KaiainJulyGardens,2011Building and maintaining healthy soil is the fundamental basis of organic gardening and farming. Healthy soil is created by practicing soil building techniques that add organic matter to the soil and help maintain a healthy environment for earth worms and microorganisms to flourish. Healthy soil protects a plant’s structure, its fertility, and increases the nutritional levels in the food we grow.

Throughout the week I will post 5 soil building techniques that have helped keep our soil healthy and our family well fed! Lets start with composting.

Besides being a critical part of building our soil here in the Driftless Region, composting can divert as much as 30% of household waste. It’s a win/win!

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Rhett and I stockpile our kitchen scraps outside during the cold winter months.  The winter’s chicken manure and wood shavings are added to the kitchen scraps in the early spring, hoping we have at least one yard of material to work with. The manure and shavings balance the carbon to nitrogen ratio that is needed for the composting process. Since Rhett and I live in a small sleepy valley on several acres of land we can use an “open pile” technique (no fancy bins here) but we do cover it with cardboard to keep our free range chickens from scratching in it and un-piling our pile. There are a variety of neighbor friendly compost bins available on the market so don’t let your location stop you from building your soil.

The early spring rains bring the moisture needed to activate the pile. Anaerobic activity begins!  If everything is well-balanced there is no smell from the composting process. Around mid-May, the high heat cycle of anaerobic activity turns our kitchen scraps into rich, dark earth. The process is almost complete.

During the summer our pile attracts worms that not only add nutrients but further refine the structure of the compost.

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By fall the compost has matured enough to add to our garden beds.

With or without your help, organic material will eventually break down and become food for your soil so don’t be intimidated by the composting process. The internet is full of information –  Composting Basics to more advanced information.

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s tips and tricks about vermiculture!


This is part 1 of a 5 part series on compost and healthy soil. Read the other articles here:
Part 2: “Vermiculture: Let the Worms do the Sorting!

Part 3: “Fertile Soil
Parts 4 and 5 coming soon