Eliot Coleman is the author of The Winter Harvest Handbook: Year-Round Vegetable Production Using Deep Organic Techniques and Unheated Greenhouses. For a year-round growing operation, he needs a year-round supply of rich organic compost. In the following excerpt, Eliot explains how he does it.
The following is an excerpt from The Winter Harvest Handbook. It has been adapted for the web.
We make our compost from mowed forage crops with added vegetable wastes and clay as described in The New Organic Grower. Since we are close to the rocky Maine coast, we add seaweed. We also add manure produced by our livestock. The compost is turned twice the summer before we begin to use it by loading the compost heap continuously into a small manure spreader that chops, aerates, and throws it out so as to form a windrow as the spreader moves slowly ahead. The end result is a thoroughly decomposed, crumbly product. We spend a lot of time making compost and we use as much as we can make. Good compost is a key ingredient for soil fertility whether in the greenhouse or the open field. Before we got back into livestock, after a fifteen-year hiatus, we would occasionally buy manure compost from a local horse farm. It was made from hay, straw, and manure, but without wood shavings, which I consider detrimental in a vegetable soil. We would limit our purchases to the amount of manure our future livestock would be producing because we wanted to establish the baseline for a truly locally based fertility program for the farm.
In order to have compost available all winter for replanting the greenhouses, we erect a temporary plastic-covered A-frame structure over one of the compost windrows each fall. We build this A-frame out of pieces of straight pipe that are leftover from greenhouse experiments, but it would be just as easy to construct a frame with poles cut from the woods. Wiggle-wire channel up and over each end and sandbags along the bottom hold the plastic on. This structure keeps rain and snow off the compost, protects against leaching, and is sufficient insulation against the cold to prevent more than surface freezing of the ingredients.
A second layer of plastic draped directly over the windrow inside the A-frame is needed from December thru February during really cold winters. In milder winter areas, if you place your windrow in a sunny site and just cover it directly with a sheet of plastic in the late fall held down around the edges with sandbags or rocks, there should always be plenty of thawed compost available.