Composting for growers and on a larger scale
Growers never have enough hours in the day to do all the work needed and their composting systems often suffer as a result. Having volunteers and changing staff means that systems have to be simple and straightforward, and that for that minimal training and instruction is key. It can be changes in the harvesting system as well as a composting approach. Here at Sutton Community Farm, Dr Compost suggested a windrow system to be created using a simple loading device he designed, which forms the shape as the heap is created, leaving a neat even pile behind it. The new materials being constantly added and the compost maturing behind. An old polytunnel cover is used to help keep the pile moist as the steam condenses and is recycled. Everyone can easily understand how it works and it takes no extra time.
Windrow at Sutton Community Farm
“Sutton Community Farm is a successful growing project, owned and run cooperatively. The council owned site is, seven and a half acres, under vegetable cultivation, on green belt land to the south west of London. A small group of volunteers wanted to prioritise taking the best care we can of the soil so we set up a composting group. We began meeting once a month in January 2016. The farm had nine, one metre square bays and a few larger ones, the autumn crop clearance was still lying around in what was loosely termed a windrow. The system the farm had used for compost making was based on making hot heaps that required turning twice.The first few months felt very difficult, we struggled with the winter weather, our very limited person power, timing for turning the heaps to speed up the compost making process, our idealism and lack of actual experience, our learned or theoretical know how and how to apply it to these raw and real issue of making compost for our farm.
When Nicky Scott came the the farm in May 2016 to advise us, he turned our project around. One of the most important aspects of Nicky’s input to our project has been his ability to see what our existing conditions and materials were and to help us to work from that point. Rather than imposing a system on us or a text book theory which may not have been appropriate, he gave us a host of suggestions, ploughed in and worked along with us for the day, and provided us with a backbone system tailor made to suit us, the group we are and the conditions we have. From then on we have been able to forge a good road for composting on the farm and in our first year have produced an estimated 20 to 25 tons of compost.
He initially encouraged us to use much larger bays and also to move away from the bays to work a windrow. Our windrow grows in sections, each section is roughly 6ft wide and 10ft long and is built up to at least 6ft high before beginning a new section. Because of the increased mass in larger bays and in the windrow, we have consistently reached high temperatures and in the windrow, these high temperatures have been maintained longer, sometimes for as much as a couple of months at a time. We abandoned the hot compost recipe, the heap turning and the small bays, in favour of these larger and taller compost heaps and the windrow which we leave to mature for nine months. Our windrow is now some 40 to 50 ft long and each section has cooked at high temperatures for a month or two at a time.
We’ve began to learn, we made mistakes, we do apply the standard practices but we often felt we had no real grasp of what we were doing and what we were working with. Little by little the theory is becoming the real thing and and the understanding of the theory grows along with a surer and better sense of how to handle the various crops, issues and variables that constantly come our way. We have stuck together, are moving forward together and our project is growing steadily more exploratory, more confident and more nuanced. Our group is very grateful to Nicky for setting us on a good track and always being ready to offer us good guidance and his warm support.”
– Peggy Gunawardena