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Composting for Survival, part two.

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Composting for Survival, part two.

Post by Forerunner on Fri Oct 23, 2009 9:50 pm

After nearly ten years of building a successful excavating and light demolition business, a rather messy run-in with bureaucracy and the infamous "y2k" potential scenario were the stimuli employed by Providence to set me firmly to work on a different strand.
Wendy and I were already quite familiar with independence and self-sufficiency, having by that time built our cabin from scratch, birthed three young at home, gardened for a good portion of our food supply and intentionally foregone the insurance "safety net" so prevalent in this day and age.
When I finally realized the scope of the battle that had been waged against me, I was gaining a fierceness about that previously dabbled-in sense of self-reliance and my determination to survive became a driving force. It was in the thick of that dark time that she and I resolved to go it alone.
I recall well the conversation we had. We looked long and hard at our future as a family. We looked long and hard at our past and I told her, "This isn't a problem.
I was raised growing food, tending livestock and building things by unconventional means. I spent my youth in the woods, living free. We've already come this far thinking outside the box." There was no hesitation. She had no illusions of where we were going with this. For reasons I won't go into here, we believed it to be in our best interests, and in the interest of purity, to close all bank accounts. We cancelled all credit cards.
As circumstance would have it..... we were debt free.
We shut off the power then, though it was several years before the electric company came to remove the poles between us and the next farm toward the road.
We turned in our driver licenses, so as not to consent to being bound to a contractual jurisdiction. We sold our automobile. Etc. etc. etc.

There we were. Alone. Vastly unfettered. Resolved. Harboring no illusions.
Among many other urgent priorities at the time, I turned my attention to the garden.
Over the course of the time we had been gardening, I had taken advantage of several opportunities as they presented themselves-- a truckload of horse manure here, a load of spoiled hay there, etc. But I had been enjoying the bounty of an "economy" enough not to have given much thought to building the soil. No longer so.
I recalled the experience of my youth, knew what had to be done, and began to seek out sources of composting material.
Though I had no license, etc., I knew through various means that I had the respect of the local police. I bought an old, heavy duty Chevy pickup from a farming neighbor, built some high sides and a special tailgate for it, and began to travel the back roads in pursuit of humus. It was the yard waste disposal site of a small municipality 15 miles away that most notably caught my eye. There was a fair abundance of grass clippings, leaves, garden weeds and occasional wood chips... plenty for a man/pickup/pitchfork combination. I promptly adjusted my schedule to accommodate several trips thereto each week. I recall my first real pile, placed strategically at garden's edge. I recall thickly mulching my potatoes with the first few loads of grass clippings and leaves.
I made paths through the garden with wood chips.
Somewhere in that time we purchased our first milk cow. We already had chickens, an acquisition which she requested a couple years previous (a woman of foresight, she was). So began my use of manures to inoculate my compost piles with more of the proper strains of bacteria.
As often happens when one sets one's course with definity and resolve, opportunities began to present themselves. People began to take notice of my bent, and the number of sources for organic material increased.
Neighbors began to offer my their stall cleanings. Farmers with a rack of spoiled hay would bring some by from time to time. My compost pile began to take on a life of it's own, and soon outgrew it's allotted space. I suppose by that time it contained two or three semi loads of material.
During my greatly reduced travels throughout the surrounding area, and given my newly reawakened passion, I began to take far greater notice of the landscape, always on the lookout for material sources. It didn't take long for the monster manure and bedding pile at the local sale barn, ten miles from home, to capture my undivided attention. I recall making what must have been a weak attempt at contacting someone in charge there and being summarily turned down....
I don't remember just how long a time went by between that disappointing day and the one during which I decided to call the owner, out of the blue. His name was Bob, and I'd done some backhoe work for him in years past. I called him at his office and simply offered,"say, I'll keep your manure piled up indefinitely if you'll let me have it all."
His immediate reply was,"well, why don't you just have at it, young man."
I have one valuable contact in a local trucking company. I knew I was in over my head, delightfully, though certainly, so promptly called them to hire a semi.
Having held on to my construction equipment, I was able to supply my loader/backhoe and we hauled out twelve or thirteen semiloads of stall cleanings that first go
'round. Obviously, my operation was never the same.
As I mentioned in chapter one, the local sawmill was just a little ways up the road. (We settled 2 miles from the home farm, just a little further out in the woods, a little closer to the river) I went to school with the two boys there and was kind of an eccentric oddity to their father, who started the operation from scratch. At that time they had hundreds of tons of old sawdust, that market not having yet ever come grandly into it's own as it has since.....
As it happens, I hauled off-- with an age old tandem truck that I came up with, and, after, when I gave up automobiles for good in exchange for farm tractors and dump trailers-- several hundred tons of ancient and some fresh sawdust over the course of several years. Obviously, I was never short of carbon in my compost piles, which brings up an important point; in your determination of proper carbon/nitrogen ration, always err to the side of carbon. Carbon will absorb nitrogen from any source it can, whether it be the atmosphere, the soil, a man urinating, animal offal, animal carcasses, etc. and will always decompose eventually. A compost pile with an excess of nitrogen will putrify, even ferment and become a sort of silage smelling what-have-you if left alone.
Carbon, incidentally, is generally the cheaper and more available ingredient as well, as chance would have it. I have found it advantageous to maintain a carbon pile at all times, therefore having excess to balance the regular compost pile in the event that a nitrogen windfall is sent my way.

Now by this time, I was taking my composting pretty seriously, and the areas of garden that were most intensely treated with the material began to take on a seriousness of their own. Stuff was beginning to grow, if you know what I mean.
I had several piles going at once, varying in size by location.
At one point, a local locker plant inquired about dumping it's offal for me to compost.
I happily made allowances and kept a large hole in the side of my biggest pile for them to back up and unload into.
At one point, a large, commercial hay barn burned, and the owner brought me twenty some odd semi loads of charred hay and straw.
Local farmers began to bring me dead livestock on a regular basis.
The sale barn's pile waxed and waned under my diligent supervision.

Somewhere in all of that time--it was winter-- I went through my old Mother Earth magazines and found the article on Jean Paine, I believe it was. He was the Frenchman who amassed huge piles of wood and debris shavings from the surrounding forests, ground to perfection in a tractor mounted chipper of his own design and manufacture.
He constructed massive piles of the material and ran tubing through them to form a water heating system that heated his house and water supply. He also drew methane from one of them that ran the small engine which produced his home power AND fueled his tractor.....
Now I wasn't ready to expand my technical knowledge to that brain-straining level, but I was intrigued by the compost house heat idea enough to begin digging a trench on the east side of my house (next to the garden) to accommodate a massive, three bay, concrete compost bunker, poured directly against the east house wall. That next fall I filled the thing to the brim, and waited. That December was one of the colder ones that I recall enduring down here in the timber (it was 2005) and we burned roughly half the wood we normally would have, and the ambient temperature in the house, especially in the typically cooler kitchen, furthest room from the wood stove, was ten degrees warmer (about 70 degrees compared to a previously experienced 60). The northernmost section of the bunker sat directly outside the kitchen window, where, subsequently, all kitchen waste and most dishwater was summarily discarded.
As some of you already know, we have long embraced the rocket technology of the sawdust toilet, and that material has always been deposited in the bunker, next to the house. Amid the shock and appall that must be going on among some readers at this point, there must be the double-edged question, "What of flies and odor?" Well, herein lies the secret, not only to flies and odor, but to compost across the board.


Sawdust, dry leaves, dry grass clippings (the fresh ones contain up to 50% nitrogen!!!) wood chips, straw, older hay, garden weeds, bean hulls, peanut hulls, ground up corn cobs, paper, cardboard, etc. are all sources of carbon.
ALL odor and pestilence are rectified absolutely with the proper application of carbon.
You see, carbon and nitrogen have a chemical valence that binds one to the other.
The relationship is near nuptial, such is the mutual attraction.
Carbon also captures and neutralizes the sulfides and ammoniums that a rowdy compost pile can generate, especially one containing dead animals and such richness as gooey kitchen waste.
Of course, for the kitchen composter with a small pile and limited sources of other organic material, there still remains somewhat of a potential odor problem.
But, in this survival forum, I am certain that we are among far more serious preparation fanatics who by now wouldn't be caught dead with anything less than a fully integrated composting program and mountains of the stuff rotting everywhere.....right ?

Well, nearing the end of my energy for the night, I'll conclude with the most recent and, likely, most comprehensive boon to my composting efforts to date.....

Though the place has likely existed longer, maybe far longer, than I have, it only recently was brought to my attention that the city of Canton, Illinois, maintains a fairly extensive site for the locals to dispose of their yard waste. In fact, it was this early last summer that I and my new wife, Lori, went on the maiden journey to where I was made aware the place was located. Upon entering the gate, it was immediately impressed upon me that I had graduated, somehow yet again, in the ever-broadening scope of my soil-building pursuits. There were pick-up load sized piles of grass clippings all over. The quantity of material simply dwarfed the scope of the first, smaller municipality that I mentioned. There were larger truckloads of wood chips, various piles of sawdust, leaves, garden waste, stump grindings, corn stalks, old straw, rotting hay..... my God, I was delirious. I honestly didn't know where to begin. I remember just backing the tractor and wagon over to several of the larger piles of grass clippings and bagged leaves and began loading up. I felt drunk almost all the way home (about 17 miles). We immediately began the new routine of three or four trips a week.
First we used the larger farm tractor, a 150 horse John Deere 4630, and the wagon. Then we tried the old Model A, just me and three boys with pitch forks, and the one wagon.
Occasionally we would meet some of the city workers out there, dropping something off or picking up various items of trash. A couple times a week, they'd come out with a big loader to push the brush into a pile for burning and to push everything else out in a three foot thick or so layer to decompose..... after which they apparently shoved everything over the hill, out of the way (egads!!!).
Once I asked one of them if we were overstepping our bounds by hauling the stuff off.
He assured me that it was fine.
Well, it was during this time that it was impressed upon me the need for a smaller loader tractor and I began to pursue that end with a passion. The days were awfully hot, at times, and one wagon was enough to be loading by hand, but I wanted to pull two for efficiency sake..... It wasn't long before I was the proud new owner of the little 3010 diesel, complete with front end loader. I began pulling both of my dump wagons several times a week, often twice in an otherwise unhindered day, loaded to the gills with fresh organic materials. If I wasn't completely ecstatic with the new-found ease and convenience, my three boys certainly were.
It wasn't long before the city workers really began to take notice.
One day the man who operates the loader came over as I was finishing up and asked me what in the world I was doing with all that material.
I told him I was composting it. He asked if I had a truck patch and sold organic produce or something. There came a certain gleam in his eye when I told him, "nope, just building about 4-5 acres of Eden-like soil for my family's provision, and giving away the excess". He left, only to shortly return a passenger in the fancy pickup that belonged to the city's Street Superintendent. He said, "tell the Boss what you told me earlier".
So, I promptly repeated my short story.
Later, I found out that there had been no small conversation about me and the boys' efforts out there. They were impressed with the way we had just come in and started, not only hauling away what we wanted, but tidying up the place and picking out the trash and sticks as we went. As it happens, they had just recently determined that they were running out of space out there....
So when I began hauling two loads out at a time and actually starting to dig into material that had been there a couple years already, more than keeping up with the city's flow of yard waste, the Boss had been biding his time, wanting to meet and talk to me about further prospects. As it turns out, I still haul about a load a week, more to keep the place tidied up and running smoothly from my standpoint.
When I relayed my story to the Boss that fateful day, he confided in me his long-held, but henceforth unpursued passion for the soil.... and promptly scolded me for working too hard. They have since been hauling, in their several city dump trucks, up to twenty loads each week, to my location....thus saving me hundreds of dollars in repairs and fuel, not to mention countless hours on the road. They are beyond delighted to have a place they can go with the stuff where it will be put to productive use.
This fall, the Boss tells me that there will be several hundred loads of shredded leaves that will be hauled directly to my composting operation......

So, where there is a will, there is a way.
Where there is focus and diligence applied, there are opportunities waiting.
There is no excuse for delaying another day the process of gathering materials and beginning or expanding your own soil building efforts.
Let's spread the word and take back the fertility that once made this nation the greatest land of opportunity on the planet.

Posts : 48
Join date : 2009-05-13
Location : West central Illinois

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