Tag Archives: composting

The end of composting…

as I know it!

September 21st, it was the last day of summer and I was down at my friend Clarence’s garden helping him harvest some potatoes. I had been by his place a few days before while he was harvesting some fingerling potatoes. He was unsure of whether or not he was going to bother with them. “I had these in my garden years ago but got rid of them,” he told me, “but now they’re back.” He shrugged, as if the potatoes had decided on their own to re-colonize his garden.

Some of Clarence's Ozette potatoes sitting on my porch; notice the knobbly one in the centre, that's all one potato!

Some of Clarence's Ozette potatoes. Note the one in the centre, that's all one potato!

Today I was back to help harvest the tasty little beauties. (I also wanted to ensure I would have the seed for next year.) After searching through various web sites and photos of potato varieties, I found not only the pedigree of Clarence’s ‘Indian’ potato but also the reason behind the name. The original seed was obtained from Anna Cheeka, a Makah Indian of the Neah Bay Tribe, and introduced to the market by David Ronniger, of Ronniger Potato Farm LLC, in the late 1980s. According to their web site:

The Ozette is one of the tastiest of all fingerlings. Classic in appearance with pale gold skin and creamy yellow flesh. The slightly earthy, nutty flavor comes through beautifully when lightly steamed or sautéed. Late variety.

See Potato party for one for more on the Ozette potato.

While in Clarence’s garden, I noticed he was doing something foreign to me: placing the potato tops and any rogue weeds back into the hole where the harvested potatoes had come from. Having just harvested all of my potatoes and carried the potato tops, along with the weeds, to a compost pile inside my garden, I asked him about it. “I’ve always done it this way” he said, and then shrugging, “It’s what my dad taught me.” By spring, it would be rich soil, while my compost may not be completely biodegraded. “It feeds the worms too” he added as an afterthought.

While digging potatoes, he uses the tops as back-fill to be composted directly into the soil

While digging potatoes, he uses the tops as back-fill to be composted directly into the soil.

I had thought that I was being clever by having the compost pile inside the garden, saving myself two steps: heaving the weeds and garden waste out to the pile, and then heaving it all back again in the spring as composted material. In the spring, I would simply spread it around the garden here and there and then turn the chickens in to do the rest of the spreading work. But what Clarence was doing eliminated both steps and produced a better result.

“You know, that soil scientist who was here last year? He told me I had the best soil in all the tests he’d done in the valley,” Clarence boasted while picking out a small rock as he continued to dig the potatoes.

one for keepers, one for rogues, one for rocks.

The three-bucket system: one for keepers, one for rogues, one for rocks.

This man has a system. A three-bucket system: One bucket for the ‘keepers’, one for the ‘rogues’, and one for the rocks. The keepers he stores enough for his family and sells the extras, the rogues he gives away to those who can’t afford to buy, and the rocks he disposes of. He’s been maintaining this system in this garden for longer than I’ve been alive. “You know, people say their gardens are too rocky for vegetables” he says while continuing to hoe, “So I ask them, Have you ever thought about digging them out?” He goes on to tell me about the thousands of rocks, small and large, that he’s taken out of here over the years. One of them was too large for removal he tells me, “So I spent nearly two hours digging a hole beside it …you know, and tipped it in” he stops hoeing long enough to give me a visual aid in gestures, and then nods towards an area in the garden, “It’s still in there, under the soil deep enough for my rototiller to pass over unscathed.”

Diligence with roguing out even small rocks has made the soil what it is today.

Diligence with rouging out even the smallest of rocks has helped make the soil what it is today.

Clarence is eighty-three. Originally from Pennsylvania, he is now a great-grandfather several times over. He has outlived his wife (but enjoyed a fiftieth wedding anniversary); survived the deaths of two children; endured 295 days as a POW “guest of Mr Hitler” as he likes to put it; lost his thumb end to a dynamite mishap at the tender age of 5; hunted countless troublesome cougars, and even got the better of one which attacked him on January 24th, 2000 (when he was seventy-four!). Luckily for me, he is also a master gardener keen to pass on his knowledge.

Like the Ozette potato, Clarence came north when young and flourished in a new climate. He too is a master survivor. No wonder he’s got the best soil in the valley!


Filed under How to..., Potatoes, Sustainable Farming, Vegetable gardening

Chicken poop for the soul

The freshly cleaned out chicken coup. This coup is the original chicken coup, soon to house the turkeys.

The freshly cleaned out chicken coup. This coup is the original chicken coup, soon it will house the turkeys.

I’ve just come in from cleaning out the chicken coop. While doing this chore, I found myself pondering why it didn’t bother me–shoveling poop, that is. Well, chicken poop, I corrected myself quickly. Then I thought of all the kinds of poop I’ve had the pleasure of shoveling this year: horse, dog, cow, goat, duck, chicken and turkey. It’s a symphony of poop around here: it is on any farm. The only poop I seem to have an innate revulsion for in  that list is the dog’s.

What is it about the dog’s poop that is different from the other animals’ poop? As I pondered this question, I realized that I would be equally repulsed by human poop. Yet what also struck me at that moment was how un-bothered I was about handling the chicken poop: breathing it in as the dust rose while I scooped it up and moved it to the wheelbarrow, picking up bits and pieces that fell from the shovel, generally handling it in ways I would not dream of doing with human waste. It was quite a little reverie I was engaged in this morning.

Soon my mind wandered to the next task, of getting it to the compost pile, then to how it would make its way to the veggie patch come spring, then to how it would get turned into the soil. With sudden clarity, I realized that, ultimately, I would eat it. Of course, it will have composted down first, then have been turned  under into the soil, before being taken up by the plants as nutrient. Nevertheless, eventually, it will be consumed by yours truly. It will feed me, I thought.

Looking at it on the end of my shovel, it is simply chicken poop: something that needs to be dealt with, moved, composted. But now as I move it from the chicken coop, its immortal potential is catalyzed.  It has begun its sacred transformation through the cycle of nature. It’s going to nourish my body, feed my soul; it is, in fact, chicken poop for the soul.

Now, I have to get back out there and clean the other homes and pens as well.

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Filed under Sustainable Farming