I recently got a question from a reader about extending the life of her compost product so B.F., here is the dirt on your dirt ; )
Why a Limited Shelf-Life is a Good Thing
Depending on your point of view, the limited shelf-life of compost may or may not be a good thing. In my opinion, the limited shelf-life of compost is a good thing. Compost is made of live organic materials and organisms. These things must be in the soil our food is grown in order to produce nutritious food that will be effective in maintaining our bodies. The fact the items are alive and reproduce means that these vitals organisms are fresh and constantly replenishing themselves, under the right conditions, which in turn feed the crops we humans and the animals we eat need to live. Ingesting these organisms through our foods also help our bodies replenish itself on a cellular level. If these organic materials didn’t deteriorate or breakdown it would most likely mean that they would not give up their beneficial properties to the plants grown in the soil that contains them. The result would be pretty much the same as we experiencing today, which is produce that hardly passes as food and definitely not medicine. Many people don’t know this but food is meant to be medicine and our first line of defense against illness and disease. As such, the healthier the soil, the healthier the foods we eat and in turn, the healthier our bodies are. That latter means little to no disease and a longer lifespan like this guy right here. It’s sad to say but only those who were born 50+ years ago had the benefit of eating food most close to medicine. The sad thing is that the chronic diseases these people developed over time is a result of the foods they ate in their late adult life that were grown in soil depleted of nutrients that could no longer sustain their bodies effectively. Even diseases that were once considered common to old age is now commonplace in children today because they are so malnourished despite eating according to the so-called food pyramid. A thing, I might add, changes as the nutritional properties in the different foods available to us changes. If memory serves, I think it’s now a plate rather than a pyramid. In any case, it also doesn’t help that food companies adulterate and manipulate these earth grown foods into unrecognizable shelf-stable substances that they want us to believe is food. I can honestly say that unless you grow it yourself from heirloom or non-GMO seeds in your own fortified soil, it’s most likely not food and definitely not medicine. And while I am a big fan of organic farmers, unless I see what they are doing for myself, I will remain skeptical. For some organic farmers, it means they don’t use pesticide but that doesn’t mean they don’t use other harmful substances either. So ask questions when you go to farmer’s markets and if the seller cannot answer questions or gives questionable responses, walk away. And remember, you don’t need large plots of land to grow organic food, all you need is a well drained container, healthy soil, mature viable seeds, sunlight, clean air, and clean water; rain water is the best or filtered water if possible.
Extending the life of your Compost
Like every organic grower or farmer, there is always the desire to ensure that your soil remains as healthy and enriched as possible. The latter produces large size, bountiful, healthy produce. But how can we keep our compost rich and healthy when the planting season is over. Here are a few tricks that I use to extend the 3 months shelf-life of my compost over the winter months. The first method I use is to keep adding organic materials to the mix and rotate the mix ever-so-often. As these organic items break down, they replenish the live organisms that have died out from the original batch, while increasing the volume of my product for the next season. It’s kind of like when you save a piece of fresh bread yeast dough from every batch previously made to add to new batches as a starter. It makes each new loaf of bread ferment faster and more flavorful. Ask any artisan bread maker and they will tell you. (By the way, if you ever wondered why good compost smells similar to fermenting bread, now you know). The second method I use is the addition of worms. As the season warms up and the earth remains too cold for planting, I add worms to my compost. The worms do for the compost what they would for the soil; they break down the materials further and their castings help to enrich the soil even more. By the time the earth warms up enough to dig, the compost is ready to be incorporated.
Compost Passed its Prime
I would be lax if I didn’t point out that even after the 3 month deadline has passed, the compost that is now practically lifeless still makes a good soil medium so don’t throw it away. Even if there is an unpleasant odor to the soil, take it outside and let it dry out in the sun. If you are worried about plant born diseases may be in the soil at this point, you can always add some copper fungicide to the mix as a precaution. However, if you are not sure or don’t trust it at all, toss it and start fresh. If you plan on reusing the storage container, remember to wash it out with soap and bleach. Note, if you find yourself in this situation and the conditions are not available for you to take your compost out into the sun, add some used charcoal or ground up/pulverized charcoal to it. If neither option is available, get some biochar to add to the compost. Any one on of these items will help control the odor until the conditions you need to air out and sun the compost come around.