[permaculture] Heap Composting versus Field Composting

Dieter Brand diebrand at yahoo.com
Mon Jun 25 18:56:27 EDT 2007

The conversion to no-till farming or gardening implies
  a switch from heap composting to field composting.
  Plant residues are left on the soil surface to decompose
  as an organic mulching layer instead of being carried
  to the compost heap.
  For the last 3 years I have been trying to figure out
  the respective advantages and disadvantages of the
  two methods.
  The advantages of field composting are as follows:
  1. Less labour
  Plant residues can be left where they are cut and don’t
  need to be carried back and forth. The compost heap
  does not need to be turned.
  2. Fever losses of nutrients into the soil
  Well cured compost has lost nutrients into the soil
  through leaching. With field composting, leaching
  into the soil is the desired result.
  3. Fever losses into the air
  The compost heap emits nutrients into the air, especially
  during the high temperature phase.
  4. More biological activity
  In nature, plant residues deposited on the soil surface
  are decomposed under aerobic conditions by numerous
  creatures, including earthworms, aerobic microbes,
  etc. If this biological phase takes place in the compost
  heap instead of in the soil, it stands to reason that there
  is less biological activity in the soil.
  5. Better soil protection
  If plant residues are moved to the compost heap, the
  soil remains bare and exposed to erosion by wind,
  sun and rain.
  Some of the above may to open to debate. In particular,
  point 3. above probably depends very much on the climatic
  conditions. Under wet conditions a mulching layer will
  disintegrate quickly into the soil, while during dry conditions
  it is far more difficult to know how much of the plant residues 
  return to the soil and how much will volatize into the air.
  Does anybody have information to clarify this last point?
  Or know where I might find an answer? There is a book
  entitled “The Climate near the Ground” by Rudolph Geiger.
  Does anybody know this book? Or know whether it addresses
  the kind of thing I’m looking for?
  Dieter Brand

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