Yarb Tales
October 17, 2016

The Heritage Herb Garden at the Ozark Folk Center graces the park with visual colors and textures, sweet and pungent aromas. With their natural display, the herbs help us to interpret the history of the human use of plants.

Even though the compost demonstration is ongoing at the Ozark Folk Center, few people take advantage of the opportunity to watch. It does take an invitation from a gardener to find the production area. The majority of the time the compost would be as engaging as watching grass grow at any given moment in time. There is much going on that does not meet the eye and it happens, from a human perspective, in slow motion. The gardener would need to be present to describe the processes to peak most peoples' interest.
 
This past Saturday I spent hard labor and quality time in the compost area. Grasses and other weeds were happily going to seed on the oldest, most decomposed pile. Those plants were easily pulled up by the roots and became the bottom layer of the next mound of working compost. Load after load of soft, moist, evenly textured, aromatic, finished compost was shoveled into a wheelbarrow and moved to a freshly scalped area on high ground, about ten feet away. Several yards of this brown gold now awaits application to plant roots, both in containers and in the garden. This part of the job took most of the work day.

Soon I will return to the compost area to begin turning the next heap in line which is actively decomposing. Turning will introduce fresh oxygen to the heap. Well-made compost piles are kept moist and are layered with ideal proportions of approximately 70 % of carbon (leaves, sawdust, and dried weeds) and 30% of nitrogen (green plant material, manure, animal fur, hair, soybean meal, bloodmeal, cottonseed meal, etc.). Paper is okay because it is made from plant fibers and soybean oil is used to make ink nowadays. Animal flesh and fat should not be added to the heap. Wax, cigarette butts and plastic will not break down. When these elements are provided the compost will heat up to 120° to 150° F very quickly during the spring, summer and fall; 140° F is adequate to pasteurize the heap.

Ground minerals such as soft rock phosphate, green sand and azomite will be layered in with the plant material, more tree leaves and donkey manure. The carbonic acid produced by the compost will help make the minerals water soluble and available to plants for nutrition.

Soybean, feather and/or alfalfa meal will also be added to the heap. The protein in the meals, which contains nitrogen, combine with carbon and will help to reheat the compost.  Several turns of the pile insures even composting of the entire heap. Part of the nitrogen that is in the meal protein will become a gas and escape into the atmosphere. Part of it will remain and help to feed plants when the finished compost is used.

If you see me in the Heritage Herb Garden and want to learn more about composting, just ask. I would be pleased to give you a tour. If I don’t see you in the future—I’ll see you in the pasture!