MARTIN CHEMNITZ PRESS
A MIGHTY FORTRESS LUTHERAN CHURCH
Pastor Gregory L. Jackson, Ph.D.
6421 W. Poinsettia Drive
This may seem early in the year for most people to think about composting, but I have started in earnest, thanks to a wonderful contraption that arrived last week, a compost tumbler. The tumbler is a barrel resting on a frame, vented, with drains, turned by a handle. All the boys wanted to turn the barrel on Sunday. Compost Tumbler can be ordered from 1-800-880-2345, at 160 Koser Road, Lititz, PA, 17543. You can order a free video from that number. “Some assembly required” – dreaded words for me. I asked someone to assemble it for me. I gave up some cash rather than sanity, a bargain.
Today I drove to Rattlesnake Junction to collect two barrels of manure to add substance to my project. Manure tea and compost tea are brewing right now, although they will never be confused with sun tea. Compost tea drains from the barrel. It can be cut 10 to 1 with water and used as instant fertilizer for plants. Manure tea is made by filling the manure bucket with water and letting it ferment for several days. The idea is to get nitrogen and other compounds to the roots quickly. When an aged bucket of goat manure is turned over, even veterans like me cough and say, “Whoa!”
At this moment the readership is divided. Those of British descent are saying, “He is a fine, sensible fellow. Why can’t Lutheranism produce more like him?” On the other hand, many more are saying, “Compost? Manure tea? He has been in the sun too long!”
If you believe in the efficacy of God’s Word, you also believe in the Six Day Creation. God said (through Christ, the Word), “Let there be light.” And there was light. When God speaks, the results are instantaneous. The spirit of rationalism has spread a veil over the thinking of most people in the Western world, darkening their understanding of Creation while promoting (of all things) a religious devotion to the plant and animal world. Many people believe their sins are forgiven when God speaks the Gospel to them. Nevertheless, they balk at something simpler: Creation by the Word.
Those who believe in God’s Creation have a never-ending panorama before their eyes. In every aspect of the natural world the believer sees the wisdom of the Creator. I can list many things that make me marvel each day at the design of Creation:
1. The variety and beauty of birds, their beauty in flight, joyous singing, amusing antics, and ability to train humans to feed them lavishly.
2. The incredible number of species of insects. The organizational abilities of bees and ants are often described, but what of the inter-dependence of all insects, plants, and birds? This by itself is too much for any person to imagine.
3. The simplicity of the basic five-petaled rose and the ability of its DNA to produce an infinite variety of irresistible hybrid roses designed to force me into bankruptcy.
4. Water, bacteria, and mold as the foundation for all life, since the soil creatures need these basic building blocks and become the next stage of the feeding cycle, until it returns to the soil again.
5. God’s plan in taking apart dead plants and animals, reusing all elements while improving the soil and removing disease organisms.
The English enjoy and appreciate gardening. They write some of the best gardening books, filled with a love for the soil. It was an Englishman working in India who discovered and promoted the compost pile to improve the soil. It wasn’t quite as remarkable as Mosaic, the foundation for Netscape and hence the Internet. People always piled up manure and used it on their fields. However, Sir Albert Howard studied how manure, soil, and organic matter could be piled together to produce compost. He was concerned that the tropical soil was drained of its nutrition too fast. Manure was used up too quickly and in short supply. Compost was a way of converting all organic waste into ultra-rich soil, or compost. Howard’s book inspired Rodale and hence organic gardening in America.
Now I must engage in an unpleasant digression. The Chinese also compost human waste which is called night soil. They save all organic matter and return it to the soil. Otherwise the soil could not support the huge population of the country. The Chinese took over the mushroom market in America until someone pointed out that the Chinese did not use the tradition horse manure for a growing medium but night soil instead. All animal manure is safe to use in composting, except dog and cat manure. But human waste is not considered safe unless treated exactly right. Most of us do not want to enjoy the fruits of Chinese agricultural methods, even if they have kept the country fed.
What characteristics mark the ideal compost pile? (I was asked to examine one compost pile at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary. The pile was a joke, lacking many of the attributes needed, as noted below. Once fixed, the compost started cooking as it should.)
1. Compost piles need some soil, whether as a base or in the mix. Soil contains all kinds of wonderful creatures that do their work at exactly the right moment. A compost pile directly on soil will call up the needed troops right on time, ending with the noble earthworm, champion of composting and mark of the finished pile.
2. Moisture is absolutely necessary. All the tiny creatures need water to conduct the rotting process. It always should be as damp as a squeezed out wash cloth. Obviously, a compost pile should be on the north side of the house or under shade trees to help it stay moist.
3. Nitrogen will heat up the pile by feeding the heat-loving bacteria. Nitrogen is found in manure, green leafy plants, and grass clippings.
4. Mass: a pile must be large enough to have the heating start.
5. Air: a pile should receive air to create heat and speed up the process. My handy compost tumbler is good at that. If a large pile is hard to turn, it can be left alone or given sunflower or corn stalks to create air tunnels. Lack of air will slow down but not stop the compost process. Turning a compost pile by hand is very difficult.
6. Compost ingredients can be: manure, soil, plants, fruit peels, leaves, grass, weeds - but not meat, bones, or fat. Soil and manure introduce various forms of microbial life. Sawdust and twigs are also very good. Wood absorbs nitrogen in the rotting process and releases it again, yielding very rich soil in time. Sawdust mulch will “rob” soil at first but feed it later. Sawdust from horse stalls is ideal because it is already nitrogen soaked.
What Happens When the Compost Pile is Compiled?
The compost pile will turn first moldy and then it will heat up to 140 degrees, killing most weed seeds (but not tomato seeds, believe me). Various creatures will break down the pile, eat mold, and be eaten. It is extraordinarily complicated. The heating is accompanied by the pile shrinking in size. The last stage of composting is marked by earthworms invading the pile. Then it is finished. The earthworms only enter when the pile is cooled. By invading and reproducing in the pile, the earthworms spread their tunneling and fertilizing techniques wherever the compost is used. Earthworm egg capsules throughout the compost bear witness to nights of debauchery in the rich medium.
Are these not obvious characteristics of design and purpose? Plan a church picnic and an outdoor service. See what happens. Some people go to the wrong park. Some look for the wrong site. Some go to the church and wonder what happened. Ten families bring key lime pie and no one brings meat. There are tons of paper plates but no forks or spoons. When the service is supposed to start, several people say, “But I thought YOU were bringing the hymnals.” If God’s Creation ran the way an ordinary congregation does, we would starve in a week.
God’s little compost heap gets all of the creatures, bacteria, and mold in their proper positions at exactly the right time, to accomplish their jobs, not grudgingly (as we do) but tirelessly, selflessly, at the cost of their very lives. At the end of the composting we have a wonderful smelling earthy mixture, very high in organic matter, a rich combination of minerals, NPK, and that mysterious substance we call humus. Corn, parsley, and asparagus planted in pure compost will produce the most amazing crops. They will be almost free of insect damage and plant disease. Pure compost and ultra rich soil are jelly-like. The prairie soil of the Midwest was once so rich that it wiggled when people jumped down from wagons. Rich soil will be filled with many different soil creatures and up to 1 million earthworms per acre.
The compost tumbler solves my problem of keeping moisture in the pile. It also makes aeration of the pile a snap. The frame has gears and the barrel has gears, so a crank tumbles the mixture within. (Yes, I am that crank.) One rotation a day is more air than most of my compost piles have had in six months.
The tumbler lacks direct contact with soil. I would call that the only drawback, but it will make compost in about two weeks. Retaining moisture and easy mixing are two great benefits of the tumbler.
No gardener has enough compost, once he starts making it. Compost can be added on top of the soil as mulch, to be pulled down by earthworms. Perfect compost will be almost weed free. Compost can also be mixed with the soil, if you think earthworms cannot handle the job. A compost pit can be turned into a garden with a new pit started somewhere else.
Compost is also created when organic mulch is placed on top of the soil. The mulch, whether grass, leaves, or tree bark, will rot into the soil and feed it. That’s why the companies selling mulch keep in business.
Shade and moisture favor insects and their arthropod cousins. Birds notice the movement and gather where food can be found in abundance. When I made one of my first compost pits, dug into the ground, some birds never left their perches nearby, except to pounce on food. And yet the food never ran out. Believers know this is by God’s design and fulfills His purpose.
I find this amazing. People pay money to haul all the organic material out of their yards and then buy granules to replace what God has created for free out of water, soil, and sunlight. All the granules in the world will not improve the texture and organic content of the soil. I see piles of weeds and say, “Yahoo! Moist and nitrogen rich material for the barrel. Soil clinging to the roots. I need more weeds!”
Compost, like the German chorale, is often derided for being inadequate by those who know not that they know not. I once ran into a gardening book that made fun of the paltry amount of soil moved by an earthworm in making compost, a substance relatively low in NPK. The earthworm is insignificant by itself, but not in the numbers appointed by God, not when they work constantly. (Gardeners work on weekends, but only when the weather is favorable.)
Compost is insignificant when measured in terms of NPK content, but compost is not an inorganic chemical, so the comparison is faulty. How can we compare a few Lutherans singing “A Lamb Goes Uncomplaining Forth” to a giant auditorium, an ecclesiastical pit band, rock music, and wireless mikes?
KJV Hebrews 12:22 But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, 23 To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, 24 And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel…28 Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear:
I would rather sing with an innumerable company of angels than with the gibbering demons of Enthusiasm.
The gardener who is a believer knows that Creation itself sings to the Creator.
KJV Psalm 65:13 The pastures are clothed with flocks; the valleys also are covered over with corn; they shout for joy, they also sing.
This is also revealed in the Means of Grace chapter, Isaiah 55.
KJV Isaiah 55:12 For ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace: the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.