Every day we walk all over of it. Kids get dirty with it. Dogs roll in it. Chickens take dust bathes in it. But do we really know what “it” is?
“It” provides nutrients to plants, life to earth, and health to people. “It” is the ground, land, dirt, soil, and Earth that we see, smell, and touch every day. It is the fuel for our human existence. As Joel Salatin put it, “Ultimately, a nation is only as healthy and wealthy as it’s soil”.
How could that be? How could soil be that important to life, health, and wealth? We wanted to find out, so Your Farm Foods Phoenix visited Joe Balooshi, a local composter and soil connoisseur.
Joe taught us, dirt and soil are actually two different things. Dirt is dead, dry and uncompacted. It is usually the result of a construction site or industrial farming. Joel Salatin believes it is the result of years of one crop farming. Nothing can grow in dirt.
The day Your Farm Foods visited Joe, we learned soil is the natural and artificial mixture of non-living water, rocks, sand, silt, clay, humus, and larger organic matter. As well as, dormant plant seeds, dormant bacteria, and fungal spores. It is where the living microbes, fungi, earthworms, and plant roots that exist where the edge of the earth’s crust meets the atmosphere of water, air, and solar radiation.
Joe showed us how easy it could be to build a compost yourself. There is no need for expensive boxes or pretty barrels. All you need is brown waste, green waste, water, and air. Oh, tools and a place to put your pile would be very helpful, also.
Brown waste is anything that gives you carbon, such as wood chips, dried leaves, and straw. These things can be collected directly from your yard. If you do not have enough brown waste on your property, you will have to get creative. There are plenty of ways to get enough carbon in your compost for free! You can ask neighbors for their dried leaves, straw, or wood chips. You can find tree companies, such as Treelation, or other companies in your area that will drop off mulch to you for free! Or, you can simply pick up bags of dried leaves from your neighbors when they put them on the curb for pick up.
Green waste is anything that is fresh and gives you nitrogen, such as food waste, grass, or shrub clippings. It doesn’t sound like much but once people start collecting their food scraps and waste they quickly start to realize how much is wasted in our lives. It was a very mind blowing experience for me. We can use peels of fruits and vegetables, as well as any produce molding or looks bad. We can use egg shells and cores. It is amazing how much we throw away that can be saved and used to create soil to promote life, growth, and health in our own backyards.
Start keeping a container with a lid on your counter and put all of the food scraps you come across today in it. At the end of today, put your scraps outside in a pile. Continue this process for a week and see how much you have collected. At the end of the week, post a picture of your green waste pile and let me know if it is more or less than what you expected. (You might want to add water to help break down the waste faster.) If you need more green waste, you can ask restaurants for their food scraps as a free and easy way to build your compost.
Now you have your browns and your greens and ready to make soil! According to Rodale’s Organic Life, your carbon to nitrogen ratio needs to be 30:1. Uh oh! Things are getting complicated. But, it’s really not. Throw what you have into a pile. Try to make it 30:1 (Carbon: Nitrogen) to the best of your ability. Water regularly to make sure it is constantly wet. Aerate it with a pitchfork and by turning it. If you smell anything funky, you have too much nitrogen, add more carbon to balance it out. If the conversion to soil process is painstakingly slow, you have too much carbon, add more nitrogen. You can play around with your compost pile until you get an understanding of it.
Once you get familiar with composting, you can experiment with it and various methods to find a method you like best. If you do not like experimenting, you can always check out Greg Peterson, Geoff Lawton, Joel Salatin, and Elain Ingham to learn more about soil and composting.
The great things about composting are there are so many tactics and methods that everybody can find what works best for them to create life in their soil, nutrition in their food, and health in their homes.
I hope this inspires you to have fun, play in the dirt, and get messy!