You’ve heard the mantra: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. It probably makes you think of plastics and other human-made stuff, right? But did you know that Mother Nature is the ultimate reducer, re-user and recycler of all? Our compost windrows are vast, field-sized recycling bins, and they’re also a cornucopia of nutrition for our trees.
Here are all the things we love about compost and how we use it at Frog Hollow Farm:
We reduce food waste. A 280-acre farm with tens of thousands of trees generates a lot of fruit. We sell our fruit to our mail order, CSA, Farmers Market and retail customers. Fruit that is too ripe or cosmetically challenged for fresh eating is dried, used in our pastry, or made into conserves. Fruit that is too damaged to be used in the kitchen isn’t wasted! Instead, we put it to work in our vast compost windrows. We generate at least 3,000 tons of compost each year. Yes, you read that right – tons. Some of that tonnage comes from unusable fruit and spent coffee grounds from Blue Bottle coffee. (We pick up five tons of coffee grounds a week from their manufacturing facility in Berkeley.) Our fruit drying and farm kitchen staff also set aside peels, cores, pits and pulp for the compost rows. Nothing goes to waste.
We reuse natural materials and give them new life. Imagine if we didn’t find a place for tons of fruit waste and coffee grounds (and tree prunings, horse bedding, wood chips, and shredded cardboard). All this valuable waste would languish in a landfill where it would produce methane, a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming. We shudder at the thought. Compost gives us a unique superpower: we reuse what we cannot use.
We recycle organic waste into nutrients that feed our soil. Compost creates an ecosystem of billions of microscopic organisms that nourish our trees. A good compost pile is 70 percent carbon and 30 percent nitrogen. This ratio promotes more rapid decomposition of organic matter – the sooner our compost breaks down, the sooner we can use it. Carbon comes from the branches we prune, fruit waste, cuttings, and more. Nitrogen comes from the Blue Bottle coffee grounds.
Timing is everything. We wait until fall to spread compost in the orchards for two reasons.
First, we’re applying 10 tons of compost per acre across 280 acres, using a trailer and tractor with a spreader attachment. The attachment spreads the compost onto the orchard berms. Compost is dusty, so we wait until our summer harvest is over so we don’t get compost on the fruit.
Second, putting the compost on the ground in the fall is a great way to prepare for the rainy season. Rain pulls compost nutrients into the soil profile, feeding our trees through the seasons and building our soil’s resilience.
We have another “R” for the list: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Resilient! From reducing food waste to enhancing our soil’s ability to hold water and make nutrients available to our trees, composting helps us achieve great things for our farm and our planet.