Guy’s news: Compost; evangelism from a new convert

Composting is a near religious experience for many organic growers; a matter of faith rather than reason. Liking plain muck and lacking the required faith, for years I was irritated by the smug assurance of those with an elevated relationship with their organic matter. In retrospect, I suspect my resistance was more irrational than their faith.

Composting is a near religious experience for many organic growers; a matter of faith rather than reason. Liking plain muck and lacking the required faith, for years I was irritated by the smug assurance of those with an elevated relationship with their organic matter. In retrospect, I suspect my resistance was more irrational than their faith.

So why now, in my 57th year, have I seen the light? Firstly, given the environmental impact of livestock, we need a more sustainable source of fertility than muck. Secondly, I met a man who sent ten tonnes of cooked crab waste, packed with valuable nutrients, to landfill every week at huge cost to him and the environment, then another bloke in the pub looking for a home for thousands of tonnes of wood chip; the perfect high carbon material to mix with the nitrogen-rich crab. Thirdly, our agnostic and practical farm team attest to compost soil and its crop improving properties. Fourthly, I met Milan, a highly practical Bulgarian organic grower and compost expert who, with alchemist wizardry, seems to be able to make compost from almost anything given a thermometer and loader. Milan brewed up a little crab, wood chip and spent sheep wool insulation and tried some of the resulting compost on my cardoons and artichokes; they love it. So, I have seen the errors of my youth and come inside. Milan tells me we have only just started.

It is shocking how much compostable material is wasted at such cost to our environment: food waste, sewage sludge, whey, wood chip, hedge trimmings, seafood waste, abattoir waste. The reasons are: partly the unintended consequences of well-meaning environmental and health legislation; partly the chronic failing of businesses and our market economy to solve complex longterm problems involving bulky, perishable, highly variable and locally specific raw materials; and partly that the alternatives are just too cheap. Time is running out; we cannot afford 100% safety when environmental destruction is 95% certain if we continue on our current path. We just have to find the will and the way to create solutions, even if they cost businesses the flexible luxury of not planning full life cycles, and even if they carry some risk and are occasionally smelly.

Guy Singh-Watson

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