Sunday, April 21, 2024

A Farmer’s Tip: Creating Black Gold by Composting

The worms are busy at Sussex County Community College eating food waste and making valuable, rich soil. They move freely through the soil, leaving behind their castings, a.k.a. work poop.

A rising number of people are concerned about the current state of the nation’s soil.

A practical solution is to create compost, or “black gold,” to help enrich the soil. Compost is created from the broken-down food waste, grass clippings, leaves, wood chips and much more. It results in rich soil that can be added to farms and gardens.

Currently, planting is underway with more dry conditions that are a bit less hospitable for cultivation. This is the perfect time to create composting infrastructure, both big and small.

The longtime benefits include creating onsite high quality black gold – something valued by any devoted gardener or farmer. There are both practical and economic reasons to consider building your own at-home composting systems and this endeavor can prove to be relatively inexpensive.

A practical composting system takes into account what type of home you live in and what type of composting methods you can reasonably do given the limitations of space, time and other factors.

A traditional and widely used composting system is a triple bin system, so that you start off
in one bin and move to the next when that bin becomes full, allowing, over time, the material gathered in the first bin to fully degrade. It allows the user to move the compost to the next bin and rotate the pile.

There are many material choices for the bins, including cement cinder blocks, wood, circles of chicken wire fencing or even upcycled heat-treated pallets. The idea is to have enough air circulation and natural water filtration into the system to stop anaerobic conditions from developing. Frequent watering and rotation of the compost greatly reduces anaerobic conditions which causes mold and odors.

When choosing materials to make a compost bin, make sure that the materials do not contain harmful chemicals that can leach into the finished compost. If using pallets, make sure the wood is heat treated rather than chemically pressure treated.

At SAGE, a Foodshed Alliance property off Route 206 in Andover, farmers can obtain long-term affordable leases. Here, they have set up a triple bin composting demonstration. With the help of their staff, they upcycle heat-treated pallets to create the common design layout for a composting system.

Tess Mullen showing the triple compost bin system at SAGE.

Key to creating a good compost situation is to ensure that you have a mix of green and
brown materials. Green materials could be leaves, grass clippings and food scraps, (excluding meat), while browns could be fall leaves, straw, hay, nut husks corn cobs, wood chips and more.

A rule of thumb is to do equal parts of each. There are different situations that may call upon more or less materials or specific ingredients.

Sussex County Community College has an exciting agricultural program and those taking classes there may have the opportunity to work with vermicomposting. Vermicomposting is a composting method using worms. They are introduced into a composting system to create castings, a.k.a. worm poop.

A compost extract is often produced from the worm castings, “creating a rich liquid filled with nitrogen and phosphorus which is amazing for soil,” said Erin Shroll, agricultural business and horticultural science supervisor.

“We have to stop putting food into a dump, as we are only adding to a problem,” Schroll further explained. “By creating compost on your farm or home can make a big impact for the environment.”

The college purchased their compost worms at Jims Worm Farm of Pennsylvania. They created their worm bins utilizing the Jeff Lawton recipe, a base layer of manure, wood chips to help prime the fungal network and food scraps. Covered with a shade cloth, it’s kept in the greenhouse.

Since the creation, the worms have since multiplied, which will allow the school to split and make more compost bins or create a possible secondary economic business venture with
the sale of the worms to other farmers interested in this method.

The college uses the worm castings and extract as the primary organic fertilizer for the potted plants in the greenhouse. It is important to note that while you can do this method outside, temperatures that dip below 40 degrees Fahrenheit make it impossible for worms to survive therefore they will need to be kept indoors under those warmer conditions.

For those that need large amounts of compost all at once, there are companies that sell conveniently finished products. One such local company is Ag Choice, 98 Stickles Pond Road, in Andover (www.ag-choice.com) They are known in New Jersey as the premier supplier of finished compost. They sell their composts at Garden centers and also do deliveries locally for bigger needs. Their number is 908-786-5176.

Many local farmers in New Jersey rely on Ag Choice as they build their own and composting methods to replenish soil. Too often, the soil has been degraded by over-use, depleting the nutrients needed for proper plant-growth.

For those living in homes that a larger compost system would not easily fit in, fret not, there are high-tech systems that use electrical components and hand-cranked smaller bins to easily break down food scraps more readily so that the finished product is ready for potted plants and small garden plots.

Another cute option is a mini composter that is directly put into the garden outside and fed food scraps and yard debris to help feed the garden. A cute and adorable option is a gravity locking system made by Edenscircles. You can find this adorable ladybug mini composter at www.edenscircles.com.

Lady Bug composter from Edenscircles.com.

This composter is best suited in a raised bed or smaller home garden. Regardless of how big or small your garden is at home, there is a perfect method for you to make the best out of your food and yard waste. It’s a win-win for the environment and your home garden,

  • The author, Jennifer Ann Major (Jersey Jen), a digital creator and farmer from Hopatcong currently operates Jersey Bee Good Farm at SAGE.