On the relatively small plot dedicated to vegetable production at Nick’s Cove, we try to pack as many plants into the space as possible, and work to turn the garden beds over quickly, in order to maximize our output. This approach is very demanding of the soil. Without giving the beds time to rest or regenerate with cover crops and less intensive growing cycles, the soil’s nutrient levels can become quickly depleted.
Enter, compost. By adding nutrient rich organic matter that is teeming with microorganisms, we give the soil a necessary boost to support healthy plant growth. At Nick’s Cove, we use a ‘low and slow’ method to make our compost. Rather than frequently stirring the compost and getting it hot in order to quickly break down its contents, we layer the ingredients in cages and let nature go to work. Earthworms, scores of insects, fungi, and bacteria all work in concert to decompose the contents of the pile. The pile is left to break down for three to six months undisturbed, and then turned once and left to rest for another month. The first photo shows the layers in our compost pile when it is first built, the second photo shows the compost pile with the cage removed after four months.
One of the benefits of working directly with a restaurant is that we have access to a lot of organic matter for our compost in the form of food scraps. Trimmed produce and leftover food that could otherwise be sent to a landfill are a valuable resource. With a little work and patience, we can turn this ‘waste’ into an incredibly rich compost that far surpasses anything that is commercially available.
As we add this compost to our garden, we’re not just adding nutrients. We permanently enhance the soil conditions by improving its structure, provide a healthy environment for microbial life, and help the plants manage nutrient uptake. Properly amended soil also retains moisture better, and encourages healthy root systems.
It has been truly exciting and rewarding to see the soil in the garden beds transform over the last year. By continuing to add compost, the soil will improve in the coming years, bringing a more bountiful crop and a healthier garden.