Ron Cook is one of our Homesteading Edu “subject matter experts.” He is knowledgeable about many things, including plant breeding, small animal husbandry, farming with draft animals and compost. Ron makes things grow so well with his compost, that some folk think he’s pulling their leg when he tells them about it. But I (George) have seen it. It’s true.
Ron developed Heavy Hitter Okra, a branching, high yielding variety.
He sells the seed and corresponds with growers all over the world. Recently he corresponded with a farmer in Africa, who was lamenting that he needed a ton of compost and had no vehicle with which to haul it. The article below came from Ron’s reply.
I know a ton of compost can be handmade, using only simple hand tools and no truck because I’ve done it before, right here on my own farm. My youngest son and I spent two entire days once, pulling heavy clumps of fescue and weeds, leaving the dirt stuck to the roots. It was a patch of tall fescue and weeds about 12 feet wide by 120′ feet long. We started uprooting them just after a rainstorm, so the ground had some give to it. We left the weeds in small piles about 2′ feet high as we crawled along on our hands and knees.
It took all of two days, from sunrise to sunset, but we got it done with no tools except a mattock with a broken handle that was still about 16″ inches long, so we could swing it as we crawled along on our knees. (Tools that fit the job are essential) I also have a shovel with the handle cut off about 18″ inches long so I can trench with it on my knees in the bottom of a deep ditch.
I learned this mattock technique in a prison while working as a supervisor on one of our State’s prison farms. Inmates there showed me that you can accomplish almost anything through hard work, diligence and daily persistence.
One can accomplish almost anything through hard work, diligence and daily persistence.
We had them dig a whole cow pond with nothing but a 2×12, a mattock, a shovel, and a wheelbarrow. They would dig the wet clay from the ground, place it in a wheelbarrow, then ferry the mud out of the bottom of the hole by pushing it up the 2×12 planks I had laid out for them. We had a crew of about 20 men, doing this every day. Some were rakers, to grade the dirt along the spillway and pond dam, some were diggers, to make the hole deeper every day. I’d trade them out every day at noon, to give their backs some relief from doing the same job too long. We’d get to the job site every morning by driving a couple teams of mules pulling two wagons. They’d haul hay like that all summer long too. Inmates are not allowed to drive trucks.
I also had a crew of women digging post holes 5 feet deep to set electric poles for perimeter lighting. Each inmate had a one-gallon green bean can with a wire bail and a string tied to it. There were two inmates per hole. One would sit in the bottom of the hole, cross-legged and fill the one-gallon can using a garden trowel. The other would bring the can up and empty it. They traded off every two hours. The holes were nearly 3′ feet in diameter, so one person could sit in the bottom and dig.
I had a 22 woman crew clearing a half-acre garden site from what used to be a beautiful fescue lawn inside the prison yard. All they had was a wheelbarrow, a mattock, and their shovels.
The first weed you pull will loosen up the dirt and roots to the weed next to it…
We learned that the first weed you pull will loosen up the dirt and roots to the weed next to it. Then, you pull up the next weed by the roots, starting on the broken side, pulling toward you, going weed to weed, crawling backward as you go along. Just keep moving on like a cow eating grass. Never look up. Take water, a few crackers and a good straw hat. Toss weeds in piles a couple feet tall as you go, so you can come back later and gather them up.
Making Compost with Weeds
The day after we pulled all the weeds from our 12′ by 120′ garden site at home, we spread a large tarp on the ground and started hauling those same weeds with the dirt still clinging to the roots and placed them on the tarp until they were a foot deep halfway across the tarp. Then, we busted a straw bale and spread the straw a foot deep. That gave us greens from the weeds, topsoil from the root clumps, and carbon matter from the straw. I sprinkled a thin layer of seasoned chicken litter over it, then sprinkled it with a little agricultural Lime, and finally, added a little water.
When turning a LOT of compost, creativity can make the job easier.
At that point, we were ready to start our next layer right on top of that one. That part only took us about 3 or 4 hours to completely pick up all the goodies we had pulled in the two days prior.
Once it was composted, we ferried it one wheelbarrow load at a time and side dressed our okra and tomato plants with it. It was some sweet stuff. Our plants grew so dark green they almost looked blue. I know it can be done by hand because we’ve done it here ourselves.
We have a tractor now and can do the same job in only a few hours, but before that, we did everything by hand. We broke the garden with a team of mules and even raised our beds by hand using 16″ inch concrete hoes up until 2014. That was the year Bill felt sorry for us and loaned us his John Deere tractor. I bought my own tractor last year because I’m getting too old and short-winded to do that kind of work anymore, but I know from experience that incredible things can be done by hand if you break the whole project down into smaller tasks to be done as daily chores rather than tackling it all at once.