Plum Forest Farm Walk, April 1, 2013

Hands-On Farm Walk in Producing On-Farm Compost

On a colorful spring day Tilth Producers of Washington and WSU Small Farms Team sponsored a hands-on workshop in on-farm composting at Plum Forest Farm on Vashon Island. The workshop was full to capacity (25 people).  The lovely weather enticed many people to arrive early for the informal brown bag lunch prior to the start time. Vashon Island farmers as well as those from neighboring counties met and exchanged ideas and experiences about compost management.

From a grassy knoll with a view of the farm landscape, host farmers Joanne Jewell and Rob Peterson told the history of their farm and the lay of the land. Chickens occupied the higher ground for winter. Fertility they deposit creates good forage for the cows later in the year. The farmers discussed their philosophy and marketing. Murmurs of “wow!” and “really?” arose from the group as Joanne told us that Rob does not work past 5pm or beyond 5 days a week. They spoke of strong local sales on Vashon, with 65% of their sales occurring at their farm stand. Joanne reported that winter sales are an important niche for their income.

Fertility is important in their vegetable production, and discussion centered around compost basics. The group saw their large hoop house for growing greens in winter and heat-loving crops in the summer; a small wind turbine to supply electricity to a yurt; asparagus and perennials on the slopes; and then the composting facility.

Plum ForestThe composting facility was cost-shared through a King Conservation District (KCD) grant for managing animal wastes.  Josh Monahan, with KCD, explained the details of the cost-share program and how others could participate.  Andy Bary and Doug Collins from Washington State University described both the basics and the details involved in creating a composting system that produces valuable compost and meets certification standards.

Participants joined in hands-on activities of assessing compost and measuring the five essentials to a compost pile: 1) proper C to N ratio; 2) moisture; 3) air flow and porosity; 4) surface area and particle size; and 5) pile size. Key is getting the pile “hot, but not bothered”.  Fellow farmers provided input, stories and questions.  Andy and Doug guided participants in calculating mixes for a compost pile using bulk density, moisture content, and carbon and nitrogen data.

Plum ForestRob demonstrated mixing compost with a front-end loader, and displayed his compost thermometer and temperature records. The farm walk booklets were used throughout the demonstration as participants recorded numbers into charts and equations.  Regulations and certifications were discussed, including turning requirements, temperature minimums, odor, and keeping positive neighborly relations.   Andy suggested cultivating good relationships with gifts of produce to neighbors.

An open discussion followed as many farmers asked questions and shared anecdotes.
Farm Walk Booklet: HERE