Compost Information – Grow Soil to Grow Good Plants

Compost Information – Grow Soil to Grow Good Plants

Compost Information – Grow Soil to Grow Good Plants

This post gives  you valuable compost information, how to make it, and the “Do”s and “Don’t”s of making compost.

Compost Information

Compost Information

Composting is a natural process in which macro- and micro-organisms break down organic materials such as leaves, grass and vegetable scraps to form a rich, soil-like substance. The resulting compost is a dark, rich, organic material.  When added to soil, compost provides nutrients to plants and improves the water-holding capacity of soil.

Composting adds nutrients to the soil. Microscopic organisms in compost help aerate the soil, break down organic material for plant use and ward off plant disease.  Composting is actually growing soil which benefit the plants and let you grow good plants. Better soil equates to better tasting and more nutritionally dense food.

Composting is accomplished by mixing carbon material (browns) with nitrogen materials (greens) and keeping it aerated and sufficiently wet.  When the right combination of ingredients is mixed together, good bacteria go to work and break it down and make nutrients bio-available to the plants.  More on the combination of ingredients later.

Most beneficial organisms in compost are in aerobic composting.  Aerobic composting is the bacteria breaking down the material with oxygen.  In addition to bacteria you’ll also find actinobacteria, fungi, protozoa, rotifers and usually earth worms in an aerobic compost pile.  Anaerobic composting on the other hand happens with a lack of enough oxygen.  Anaerobic composting causes a pile to stink and causes mostly bad organisms to multiply in you compost pile.  To ensure that you have Aerobic vs. Anaerobic composting, you “turn” your pile several times to get oxygen into the center of the pile.  This is usually done by moving the pile from one location to another.

Compost Dos and Don’ts

C:N Carbon to Nitrogen ratio

  • 60% should be carbon – wood chips, sawdust, brown leaves, cardboard, newspapers, junk mail, straw or hay, pine needles, wood ash, corn cobs and stalks, and dryer lint.
  • 30% should be greens – lawn clippings, veggie waste, green leaves, weeds, table scraps, fruit and vegetable scraps, green comfrey leaves, seaweed and kelp, chicken manure, coffee grounds, and tea leaves.
  • 10% High Nitrogen – This jumpstarts your pile – manure from clean animals, untreated alfalfa, meat, blood, and road kill offal.
  • Do NOT use: pet manures, Banana, peach, or orange peels, or black walnut leaves.
  • Water – compost must be kept at 50% moisture. Squeeze a handful of compost and….
    • If no water drips and it won’t hold together you are under 30% moisture and you wont have the diversity you need
    • If water comes out from between your fingers you are at 70% or more, you have gone anaerobic and must dry it out and start over.
    • You want to only be able to squeeze out ONE drop of water to have your moisture correct at 50%
  • Cover with a tarp
  • Do NOT start a pile too small. A Pile must be 3’x3’ to create and hold enough heat to compost efficiently.
  • Maintain 131 F for 3 days, or 150 F for 2 days or 165 F for 1 day (use caution above 165 F – at 170 F and above too much oxygen is used and the pile can go anaerobic.
  • Pile must be turned to get an even temperature or average of 131 for 3 days on all parts of the pile. A minimum of 3 turns.  More if needed.  May be needed if it gets to hot.  This temperature for this duration will kill most bad bugs and weed seeds in the pile.

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Establishing a Food Forest DVD Review

Establishing a Food Forest DVD Review

Establishing a Food Forest DVD Review

This post is titled Establishing a Food Forest DVD Review. Wednesday night I watched the DVD “Establishing a Food Forest” which was presented by Geoff Lawton.  This is at least the third time I have watched this 80-minute DVD and every time I watch it I still pick up something new.

Food Forest Definition

Establishing a Food Forest DVD Review

Establishing a Food Forest DVD Review

Before I get into the review of the DVD, lets define Food Forest.  On Wikipedia, the term Food Forest re-directs to Forest Gardening.  Here is Wikipedia’s definition of Forest Gardening:

“Forest gardening is a low-maintenance sustainable plant-based food production and agroforestry system based on woodland ecosystems, incorporating fruit and nut trees, shrubs, herbs, vines and perennial vegetables which have yields directly useful to humans. Making use of companion planting, these can be intermixed to grow in a succession of layers, to build a woodland habitat.”

DVD Overview

The DVD starts out with classroom lecture going over what a food forest is and how to design one.  They go into looking at patterns of existing forests and the layers of a forest.  The layers as described by Geoff are; canopy, understory, shrub, herbaceous, ground cover, vine/climbers, and root yield.  He does go into a few additional layers that are specific to the tropics.

Many of these layers are support species planted for the future end results.  He talks about support species as follows:

  • Ground cover – hundreds of thousands of nitrogen fixers per acre that will only survive for 6 months. This could be clover or other nitrogen fixing ground cover.
  • Herbaceous / bush layer – tens of thousands of nitrogen fixers per acre that will only survive for 4 to 5 years. Examples are certain legumes and peas.
  • Understory layer – thousands of small trees that fix nitrogen that will survive 10 to 15 years.
  • Canopy – hundreds of trees that will go full term.
  • The above are all support species used just to fix the soil with nitrogen and other nutrients and provide mulch through chop and drop. Mixed in with all of the above will be our fruit and nut trees.
  • In the beginning the mix will be 90/10. 90% of mass is support species and 10% is our fruit trees.  As time goes on we end up with 10% of mass is support species and 90% is our fruit trees.  This happens as the fruit trees get larger and the support species die out.
  • The support species is coppiced, pollarded, and chop & dropped. This happens during the wet season, which is when there is more rainfall than evaporation.
Establishing a Food Forest DVD Review

Establishing a Food Forest DVD Review

After the classroom portion of the DVD, Geoff goes to the field and plants a food forest into a swale at the Permaculture Research Institute (PRI).  He demonstrates mixing a nitrogen fixing inoculant with some legumes (cowpea and lupin).  He shows a large variety of plants that they are putting in, how to put them in and why.

He then goes back to that same swale after 3 months and gives you a tour, shows the progress and explains what is going on.  He talks about too many grass hoppers not being a grass hopper problem but a deficiency in Turkeys.  He talks about too many slugs/snails not being a slug/snail issue but a deficiency in ducks.  He also demonstrates “feed the forest” by doing some chop and drop.

He shows fungus being the “teeth” of the forest and explains how the fungus is breaking down the dead plant life to feed the living.  He shows how chickens help establish a food forest and also explains how a food forest is low maintenance once established.

He shows a kitchen garden that has over 400 species of plants in it.  He goes on to explain how all of the diversity confuses the pest and how they make climates attractive to predator insects to predate on those confused pests.

My thoughts on this DVD are that it is a wonderful learning resource and I wouldn’t understand why anyone that likes gardening doesn’t want to put in a food forest after watching this DVD.  It is also one of the reasons I put a food forest in last year and will put more in going forward.  It is a wonderful concept and I enjoy the thought of high yield and low maintenance in the future.


In addition to the 80-minute main feature, there are five clips in the bonus section of the DVD:

  • 30-Year-Old Food Forest – 10-minute video walk through of a 30-year-old food forest in Thailand. Most of the plants in this clip are tropical and likely wouldn’t grow in temperate climate North America.
  • 300-Year-Old Food Forest – a 6-minute video walk through of a 300-year-old food forest in Hanoi.
  • 2000-Year-Old Food Forest – a 4+ minute video walk through of a 2000-year-old food forest in Morocco. This video has many fruits that do grow in North America.
  • Permaculture World Wide – a 4+ minute video about how to grow permaculture plants world wide and how to raise funds to do so.
  • Harvesting Water DVD – This is the trailer for another of Geoff’s videos “Harvesting Water DVD”

About Geoff:

According to Wikipedia: “Geoff Lawton is a permaculture consultant, designer and teacher. Since 1995 he has specialized in permaculture education, design, implementation, system establishment, administration and community development.”

He is Managing Director of The Permaculture Research Institute – and is the go-to practicing expert on anything permaculture.


To Buy the DVD:

A downloadable copy of the DVD can be bought at:


The physical DVD can be bought at:

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Todd McCree at Great Escape Farms

Todd McCree at Great Escape Farms

Todd McCree at Great Escape Farms

Todd McCree at Great Escape Farms is a description about the owner and his journey into forest garden design that spurred several new businesses.

I figured that if you are going to spend time reading my blog, then you should know a little about me, and how I acquired the knowledge to write about these subjects.

Todd McCree at Great Escape Farms

Todd McCree at Great Escape Farms

First the basics… I grew up and went to school in Pasadena, MD, joined the Air Force for a four year enlistment, then went to the University of Maryland where I got a BS in Computer Information Science and got a job as a Network Systems Engineer. There… that’s out of the way. So what does this have to do with gardening and plants? Not much. It’s the side jobs where I got my experience.

While going to school I held several jobs, some before I was a teenager. I spent several pre-teen and teen years mowing lawns during the summer, raking leaves in the fall, and shoveling snow in the winter. Sometimes I would help my parents or an employer (any neighbor who would hire me) plant trees and gardens. I had a garden of my own for many years and assisted my father with his planting endeavors.

As time went on I graduated to a “real job” in my sophomore year of high school and went to work for a local mom-and-pop shop called Joe’s Plants and Garden Center. There I worked at tending the nursery stock, selling products, assisting customers and every once in a while perform onsite landscaping work for clients.

Then I went on to the Air Force, College, and work. I did a little planting here and there, but not a whole lot. In 2001 I moved to a new house that had a lot of property (about a half acre). I got into landscaping and making the back yard look nice, put in a pond and garden and enjoyed it.

In 2012, my wife and I bought a 10-acre parcel of property in West Virginia. This property had 42 mature fruit trees on it. I was very excited about the thought of fresh fruit, but had no idea how to take care of them. So I started researching and the more I learned, the more I realized I didn’t know.

I now subscribe to a dozen magazines, watch YouTubes all the time, read books at night on many different subjects and listen to about 30 hours of podcasts every week while I drive (yes, I drive a lot).

Recently I have taken two permaculture design courses. I have submitted one project for grading and will submit the other after I pass the first. I have also taken a plant propagation course and I am signed up for a Soil Biology course and a Bee-keeping course. I have attended several seminars and tours on Permaculture and sustainable farming.

I have been on a working farm twice as a Wwopfer (Willing Worker on Permaculture Farm). During these stays we put in several thousand feet of swales and planted into them. I also did day-to-day farm activities with the animals (pigs, cows, horses, ducks, rabbits, chickens, and barn cats).

For the last two years I have been doing plant propagation, both hardwood and softwood, and this spring put in a propagation bed with intermittent mist system. I planted 48 different varieties of cuttings ranging from fruit trees and bushes to ornamental, just to experiment and see what grew. I had fairly decent results and plan on propagating and selling the plantings in 2016.

My ultimate goal is to farm, blog, and sell plants for a living when I retire from my “geek” job in a few years.

Please provide feedback to Todd McCree at Great Escape Farms by commenting below.