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Double Dig, step 3: Trash and Poop

5 April 2012

Even total beginners to gardening know compost is a miracle, but Jeavons takes an interesting stance on it: moderation!  He says using too much is just as bad as using too little.  He recommended 5 5-gallon buckets of it for a 100 square foot biointensive bed, or a half inch layer.  Mine is 78 square feet, so I scaled it down.  My parents have kept two compost piles for many years, though they rarely take any compost out of them and put no effort into maintaining them other than depositing unwanted material on top.  One is a pile for table scraps, the other is the horse manure pile.  I spread a mixture of the two over the bed.

It just looks like garbage.

It’s been a while since anyone dug into this, and the wire grass was literally a thick mat holding everything together.  Breaking it was more difficult than digging into the ground itself when I dug the first bed, but once I was able to split it in one area, I was able to pull the rest of it apart by hand.

Somehow all that trash magically transformed into dirt!

Even though I’ve seen compost before (from this very pile, even), it still surprised me when I got past the wire grass.  It’s clearly recognizable as dirt, though it is rich, black, crumbly, and smells completely different from local soil.  It was absolutely full of earthworms and other bugs.

Contrast between compost and local soil

The soil on the left rests on top of my bed, which has dried out significantly.  Just two inches beneath, it’s darker, but it’s clearly the color of clay and smells like clay.  The compost smells rich and earthy, like the inside of a really old tree, or roots on a creek bank.

I spread this over the bed, raked it out evenly, then spread composted horse manure over the bed, raked it out evenly, then mixed it all with a spading fork.  Basically I was digging with the fork the same way I was in the video in the spading fork post, but it only took me half an hour instead of 3 hours since the soil was already loosened and there were no weeds.

I wanted to get pictures of the composted horse manure, too, but a storm was blowing in and I put the camera inside to keep it from getting wet.  It was moist and clumped together, but looked basically like compacted mud, and didn’t resemble poop at all.  It did smell unpleasant, though.  It might have been ammonia, which is released when horse urine decays.  The smell made me want to use it sparingly.

Fire ants also attacked me while I was digging out the manure pile, but luckily, whatever entity or force cursed me with severe pollen allergies also had some sense of justice, and thus gave me a hearty resistance to most toxic plants and insects I have so far encountered.  I just brushed off the fire ants and kept going.  The only reaction was a tingly itching sensation where they had sprayed me.  I hear I am quite fortunate to have this resistance to them.

Compost just gets me excited!

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