Composting Methods Compared

The grow biointensive method of making compost differs in particular from the biodynamic method in that the grow biointensive method is simpler, normally uses no manure, and usually uses no herbal solutions to stimulate microorganism growth.6 Manure, used continually and in large amounts in biodynamic compost piles, is an imbalanced fertilizer, although it is a good texturizing agent because of its usual decomposed sawdust content. Rather than using herbal solutions, grow biointensive practices sometimes use weeds, such as stinging nettle, and other plants, such as fava beans, as part of the ingredients in compost piles. Special compost recipes may be created in grow biointensive to meet particular pH, structure, and nutrient requirements.

The grow biointensive method of making compost differs from the Rodale method; we use little or no manure and usually no rock powder fertilizers or nitrogen supplements.7 Fertilizers do not need to be added to the pile since successful compost can be made from a mixture of ingredients. The nitrogen supplements do, however, speed up the decomposition process. Both the biodynamic and Rodale methods are good ones, proven by use over a long period of time. Chadwick's Biointensive recipe seems simpler to use and equally effective.

Some people use sheet composting, a process of spreading uncomposted organic materials over the soil and then digging them into the soil where they decompose. The disadvantage of this method is that the soil should not be planted for 3 months or so until decomposition has occurred. Soil bacteria tie up the nitrogen during the decomposition process, thereby making it unavailable to the plants. Sheet composting may be beneficial if it is used during the winter in cold areas because the tie-up prevents the nitrogen from leaching out during winter rains.

more rapidly than twigs that are left whole. We discourage the use of power shredders because nature will do the job in a relatively short time, and everyone has sufficient access to materials that will compost rapidly without resorting to a shredder. The noise from these machines is quite disturbing and spoils the peace and quiet of a garden. They also consume increasingly scarce fuel.

  1. Current research indicates that this amount may eventually be significantly reduced with the use of a high-quality compost containing higher concentrations of carbon and nutrients than are obtained in many composting processes. (See Ecology Action's Self-Teaching Mini-Series Booklet 23, Biointensive Composting, for more details.)
  2. For the biodynamic method of compost preparation, see Alice Heckel (ed.), The Pfeiffer Garden Book (Stroudsburg, PA: Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Association, 1967), pp. 37-51.
  3. For the Rodale method of compost preparation, see Robert Rodale (ed.), The Basic Book of Organic Gardening (New York: Ballantine, New York, 1971), pp. 59-86.

Other people use green manures—cover crops such as vetch, clover, alfalfa, beans, peas, or other legumes, grown until the plants are at 10% to 50% flower. The nitrogen-rich plants are then dug into the soil. By using these legumes in this manner, a maximum of nitrogen is fixed in their root nodules. (The nitrogen is taken from the nodules in the seed-formation process. You can tell whether the nodules have fixed nitrogen by cutting one in half with a fingernail. If the inside is pink, they have fixed nitrogen.) This is one way to bring unworked soil into a better condition. These plants provide nitrogen without your having to purchase fertilizer and they also help you dig. Their roots loosen the soil and eventually turn into humus beneath the earth. Fava beans are exceptionally good for green manuring if you plan to plant tomatoes; their decomposed bodies help eradicate tomato wilt organisms from the soil.

However, we find that green-manure crops are much more effective when used as compost materials, and their roots still have their good effect in the soil. There are several reasons for this. Due to their high nitrogen content, green manures decompose rapidly and even deplete some of the soil's humus. Another disadvantage of the green manuring process is that the land is not producing food crops during the period of cover crop growth and the 1-month period of decomposition. Additionally, green manures generally produce only about V4 the carbon in a given area that carbonaceous compost crops do, and carbon in the form of humus is the most limiting and essential element in maintaining sustainable soil fertility (by serving as the food for microbial life and holding minerals in the soil so they cannot easily leach out of it).

The advantage of the small-scale grow biointensive method is that backyard composting is easily feasible. When you use compost crops without digging in the crop residues, the growing process will put nitrogen into the soil and make it possible to grow plants, such as corn and tomatoes, that are heavy nitrogen feeders. (See "Companion Planting.") And the plant residues are valuable in the compost pile.

Organic Gardeners Composting

Organic Gardeners Composting

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