Strategic Composting • Sam Schiebold

Is anyone else like me? I've had a compost bin for years, it's small but it has turned into soil. I've used it in part with purchased soil and mulch to bed my gardens, but I have zero clue what I'm actually doing. I just followed a couple of confusing YouTube videos.

Well, if you're just as confused and beginner as me, Supercharged Soil Strategic Composting stepped into help and educate us all.  They created a 4-week step-by-step online course that shows us exactly how to grow better food while building large amounts of living soil. Also how to bring in very minimal external inputs, which allows us to manage things we have on-hand, utilizing what would be waste materials, and making them into resources for fertility. I thought I'd bring in Co-founder Sam Schiebold to educate us a bit more on why this is so important. 

SAM |   A lot of people talk about being the change they want to see in the world. But we know that leaves a lot of questions, because it does sound very vague and fluffy. "Change the world! Make a difference!"  But, how?

Landfills growing, greenhouse gases, topsoil being washed away... There's a lot that needs to change. One major problem that we can tackle is being responsible for our own waste.

In the USA, organic waste* is the second highest component of landfills, which are the largest source of methane emissions. And on an individual level, the average person generates 4.3 pounds of waste per day. * “Organic waste” is biodegradable material that comes from a plant or an animal. This includes food scraps, paper products, grass clippings, animal manure...

Composting the waste YOU produce prevents it going into the landfill, and replaces (and upgrades) your soil. This is powerful. Composting is how you take the waste that you are producing in your home, kitchen, and business, and turn it into soil. Not just the sub-par stuff you find in the garden store, but LIVING medium that is an asset to your garden and to future generations!

A rough calculation of current rates of soil degradation suggests we have about 60 years of topsoil left. Topsoil is the soil that we need to grow food and survive as a species. While soil is currently being degraded at 10-40 times the rate that it can be naturally replenished, the right composting strategy can produce usable topsoil at an incredible pace! (This is where the concept and act of "stewardship" is so important for us as humans. We can make the world a better place.)

In the past 10 months, my partner and I have built 4 inches of topsoil - from composting alone.

Lately, we've shown our friends and students how to do what we do with tons of success (we're talking building soil on top of decomposed granite, in parking lots, and old farm land that's been deemed "unfixable"). The movement that's happening now, with permaculture and regenerative farming, are steps in the right direction of leaving an area better off than we found it, and creating sustainable models.

You can be the change you want to see in the world.

COMPOSTING : WHAT NOT TO DO (AND WHAT TO DO INSTEAD)

Here’s the breakdown of how we built 4 inches of living soil in 6 months - utilizing what we grew on site, and what would've otherwise been waste. That’s right, it was all strategic composting and planting.

Here’s what most people do when they start a garden (and what we would recommend avoiding):

  • Some people start their garden without knowing Nature's very efficient strategy.
  • They spend hundreds of dollars on soil amendments and pesticides.
  • They then till their soil. Whoops! The earthworms (our favorite earth-builders) are now dead. And they've exposed the little moisture in their soil (not to mention the mycorrhizal and fungal colonies and myriad of other creatures that support a living system) to the air. 
  • Then they plant their seeds (only planting seeds of food they want to eat), add their additives, cross their fingers, and walk away.
  • A big investment. Hours of time, money, energy.
  • Their fruits and veggies grow.
  • They harvest, and leave the ground even more bare and depleted than before.

Let’s look at the alternative.

This is exactly what we do to grow nutrient-dense food while building living topsoil at the same time:

  • Create a compost bin (or larger system) full of worms, other insects, fungi, and bacteria. We usually bring buckets of worms and culture from the last place we were working on, though you can find quality products to seed your cultures online.
  • Cover the entire plot of land with mulch - wood chips, leaves, straw... Protecting the soil from evaporation, holding in water if it's dry season (or a dry climate), and erosion during heavy rains.
  • While the compost bins work as fertility hubs to boost worm and microbial populations, we simultaneously add significant numbers of these little helpers under the mulch to inoculate the land. The populations will continue to proliferate and add more and more life to the soil.
  • We plant into the mulch - leguminous plants help fix nitrogen in the soil, plants with deep taproots pull nutrients from deep below up to the surface, some plants we love to eat, plants with specific nutrient ratios that will later be used as nutrient-rich mulch.
  • We set up drip irrigation systems (that are water efficient) to maintain moisture for the creatures to survive below the surface. While not necessary in smaller setups, it does make it so you can walk away for a week and things will continue growing and thriving.
  • Populations of earthworms, mycelia, beneficial microbes... multiply, and plants grow. When the strategically-planted-for-composting plants grow up to size, it's time to chop-and-drop. Chop the leaves, blades, or full plant and add it into the compost pile or directly on the ground as mulch. Our little critter helpers will consume the nutrient-rich plant matter and break it down into fully-usable nutrients for the plants.
  • Not only are you building soil (pretty passively, at that), you're growing food that, if handled the right way, is also building up the nutrient content of the soil because you are composting all the excess plant material back into the system.

Think about this: you’re trying to grow your own food, but you're completely reliant on the farm and garden store (and maybe even fossil fuels, if you're using non-organic fertilizers and pesticides). You're spending just as much money (or maybe more) than it costs to purchase organic produce from the grocery store! Having a strategic composting and planting system allows you to be completely self-sufficient.

TRY

TRY: For a full day, save all of the food scraps and paper waste that you produce, including kale stems, apple cores, unfinished meals, paper towels, paper bags, cardboard boxes, juice pulp…

The average person generates 4.3 pounds of waste per day, which is 1.6 pounds more than most produced back in 1960. Approximately two-thirds of that can be composted, meaning almost 3 pounds of what you’re throwing in the trash can be composted. If you’re worried about flies or smell, simply keep your stockpile in your freezer. At the end of the day measure the volume or weight of your compostables.

If you haven’t done this before, you may be surprised! Write down your measurements in the worksheet we created for you here, and take a picture of your waste to share with us on instagram.

Realize that all of this “waste” can be used as a resource for building topsoil that will nourish future generations.

Happy collecting!