and that definitely requires aging.  I would not humanure compost without a pile or bin since you want to get good hot composting going as you add to the pile and then you should age the pile a full year, that is quite a long time to leave a garden bed fallow or in non edible cover crops.  Now the idea of moving the humanure compost bin around so once the aging is done for a pile, you can simply disassemble the bin and spread the compost right on a new bed location might be a nice way to reduce a little of the work.  By the way, humanure composting is not much work since you simply build and add to the pile, no turning.  I don't turn any kind of compost, you loose material that way.


A whole different topic for a whole different thread (or two or three or four ...) but as related to the whole idea of no compost piles:  I would say that my position on this is that I don't like the Jenkins approach.  I would still have no compost pile:  I would either go with a dry outhouse, or a tree bog, or a combination, or I would use a bucket system where the bucket is simply set aside for a year (or more) before being fed to a willow or a poplar.  never an open compost pile.

 
Jami McBride
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Jocelyn Campbell wrote:
I don't know about you, but less work sounds fabulous to me. Because aren't there always more things to do than we can cram into our days?

Thoughts? Are any of you being so efficient that you don't compost?


This one idea is what started me down the road of permaculture - not saving the planet, survivalism, or reducing one's dependence (although these all have their place, they just don't 'move' me) - working smarter not harder in a harmonious manner - that moves me!

That said, I stopped composting after one year, I stopped my worm bin after two years, I stopped bringing in truck loads of manure, compost and/or soil mix after two years.  None of this made since as I was working harder to maintain the same life I had before.  I wanted a way to maximize results while minimizing effort.  So while these are all good I found I was a slave to my own systems. 

Composting: I now throw everything (yes meat, fat, plant cuttings, everything) into my chicken area (I live in the city on 1/3 an acre).  It's not always pretty (I hate that) but boy is it easy having the girls do all the work. 

I have a rotation-system, I take leaves from the dumped pile in my front yard, around to the chickens area and add all my other plant, food wastes, and in no time the chickens have all but the woody sticks turned into dark soil (zero smell because of the leaves).  Then I use this 'soil' back in the garden and yard.  In winter the process slows down but doesn't stop.  This is also animal enrichment (fun for the 'penned up' chickens).  I'm always thinking about how I can cut out work and/or management to better improve what I'm doing now.

As I read about and tried out all the beginner's self-reliant, homesteady tasks I found one-by-one the work was more than the return.  So this idea of intelligent, self-supporting systems is my quest, and not traditional farming/ranching, composting.... etc.  This is what most of us call permaculture.

You do loose a little, productive wise, when you back off of the maintaining optimal control, and it can be a little messy (ruth stout's mulching comes to mind), but you gain personal time you can spend in other ways and you can save your body which is a big plus to my way of thinking.

Is this what you were getting at?  I too would love to read more about minimal-work systems.

Toward this end I tried to start a thread that never took off    Titled Tips & Tricks - What's working for you?  I wanted to glean what others had found that cut back the work load while producing some reasonable results.  I think I'll go and add a couple more things to it.  Shoot it might turn out to be my own personal permaculture article - oh well.....





 
Jocelyn Campbell
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paul wheaton wrote:
As for your veggie box - what you are doing is making a compost pile.  Entirely because you don't have pigs and/or chickens.  But this compost pile is a little weird.  It'll be closer to ruth stout's sheet composting technique.   There are risks:  it is possible for the soil to be so rich that it is toxic to growing things there.  So you probably should stop adding to it around the end of december. 


Yup, that's what I was getting at and you're right, it is compost, but not a pile or worm bin that I have to move, sort or sift!

I guess my thread topic used the wrong phrase "no compost" and "so efficient you don't compost" though I did say "no compost pile" at the start. Sorry to mishmash the terms.

Jami, what an eloquent reply. I zeroed in on one basic part:

Jami McBride wrote:
Composting: I now throw everything (yes meat, fat, plant cuttings, everything) into my chicken area (I live in the city on 1/3 an acre).  It's not always pretty (I hate that) but boy is it easy having the girls do all the work. 


So cool! Not only is it closing a loop, but it's doing so on what could be considered an urban lot, too! I swear some of the compost shown in the video link was full of food scraps at places that had chickens and other animals....that's part of what surprised me.

I like the idea of your Tips & Tricks thread! I'll have to look that one up.
 
Leah Sattler
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Jocelyn Campbell wrote:


Leah, you saidwhich makes sense - I get that. But do you have an example of something that is designed to do work for you, along the lines of composting in place, where you want/need it instead of somewhere else?



pulled weeds and vegies that are damaged get laid down as mulch unless I have fear of them re rooting, in which case they go in a wire cage. that all eventually composts.  piggys made my garden at the old house. I didn't compost their poo it just got mixed in the soil. worked out great. right now I am placing feed round bales over the awful rocky areas in the animal areas anticipating that the waste hay will break down and create a nice bit of soil that I can toss some seed into, hopefully to get something growing there that at this point has nothing to get ahold of soil wise. and of course my favorite mulch method of old hay in the garden is composting in place while smothering weeds. of course animals waste isnt' "wasted" or "all shoveled" as they graze and browse the poop. it feeds the land that grows thier food. hard to improve upon something so natural. it is only areas that are heavily trafficked where they cud or sleep that need any attendance as far as cleaning goes.

a common method that I have used before and works well is allowing old hay to pile in barns in the winter. as you feed more , fresh hay gets tossed on the ground (they always waste hay) creating a fresh dry area for critters. the layers underneath begin to break down and heat up and create a suprisingly cozy heated bed. in the spring, it all comes out to the garden.

with permanent animal residents though it just isn't worth it to me to have them deposit their compost material (poop) where I want it except with the occasional use of a chicken tractor or such as I did this spring where I placed the temporary chicken and goat pens under some trees that had little but gravel for soil beneath them. the expense and work to do otherwise isn't worth it to me and dont' think people should be discouraged if they can't have a perfect loop system with compost.

I guess the difference in my thnking is that I believe if its easy and should happen it will happen. I think these things come quite naturally where they can and should as you pursue your end goals. so I don't get too anal about designs. that to me is part of fitting into the existing system. I think sometimes we think too hard on how to do things and if you look around with fresh eyes you will see its already happening despite us humans. afterall...it seems the more people muddle around with this stuff the worse they make it despite the best of intentions. but then, I dont' approve of upending whole large acreages to suit someones idea of a perfect permaculture scheme and I fear that is sometimes what happens and what this line of thinking can lead to. I want to fit in to what is here whilst keeping the amount of damage I do to a minimum.     
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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Paul: the bucket set aside is an interesting idea. I think one might want some extra loft in the cover material to keep microbes working in there.

I could also see trench composting with humanure, especially to grow heavy-feeding non-food annuals like luffa or bottle gourds. A couple years later, that soil might be rotated to a food crop.
 
Fred Morgan
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We don't have formal compost piles. Everything breaks down so fast in the tropics, it just isn't needed. Things that generally would burn don't seem too, but we always are mixing them (like chicken droppings) with sawdust.

But we put on more every week, and whenever we re-dig a bed.
 
Brenda Groth
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ok I was asked if the sheet composting might draw rodents..hmm..well sometimes but we have them anyway around here as our entire animal life here besides 2 kitties is wild animal life..we don't have barnyard domesticated animals..

our animals are wildlife including deer, bear, coyote, rabbits, racoons, opossum, skunks, squirrels, etc..so yeah we draw rodents, and other critters.

is that good, not if you are a keeper of barnyard animals..probably not..but we aren't ..we are a "allower and encourager" of wildlife here..so we WANT the wildlife..

our deer come all day and all night and eat out of our gardens, we also put sunflower seeds out for the wild birds and the deer and critters eat that too..the deer sleep in our back yard and falcons are rare in Michigan..but they are here, hunting as you can see.




all these photos are taken from our windows..the last one you can see the screen as i wasn't standing up high enough to get the screen out of the photo.

i understand "farmers" discourage rodents ..but i don't..they are the normal successions of life in our yard..but we don't have rats..and very few mice, as our wildlife and kitties keep those gone.

also it makes it easy to "spread" manure in our yard..as the deer and bunnies and bear spread it for us as well as the birds..they deposit manure all over the property as they come and eat the plants or the composting scraps..which is fine..just like hyou would feed it to your chicken or pigs, our wildlife will take care of anything that needs to be broken down.

as i said above i do keep a compost pile..but it is a long way from the house and for larger things
and i also keep brush piles, seed head piles, log piles, stone piles etc.
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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It sounds like native rodents are an important part of your (admittedly wide and short) compost pile, kick-starting the process for the worms. There are some things macrobes do a lot faster than microbes!
 
Jami McBride
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What a wonderful show you have to watch right out your windows!

Sheet composting drawing rodents, yea maybe but if you don't have lots of grain and such to store, and you don't have them coming into your house contaminating your food why should you care.  As you mention they are part of the balance of life.

The only place I've set rodent traps is in where we store the animal feed, those unlucky ones become chicken feed themselves.  As for the rest, we think they are cute and leave them alone.  But then, I was a student teacher of rat-lab (operant conditioning) in college.  I love rodents, so I'm biased.
 
Brenda Groth
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we did have some problems with squirrels getting into the birdseed containers..until we used metal trash cans to hold the birdseed..and we did have a few mice in the house..before we had our kitties..which have been with us for 4 or 5 years now.

there are mice and shrews that come to the spaces below the bird feeders, our kitties eat them and so do the flying predators..and probably some of the other four footed ones.

if we are ever hungry enough, we can eat the birds and  critters that come here..right now we just let them all be, they find our place a sanctuary esp during hunting season..they know they are safe here (for now)..should we not be able to afford to buy domesticated proteins, then they are in trouble...but we know what they have been eating and that they aren't full of pesticides and chemicals too.
 
paul wheaton
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I suppose one line of thought is that you want to encourage mice, moles etc. and re-label them as farm fresh cat/dog food. 
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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I grew up with an owl next door. Pure wonder on a moonlit night...well, maybe 95% wonder, 5% fear.

If nothing else, I'd like to have enough small creatures around when I finally raise children, that there can be an owl in the neighborhood.
 
Jocelyn Campbell
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Gosh, what lovely photos Brenda and great comments from everyone on all creatures great and small! 

It must be the holidays: I'm feeling all sentimental or something now. 

Though seriously, I was asking about rodents not so much for myself, but to fish out a decent response for folks that might be worried about "the messy." And that was an excellent response.

I have this dream of not only gradually shifting myself to a more sustainable (wince! over-used word, I know!) lifestyle, but also to somehow nudge others along that way, too. If it's easy, and potential mess can be explained as a non-issue, folks will do it. Brenda, your way sounds incredibly easy for those starting on a path like this who might not have livestock yet.

And Joel, if you ever do have those kids, and you have a wonderful owl in the neighborhood, read them Gwynna by Barbara Helen Berger. Especially if you have a girl.
 
Brenda Groth
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Ron has seen owls and I have very rarely seen owls..but they are here of course..my problem is bad night vision and a desire to be tucked into my bed at night.

he is a "night owl" so he sees more of those things than i do but we have a huge array of predatory birds here..

the first time i saw a falcon it had a cord on it's foot..and that one was here a lot..and then the next year we started seeing falcons without cords..so we assume that one had found a mate and became a breeding colony..now we have falcons here..

if we hadn't had the type of landscape that invited them in, we may have never seen a falcon let alone got a breeding colony that now exists.

now we feed the birds to keep the colonies of not only falcons but other rare birds around..(falcons are not native to our area)
 
don bradley
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TCLynx Hatfield wrote:Well just because the farm might not have "compost Piles" doesn't mean the farm doesn't have compost.  Organic Mulch is essentially composting.  Anything organic you drop on the ground will eventually break down.  So mulching is composting.  Letting the chickens have a garden bed for a season before moving them on and growing a cover crop is composting in a sense.
Nature composts all over the place, farmers often obtain benefits by composting in specific locations. Compost piles generate heat, so showers, green houses and animal shelters often benefit from concentrated compost piles rather than random deposits by wandering animals. The Quaker Barn had entrances at each level so the farmer never worked against gravity to put hay up in the hayloft and then fork it down. Animals walked in on the middle level and their feces fell to the lower level often with the aid of the farmer. The heat from the lower level kept the barn warm and the animals in one place.

Its our human intelligence that lets us wrap some metal heat-exchanging tubing around the bottom of the compost pile and then turn on the garden hose for a hot shower. Animals on their own are rarely like to do such things to benefit us, but its ALL composting. Even our digestion of food is composting on a more rapid scale.
 
Walter Jeffries
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I like having compost piles. Makes excellent fertilizer to spread in my gardens, orchards and fields. We have poor, thin, acidic, rocky mountain soil. Where I've laid out large compost piles and then spread them I now have deep, rich, dark, fertile gardens that grow wonderful veggies for us and our livestock. Besides, compost piles are the best way to get rid of dead bodies. Even the bones and teeth decompose.
 
Terri Matthews
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I would rather mulch than turn a compost pile: it is easier! And I am not much bothered by rodents.

Now, my area is noted for voles (a variety of wild mouse with a shortish tail), but, my son's permaculture cat is a keen hunter and I am rarely bothered by voles. My daughter's cat is just a pet, but we got lucky with my son's pet! Either that or it is the hawk that likes to perch above the hen house: not all of permaculture is lovely as we now have to keep the chickens in the run! At any rate, voles are no longer much of a problem.
 
Carlos Martin
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Very few people have achieved the beauty and productivity in a garden as Alan Chadwick, one of the pioneers of organic gardening. His demonstration garden at UC Santa Cruz in the late 60's and early 70's set the standard for sheer productivity, although his methods were somewhat labor intensive. He would often point out the importance of composting your materials while they are still green and fresh. Once they dry out, they lose the vast majority of their nutrients. His technique for making compost is somewhat complex, but works great. You can read about it here: Alan Chadwick.
 
David Hartley
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This is my dream/goal, once I have the good fortune to be an unbridled steward of a piece of land:

1. All kitchen bits with be grubified: bsfl, housefly grubs, etc.

2. Leaf litter will be separately composted for the production of leafmold: nature's soiless seed starter

3. All non-used woody bits will be fungified (there can be multiple stages to this if/when farming mushrooms).

4. Manure is either naturally broadcasted or locally concentrated (chicken roost, camelids, human, etc). Concentrated manures will be handled depending on setup. Regardless; humanure would be composted... On aside; it cracks me up how humans will work knee & elbow deep in all manor of manure but their own, lmao. Between children and being a caregiver, I have no fear of my own species manure and certainly not my very own.

Each one of these creates a concentration of developed soil matrix, as a compost bin would. So yes, there would be some wheelbarrowing. But moving some awesomeness around 2~3 times a year is a workout that is much looked forward to.
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