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A Seventh-day Adventist Experience

How to Grow Good Dirt

A “dirt farmer” is someone so poor, they farm without the aid of workers or big equipment. But maybe we should allow a more positive definition to include those who grow good dirt.

Only recently have scientists noticed that good dirt makes great food. Turns out, soil is the digestive system of the Earth! Just as our little gut bacteria fuel us and keep us healthy, soil is what keeps the ecosystem going ‘round. To have good, productive dirt, you need billions, no, gajillions of microbes, bacteria plus thousands of worms and itsy bitsy spiders that turn dead things, like leaves and grass, into living plants. That’s the kind of rich black, crumbly compost you pay big bucks for at the box stores. But you can make it yourself for free. And making dirt is an easy way to get your whole church involved in your vegetable garden.

Screw together 4 wood pallets to make a square bin. You can add on and make as many connected bins as you like. Pallets are ideal because they’re already aerated by their slat design (and they’re usually free). But you'll want to make sure they're branded with an "H" to indicate that they're heat-treated, not pressure treated with poisonous chemicals. A pallet will give you about a four-foot cube of compost. The bin size matters, as it creates heat through natural chemistry. Create a hinged or removable door to the front of the bins so that you can easily scoop out the finished dirt.

Once you have your bin(s) made, you’re ready to fill it loosely with layers of mulched fall leaves, grass clippings and plant debris, twigs or old mulch, old potting soil, and kitchen scraps (not meat, grease or oils). The ratio needs to be 1 part green to 2 parts brown material. Dampen each layer with the hose so they’re slightly wet, but not soaking. Cover with a final layer of grass clippings to hold the moisture in, and cover the bins with a piece of plywood, tarp, etc., to prevent rain from getting the contents too wet and turning it into stinky slime, not fresh dirt. Your bin--if the air, water, plant matter is balanced--should never stink.

Now add the secret ingredient: red worms and red wigglers. These create the best compost. Just grab a few handfuls and add them to the top of your pile. They’ll burrow in and set up house. If you do this in the fall, the natural heat of decomposing leaves and grass will keep them warm (this is why size matters – smaller piles can freeze your worms and bacteria). They’ll work away until spring. You should get about 25 wheelbarrows of compost just when you need it, and you can start a second batch that will be ready at the end of the season. You’ll use that batch to tuck your garden in for the winter. The best part is, you don’t have to touch the compost bins while the worms work – no turning, no fussing.

When you’re ready to spread the compost onto your garden, don’t forget to sieve out the worms and use them in the new bin. Of course, it’s ok if some get into the garden!

Here's an excellent video tutorial on all things compost.

Related Information

Five Loaves Garden Blog