Compost Expert Talks Soil, Wine, and Microbes


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By Jake Richardson

Bob Shaffer is a lifelong farmer based in Honaunau, Hawaii who works as a composting consultant for farms and vineyards in temperate and tropical cropping systems. He travels throughout the western United States, and sometimes to Australia and Guatemala.

In addition to his consulting work, Shaffer also works with Recology and Jepson Prairie Organics in California. Here he gives Sierra Club Green Home some expert insight on living soil.

What is your role with Recology?

I am a consultant on all things related to composting, and I help educate farmers.

How important is composting for farmers?

It is important for maintaining soil health, because it is a stable source carbon, minerals, and living organisms.

Does recycled food make good compost?

Recycled food is one of the highest quality sources of feedstock for compost. Recycled food has a high density of protein, oils, complex carbohydrates, minerals, and other materials that give microbes a high-quality source of nutrition by which they create humus (the most desirable end product of compost).

Also, by recycling the nutrition in food scraps, that nutrition is not wasted and does not produce methane in the landfills.

What happens to the soil when new compost is added?

There are nine major animals living in the soil surface, and four types living within the soil. The stable carbon, available minerals, and protein in the compost act as a source of food and building materials for the organisms that live over and under the soil. These essential soil functions cannot be performed by any other life form, tool, or technology. Thus by feeding the soil compost, the farmer enables the soil life to maintain soil health and the highest quality of food for our community and livestock.

How often does compost need to be added to soil?

It depends on the intended use, cropping cycle, and site specifics.  For gardens the best use of compost is two applications per year in small amounts, just a sprinkle on the soil surface. However, compost can be applied at any time of the year, and at various rates depending on the compost quality and on the needs of the crop.  Rates can vary from one ton per acre to ten tons per acre with 3-5 tons per acre as a good working average.

The best rate and timing is determined by knowing your soil. Use soil analysis and examine the history of inputs before making your decision on how and when to use compost.

What makes soil healthy?

You want a balance of the chemical, physical, and biological components. Soil health depends on physical structures of the soil, mineral levels, and which populations of biological animals are present and in what quantity. Soil casino online requires food and protection from erosion in order to be healthy. Health is measured in degrees and is susceptible to management.

How do you gauge the health of soil?

Generally speaking, the greater the diversity of plants growing in soil, the higher the degree of soil health. You can observe the presence of surface-dwelling animals such as earthworms, termites, beetle larvae, fly larvae, millipedes, springtails, mites, and worms.

With a microscope, you can also analyze the presence of the microscopic bacteria, fungi, nematodes, and protozoa for their diversity, population and general health. Their health is a strong indicator of soil health. Also telling is the physical quality of the online casino soil: its tilth, structure, and porousness.

By knowing the history of inputs and cultural practices on a given site, much can
be understood about the soil’s health without ever seeing or analyzing the soil.

How does soil science produce better-tasting wine?

When we add compost to soil, we feed the microbes that aid in the vines’ uptake of minerals. These minerals are used by the vine to produce phenols in the grapes. So the minerals in the compost influence the phenols, which in turn has an effect on the wine”s flavors. The higher quality fruit is the foundation on which fine wine can be best developed. We raise fruit to have the nutrition that feeds the yeast that make wine.

How do you create a viable compost pile?

It is about putting into a physical shape using finely chopped organic matter mixed with woody material, applying water, and allowing air space to create a balanced blend. What is critical is having the right particle size and the right ratio of nitrogen to carbon.

How long does it take to build a compost pile for a farm?

This of course depends on the size of the pile and the equipment, of lack thereof. Stacking the feedstock into windrows does not require much time. If all the materials are gathered at the site, it takes just a few hours to stack it in a windrow. The processing of the feedstock by the microbes in the piles does require from 60 to 360 days, depending on the feedstock, processing, and time spent in curing the compost after stabilization. Getting it to the point where it produces the material to be used on crops could be 100 days or more.

Is the main source of material for your compost food waste from San Francisco?

Yes. I use many recycled materials such as manure, fruit wastes, hay, wood chips, and paper waste on farms where we make on site compost. At Jepson Prairie Organics we use a blend of green waste and recycled food scraps as our primary feed stocks.

Is most of San Francisco”s food waste collected for compost, or could even more be gathered?

A very significant percentage of discarded food which is collected by Recology is recycled into compost by Jepson Prairie Organic and other compost operations owned by Recology.

For related article see:
City-Wide Program Composts 1 Million Tons

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