Compost happens. That’s the beauty of the wonderful way nature disposes of its dead, be it leaf, animal, the old oak tree in your front yard or you and I. It’s the best model for “zero waste” disposal, period. In nature, nothing goes to waste. It’s a perfect circle of life. The death of a mammal in the woods quickly feeds other scavenger creatures, followed by insects, fungi and bacteria, leaving the byproducts of, nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus, which in turn feed the soil that feeds the new plant and animal life. And all this is done in a relative nanosecond in comparison to diapers, plastic, nuclear waste and other byproducts of human existence.
As a business we strive to mimic nature. Our circle of life model started out simply enough. It included the basic composting of food scraps from our food processing kitchen and organic waste from the farm. When finished it was then returned to our soil where it nurtured the plants that were put back into our organic food products. However, some years ago, as we were assessing our environmental impact with regards to our waste stream when we had a realization. Even though we were recycling all our cardboard waste (about 5 tons/year at that time) it was not very resource efficient. Since our county does not offer recycling for businesses we hauled our cardboard to a transfer facility. That included a fifty mile round trip and a fee of $50.00 per ton to have it recycled. Considering the fuel consumed, miles driven and wear and tear on our vehicle a more sustainable path was sought.
Our current cardboard composting system started with my experiments in vermiculture and later hot composting. It has now evolved into a three-year static or passive pile process that is currently decomposing 7 tons of cardboard per year. This process was chosen for its ease of operation as well as to maintain compliance with USDA Organic standards. Because we are on a farm we have both time and space. Cardboard is layered like a giant lasagna casserole. Layers contain our food waste, leaves and other organic matter from our farm and horse manure from a nearby stable. It’s a three year process where by the we layer for an entire year with minimal turning. In the fall I roll that pile about 10 feet away and start a new one in the same spot. What we end up with is a pile of completed material that is three years old, a two year old pile that is nearly completed, the previous year’s pile and the current pile we are always adding to.
While passive composting it technically not hot, ours does get very hot as you can see from the steam rising out of the piles. That’s thanks to a discovery we made. Most will advise you to shred your cardboard. We discovered that was very expensive and labor intensive. So the lasangna process works well I suspect because layering assures good mixing of the carbon rich cardboard, the nitrogren rich manure and food scraps. Add the oxygen trapped in the corrugated cardboard you have all the right ingredients for a hot and healthy compost pile. Static pile processing is really simple if you have the time and space. Yes it takes a one to three year investment to get finished product, but once you’re there, you have a fresh batch every year. We also get lots of cool pumpkins and tomato volunteers growing out of our piles when we resist the temptation to turn them in.
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USDA Organic Definition of Compost:
“Compost: Organic matter of plant and/or animal origin managed to promote aerobic decomposition and an increase in temperature to enhance its physical and nutritive properties as a soil amendment while minimizing pathogenic organisms.”