Organic Matter Matters: Composting at the Gill Tract Farm
Compost is an important ingredient in garden bed preparation and should be added to garden beds to sustain soil health over time. Compost returns nutrients to the soil and increases soil fertility, which is essential for healthy plant growth and frequent bed cultivation. Compost offers a natural alternative to harsher, synthetic fertilizers. By repurposing organic materials found around the farm or garden, compost is a cost-effective alternative to synthetic fertilizer.
The Gill Tract Farm sources its compost from the City of Berkeley, The Ecology Center and in-farm. To prepare the soil used on the Gill Tract volunteers mix each of these compost piles in a ratio of 2 shovels of city compost, 6 shovels of ecology center compost, and 2 shovels of in-farm compost. This mixture is to ensure the right balance of nutrients is achieved across each of the compost contents and also to ensure that the soil has the correct balance of nutrients between them.
On a weekly visit to the farm, Flash, a Berkeley resident and UC Berkeley alum, shared that the farm’s in-house composting system is driven entirely by himself just one other member. The two of them work together to turn organic material into fertile soil to replenish the garden. Flash shared that the entire process to convert raw plant trimmings into compost takes roughly 6 weeks in the spring months. In preparing the compost piles, Flash shared the importance of including “greens” and browns” in this soil. The Essential Urban Farmer explains that “browns” include carbon rich materials such as straw and “greens” include nitrogen rich materials such as food scraps1. Additionally, both Flash and The Essential Urban Farmer indicate the importance of a two-thirds “browns” and one-third “greens” ratio in maintaining the proper balance of nutrients to compost most effectively. Additionally, the compost at the Gill Tract is very much alive. Running your fingers through the soil, you might find anywhere between 3 to 5 worms, several beetles, and hundreds of thousands of microorganisms. All of these organisms, big and small, work to decompose the organic matter and turn it into nutrients that are more easily available to plants. In the case of the Gill Tract, this soil fertility results in wildly successful harvests of fruits and vegetables for the East Bay community on a regular basis.
Compost is essential to a healthy, agricultural ecosystem. Through the use of compost, farmers at the Gill Tract, and elsewhere, are able to save money by avoiding traditional fertilizers, while simultaneously restoring the quality of their garden beds and producing prolific harvests. That sounds like a winning business model to me.