By Amanda Bramble, systems designer for Ampersand Sustainable Learning Center in Cerrillos, NM.
You know the wonder of reaching into your compost pile and pulling out dark moist earth? Do you know the softness of cradling that wondrous substance in your hands when it’s in it’s early stages of actually having become compost? I mean when it’s dark and rich, fluffy but in a moist way, sticky yet crumbly, and you can still see bits of recognizable ingredients.
In my pile I see itty-bitty corners of cardboard, edges of leaves, and pine needle pieces. I remember layering the raw ingredients to make this pile, just a couple months ago. It really seems like magic. Magic is associated with the supernatural, but this is magic in the most natural way. I wish I could find a better word- one that holds the awe of transformation into goodness and reminds us that it’s the most basic process in our world.
Think of the pockets of soil that get created in crevices of rocks, just by leaves and vegetative debris finding a hiding spot from the wind one day. Think of all those miniature gardens across rocky mountains over the whole planet, then add the alpine meadows, and even giant expanses of deeply rooted grassy plains. These soils hold a great amount of organic matter, with roots locking it in and connecting earth and sky as a protective living cloak.
This is how the moisture was held all over the being of our living planet. Carbon was held there. Water was held there and regulated the cycles of the climate seasonally. The clouds and soils exchanged bits of water all the time. Liquid, vapor, then liquid again.
Is that magic? Sometimes I’m tempted to think that getting the government and corporate poilicy to support and promote healthy soils is more like magical thinking. But here we are: New Mexico Healthy Soils Working Group. I’m grateful to be able to speak to you through the avenue of this organization.
You are a person who cares about the cycles of biomass, of nutrients; the health of our Mother Earth. Thankfully, healthy soils do still exist. But the cycles have been disrupted. Food “waste” goes into landfills and creates methane rather than compost. Herbicides are sprayed on fields, pass right through the digestive tract of horses, and become poison for our gardens, disguised as manure.
We have a practice of picking up “food waste” from a food depot twice a week. We compost whatever the chickens don’t want. We disrupt the destructive one way street to doom where organic matter becomes methane. We scoop it up before it gets to the landfill and put it back into planetary circulation. We make compost and grow things in it. We compost in pits, in piles, and in greenhouses. We collaborate with red wiggler worms for the effort as well.
The photo above is of that fresh compost that I was describing with bits of recognizable ingredients. It’s decomposing in our sunken greenhouse, still under construction. Here’s what is layered into this compost pile:
veggie scraps from the food depot
used coffee grounds from the local shop
spent mushroom mycelium
humanure that has gone through a hot composting process and has been aged for a year beyond that
leaves and pine needles
We take what we can get. Having this compost happening in the greenhouse gives a sense of security. We will have the water to provide for this growing space. Living off rain-catchment as the sole source of our water limits the amount of food we can grow, but we make the most of what we’ve got.
By greenhousing it, we get more food because of the year-round season extension, as well as protecting the food plants from desiccating winds and the over-abundance of sunshine. We will try growing figs, lemons, nopales, tomatoes, cucumbers and many other things- like the mycobacterium that stimulates serotonin production. We’ll be growing those antidepressant microbes too. Cuz we’re magic like that.
Upcoming Workshops at Ampersand
Ampersand Sustainable Learning Center will be hosting a compost workshop on April 2 and a Greenhouse Design Workshop on April 23. Sign up and learn more about their off-grid permaculture demonstration site at www.ampersandproject.org.