Compost compost compost.

It’s the secret to a good soil and good crops.

No matter what kind of soil you have, unless you extremely lucky your soil will need improvement. Even if you are lucky enough to have good soil if you start growing things in it before long it will still need improving. For us, we have a sandy loam soil which in its natural state has very little organic material in it. Since we started our farm every year we add lots of organic mushroom compost every year to help improve the soil and move it towards a good soil structure that holds together rather than a sandy mess which will blow away in the first high wind. It’s a long hard battle but we are getting there.

Last week our new truckload of compost arrived so we can continue to add it to our field rows. We spent all Sunday shoveling compost onto our rows and are now finally finished! Hooray! For us it takes a LONG time to do because, at present, we have to do everything by hand. If we had a front end loader the task would be faster, but they are expensive and we cannot yet afford to purchase one. So its people power that runs our farm. After three whole day sessions we have completed all the rows in all our fields that needed compost added to them. This is not to say that all compost work is done, we still have sections of our new field to work on, repotting of larger shrubs that don’t yet have a home and more repotting to do. However all the field rows are done so its downhill from here (at least for compost, its all uphill for the rest of the farm work).

This year marks the beginning of moving around some of our perennials to give them new improved soil and allow us to amend soil in the field which has not been done in quite a while. The main field is easier to work with as we can take the tractor down the rows to put the soil on, however it needs more cart loads of compost since it has not been worked for a while, and next year will be back under perennials so it wont get much more apart from side dressing after that. So it took 12 cart loads of compost to do one row, which is a LOT of digging.

The last two weeks have had pretty good weather for digging, last Sunday was a perfect day to do this, it was cool and mostly cloudy which is excellent for hard physical work. It was also rather windy which we could have done without but hey, you cant have everything. This past Sunday was still cool but a lot damper since it had rained overnight but the humidity was still pretty low. We are all glad that the job is done, none of us like digging when its humid that really sucks.

Who needs a gym?

When you have a farm.

Why spend a whole bunch of money on a gym or fancy exercise machines? All you need is a small farm. OK there is not so much to do in the winter months but come spring its get out there and work, at least we are in the fresh air.

With the beginning of spring comes the compost work. Every year we put more organic mushroom compost on our field rows. This year we are also redoing some of our perennial rows since its time they were changed around. This work in our ‘main field’ (named because it was the only field we had to start with) is easier than our side field (named because its on the side of the main field). We can take the tractor down the rows rather than having to barrow it in as is needed in the side field. However its still a lot of work and exercise.

The process is.

  1. Drive the tractor to the compost pile, which is at the front of the property, the only place the tractor trailer has access to dump the load when they deliver it.
  2. Dig the compost pile out and fill up the cart behind the tractor.
  3. Drive the tractor to the row and slowly add the compost to the row.
  4. Do the whole thing again until the row is finished.
  5. Start on the next row.

We tend to buy a load of compost about every two years. Why mushroom compost? Because its cheap. Here in New Jersey we are fairly close to the mushroom farms in Pennsylvania and they always have a lot of spent compost. Its fairly cheap to buy a whole truckload, actually it costs a little more to have the guys truck it over here than the compost itself costs. But it’s the cheapest good organic material we can get.

When it first arrives its wonderful stuff, all light and fluffy and easy to shovel. Like shoveling soft ice cream. The downside is that its light and fluffy so you need more of it to do the job so you need to dig more cart loads of the stuff.

After its settled which takes about 6 months it gets harder and more compacted. You actually need to put your foot on the shovel and dig it out. More like shoveling hard frozen ice cream. Its tough but the upside is you don’t need to shovel as many cart loads because its more compacted.

Even so there are a LOT of cartloads need to be moved. This past Sunday we did 7 cartloads, I had already don’t 3 on my own last week. That did the two perennial rows in the main field.

Why add it every year? Because we are on really poor sandy loam soil. When we moved in there was almost no organic material in the soil at all. It was terrible and had no soil structure at all. Now with the addition of compost to the rows every year its beginning to form a reasonable structure and retain more moisture. It’s a slow job but we are getting there. For most of the rows where we grow annuals we don’t need to add that much every year. For perennial rows they get a really heavy addition every time they get changed which can be anything from 4-8 years depending on the species. Anything that is being put into production also gets a hefty addition since its going to be in pretty poor shape otherwise.

This year we are moving some perennials around and thus redoing some rows in the main field this has to be done early so we can get the plants moved before they grow too much. This weekend we prepped two rows.

We have another two there to do. Then all the rows in the side field where we grow the annual plus the new extension we are adding this year. Today I am stiff and aching, wont get out there to work again until tomorrow. By the end of the month I should be back in shape and used to digging. Keeps you fit and its free.

adding compost to field
Adding compost to our main field from tractor cart.