In September the heap is finished enough to use. It is about thirty inches high and has been reduced to less than one-eighth of its starting volume eighteen months ago. What compost I don’t spread during fall is protected with plastic from being leached by winter rainfall and will be used next spring. Elapsed time: 18-24 months from start to finish. Total effort: three turnings. Quality: very useful.
Obviously my method is acceptable to me because the pile is not easily visible to the residents or neighbors. It also suits a lazy person. It is a very slow system, okay for someone who is not in a hurry to use their compost. But few of my readers live on really rural properties; hopefully, most of them are not as lazy as I am.
At this point I could recommend alternative, improved methods for making compost much like cookbook recipes from which the reader could pick and choose. There could be a small backyard recipe, the fast recipe, the apartment recipe, the wintertime recipe, the making compost when you can’t make a pile recipes. Instead, I prefer to compliment your intelligence and first explore the principles behind composting. I believe that an understanding of basics will enable you to function as a self-determined individual and adapt existing methods, solve problems if they arise, or create something personal and uniquely correct for your situation.
Managing living systems usually goes better when our methods imitate nature’s. Here’s an example of what happens when we don’t. People who keep tropical fish in home aquariums are informed that to avoid numerous fish diseases they must maintain sterile conditions. Whenever the fish become ill or begin dying, the hobbyist is advised to put antibiotics or mild antiseptics into the tank, killing off most forms of microlife. But nature is not sterile. Nature is healthy.
Like many an apartment dweller, in my twenties I raised tropical fish and grew house plants just to have some life around. The plants did fine; I guess I’ve always had a green thumb. But growing tired of dying fish and bacterial blooms clouding the water, I reasoned that none of the fish I had seen in nature were diseased and their water was usually quite clear. Perhaps the problem was that my aquarium had an overly simplified ecology and my fish were being fed processed, dead food when in nature the ecology was highly complex and the fish were eating living things.
So I bravely attempted the most radical thing I could think of; I went to the country, found a small pond and from it brought home a quart of bottom muck and pond water that I dumped into my own aquarium. Instead of introducing countless diseases and wiping out my fish, I actually had introduced countless living things that began multiplying rapidly. The water soon became crystal clear.
Soon the fish were refusing to eat the scientifically formulated food flakes I was supplying. The profuse variety of little critters now living in the tank’s gravel ate it instead. The fish ate the critters and became perfectly healthy.
When the snails I had introduced with the pond mud became so numerous that they covered the glass and began to obscure my view, I’d crush a bunch of them against the wall of the aquarium and the fish would gorge on fresh snail meat. The angelfish and guppies especially began to look forward to my snail massacres and would cluster around my hand when I put it into the tank. On a diet of living things in a natural ecology even very difficult species began breeding.