“… in indigenous ways of knowing, we understand a thing only when we understand it with all four aspects of our being: mind, body, emotion, and spirit.” (Kimmerer, 2013, p. 47).
Simply put, compost happens, so I can now finish this short exploration into compost, decomposition and transmutation (“Black Gold”) – truly alchemy if ever there was. Because we, the readers have been cultured, schooled and involved in “Working With Nature”, my assumption is that the activity and process of composting is familiar to all of you.
Its been my good fortune to be involved in composting for a long time -both here in B.C. and in the Yukon, where I experienced the best and worst of compost (that is another article on compost bins going rogue and the story of flies!). My initial experience with compost revealed an increase to the nutrients that supported growth of plants. As I explored the world of micro-organisms (bacteria, fungi, protozoa, nematodes and micro-arthropods) and macro-organisms (earthworms, arthropods), I began to understand how organisms drive the decomposition process. Furthermore, in mature compost the microorganisms continue to digest organic material, providing an ongoing supply of nutrients to plants through the “Soil Food Web” distribution system. Composts built with a diversity of materials, with attention to the Carbon/Nitrogen ratios, determination of whether to use a hot or cold composting process, aeration and increased moisture produces well broken down compost. When one composts, it is good to replicate a natural process.
The composting process is improved through the utilization of technology (e.g. bin structures) mechanization (e.g. aeration and irrigation) or a combination of both. Exploration of ways to enhance the compost include: addition of Effective or Indigenous Micro-organisms, use of a fermentation process called Bokhasi composting, addition of Biochar to increase the speed of decomposition, reduction of GHG emissions and to “charge” the Biochar, and use of composting methods from other geographies (e.g. utilizing Hugelkultur composting). However, current literature supports what has been known; aerobic composting uses a hot process whereas a cold process is slower. Good compost making will produce good compost.
The wisdom introduced by botanist and Potawatomi Indigenous knowledge keeper Robin Kimmerer says, we understand something when we know it through our mind, body, emotion and spirit. This reflects something I/we have always known, but now science backs up this knowledge. The microscopic world (microbiology), to my mind, may be where the developments in composting are heading. Two recent pieces of research point in this direction. I know good compost by smelling it, although tests will reveal what precisely is in it.
A pleasant earthy smell means good compost. This smell is called geosmin; it is the Actinobacter (a filamentous fungi like bacteria previously called Actinomycetes), and its presence denotes good compost. (Paul, 2017). Furthermore, I feel good when I am working with good finished compost, although I feel great anytime I am in the garden! Although the smell is pleasant, there is also something else promoting my good feelings. Research has found that the soil bacteria Mycobacterium vaccae is at play here. This bacteria when inhaled or enters the body elsewhere, it appears to activate neurons in the brain that release serotonin which positively affects one’s mood. (Schlanger, Z., 2007). Dirt has been labelled as the new prosac, now referred to as an antidepressant.
Compost is good for the soil, good for plants and now we find it is good for us! As has been said, we start with the soil and everything will follow!
“Nothing ever grows from the heavens downwards; everything grows from the earth upwards to the heavens. We are all part of nature …” (Stiene, 2015, p. 23).
Kimmerer, R. W. (2013). Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants. Milkweed Editions: Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Paul, John (posted October 13, 2017). Helping us Pass the Sniff Test for Composting – the Amazing Actinobacter. Retrieved from the internet on May 9, 2018. http://www.transformcompostsystems.com/blog/2017/10/13/helping-us-pass-the-sniff-test-for-composting-the-amazing-actinobacter/
Schlanger, Z. (May 30, 2017). Dirt has a microbiome, and it may double as an antidepressant. Online Magazine Quartz. Retrieved May 10, 2018. https://qz.com/993258/dirt-has-a-microbiome-and-it-may-double-as-an-antidepressant/
Stiene, F. (2015). The Inner Heart of Reiki: Rediscovering Your True Self. John Hurt Publishing Ltd.: Alresford, Hants, UK.
David Greig - MEd, HTR, CP, Cert. Soil Steward, Master Composter
David wrote this article from his home on the unceded and occupied Coast Salish territories, specifically, the ancestral lands of the Lekwungen speaking peoples, the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations, the lands of the W̱SÁNEĆ First Nation and the T'Souke First Nation.
Compost is a great addition to any garden or growing space - except when it's not. Too much, poor quality or unfinished compost can have detrimental effects. Professional Member Laurie Balch shared her experience in her article Death by Compost.
If you have an organic gardening lesson learned story to share let us know! Email us at adminATorganiclandcare.ca
A draft copy of the Organic Land Care for Your Community guide, developed for members of the public to use as a road map for working with their municipal government to adopt organic land care policies on public lands, is now available.
Download the Organic Land Care for Your Community guide
Please take a look through it, let us know if you have any feedback to offer and share it with anyone in your network of contacts that you think would find it to be interesting or useful.
Our next step is working on compiling supporting information and resources.
If you have a go-to place for good technical information, articles or case studies relating to organic land care in public spaces, please let us know by email, or by commenting on this post.
With spring right around the corner a lot of us are itching to get started on
growing something (anything!). Seeding is probably the number one garden
activity across most of the country in February so it seems like a good time
to take a look at what organic seed sources we have available to us here in
There are quite a few companies supplying organic heritage, open
pollinated and native plant seeds and, happily, some fairly comprehensive
lists of those suppliers have already been compiled:
Canadian Organic Growers supplier list
Seeds of Diversity seed list - includes a search tool for finding the variety you
are looking for from a long list of suppliers
Canadian Wildlife Federation Native Plant supplier list
With your seed orders placed, the next step is finding supplies for getting
them started. Organic garden supplies are a bit less widely available than
organic seeds since they are often bulky and difficult to ship but a couple of
online stores include:
The Organic Gardener’s Pantry - for organic fertilizers and soil inoculants
Gaia Green - Organic fertilizers and mineral supplements
For seeding it is always best if you can find a good local source of organic,
compost based potting soil but that can be difficult, or even impossible, in some
areas in mid winter. While not everyone’s favourite company due to their use of
peat, ProMix has an organic certified line of potting soil, made from coconut coir
and inoculated with mycorrhizal fungi, which is available from most large
garden centres across Canada and can help fill the need for organic potting
soil until a local source becomes available to you.
We’d love to hear from the SOUL community about where you source organic
products for your projects. If you have recommendations for where to find the
supplies you need to create and maintain organic gardens and landscapes
please share them with us on Facebook, Twitter or send us an email. If we can
collect enough recommendations we can put together an organic suppliers
list for the SOUL website to make it easier for all of us to find what we need
to help make the places we live a little, or a lot, greener.
SOUL has completed the first steps in becoming a federally registered not-for
Originally registered as a Society in British Columbia in 2003, SOUL is
working on becoming more active across all of Canada and this new
registration is an important step in that process.
What does this mean for SOUL and our members?
Over the next few months memberships, contracts and finances will be
transitioned to the new corporation, with plans to complete the transition
this fall out our 2018 AGM.
If you have any questions or concerns about any of this, please don’t hesitate
to contact our Executive Director at firstname.lastname@example.org
Worms are amazing creatures. The “Red Wiggler” composting worm
can take care of your left overs that have stayed too long as left overs.
Although worms, or microorganisms first, eat organic material,
avoid meat/fish, dairy, oils and too much citrus. These can be broken down
over time but can attract unwanted pests.
Worms need a place to live (bins) and bedding to live in. Preferably,
the bins should have a lid and be a minimum of 30 cms. (12 ins.) deep with
side air holes and bottom drainage holes. This drainage liquid can stain, so
a catch basin under your bin is helpful. Common bedding materials can be
coconut fibre (COIR), peat moss, cardboard, newspaper or paper and must
be moist like a dampened cloth.
Worms are eating machines and can ingest ½ their body weight a day if
food is small enough. After they have digested this food, they poop it out,
and, voila, you have the “black gold” called vermicompost. Vermicompost is a
combination of castings, microorganisms, decomposing “leftovers” and
bedding. It is a nutritionally rich organic fertilizer and a great additive to
any growing medium. As well, you can make exceptional teas and brews
There is more to say, but you are ready to start vermicomposting so
- David Greig, MEd, HTR, Cert. Organic Land Care Professional, Cert. Soil
Steward, Master Composter
Has had worms for over 25 years but don’t tell his partner.
SOUL would like to welcome Sundaura Alford as our new Executive Director. Sundaura is an Accredited Practitioner and owner/designer of A Cultivated Art Inc. in Ottawa. Sundaura strives to bring sustainability, along with functionality and beauty, to all her landscapes. Sundaura is active within the Ottawa gardening community as well as with Landscape Ontario and willing to bring this experience to SOUL.
A note from Sundaura:
“While I hadn't been looking for work beyond what I do through my Landscape Design business, when I saw in the fall newsletter that SOUL was seeking a part time Executive Director I decided that it was time to put together an updated résumé.
I applaud the vision and mission of SOUL and I feel that my extensive experience in the horticultural industry, along with my recently completed six years as an active board member in the Ottawa Chapter of Landscape Ontario Horticultural Trade Association, gives me a combination of skills, experience and contacts that will be helpful in moving SOUL through the next stage of development.
The wider adoption of a more sustainable standard for landscaping and gardening within educational programs, governmental policy and the green industry over the next few years is something that I believe to be very important. Working with SOUL will allow me to assist in bringing about this change to a greater extent than purely through my work designing sustainable landscapes.
I'm very pleased that the board has decided to offer me the position and I am looking forward to working with the volunteers and members of SOUL over the coming months and years.”
Welcome to SOUL Sundaura, we look forward to working with you too!
SOUL is applying to have a job title added to the National Occupational Certification (NOC). The NOC, a systemic taxonomy of all occupations in the Canadian Labour Market, is used by the federal Government and employers to reflect ongoing occupational research. You can learn more about the NOC here.
In order to complete the application, we need to compile some information from organic gardeners, landscapers and/or horticulturalists. Please tell us a little bit about your professional education and experience by completing this short survey before midnight (local time) November 19, 2017.
You can view the Presentation from our AGM here. If you have any questions about SOUL's NOC application please email email@example.com
Mulching is spreading organic, or inorganic, material over exposed soil to
protect soil and plants from the elements. In the warmer months mulch keeps
the soil cool so less water is lost to evaporation, in the cooler months it
insulates the ground. Additionally, mulch may also suppress weeds and
prevent soil compaction and erosion. If it’s done properly, it can add a
finished look to the garden. There are many benefits to mulching, but it
needs to be done right.
Both organic and inorganic mulch are available for your garden. Inorganic
mulch is not allowed under the SOUL organic standard. Organic mulch,
however, will break down, adding organic matter to the soil.
not more than a few inches thick.
Types of Mulch
Inorganic Mulch (not recommended under the SOUL Standards)
I recently moved to a Plant Hardiness Zone 6 and unlike my previous Zone 5, Japanese Beetles are
everywhere. My neighbour regularly plucks them off her rosebushes and, wanting to avoid
pesticides, asked me what else she can do. This little green and coppery-red beetle is all over
warmer parts of Canada and the US. CFIA has protocols in place in Vancouver for handling
Japanese Beetle infestations without spreading them. In light of this, I thought I would share some
findings on how to control, or at least limit the spread of, the Japanese Beetle.
Japanese Beetles feast on the flowers and leaves of over 300 plants and trees. Not only that, a
female will lay approximately 50 eggs at a time, making it easy for numbers to get out of control.
Like all beetles they go through the egg, larvae (grub), pupae, adult life cycle. Fortunately, they are
susceptible to cultural, biological, and chemical defenses at different stages.
In the grub stage:
Milky Spore attacks the white grubs of the Japanese Beetle before it can develop into an adult, this
takes a couple of years to work, but will last for 10 years.
Nematodes are beneficial against the Japanese Beetle with the most effective species being
Heterorhabditis bacteriophora (commercially available as Heteromask, NemaSeek or Terranem).
Starlings are the biggest aerial predator of Japanese beetle and will enjoy them as grubs or adults
Chemical: Mix 2 tbsp dishwashing soap diluted in 1 ga of water and spread of 1000 sq ft. This will
force the grubs to the surface of the soil where predators will pick them up (choose soaps
made from animal or vegetable oils in accordance with the SOUL Standard).
In the adult stage:
Cultural: Knock the beetles into a bucket of soapy water, the soap will prevent them from flying
away and they will eventually drown.
Chemical: Neem oil (the SOUL Standard allows neem oil when registered for use in Canada)
Remember, pesky insects like the Japanese Beetle can be a sign that something isn’t right the
garden. Be sure to address overall soil and plant health and keep soil microbes happy.
Japanese Beetles also love turf grass, opting for real grass over turf may go a long way.
For more information on Japanese Beetle and how to combat it, check out the sources below.
Master Gardeners of Hamilton County, TN
Planet Natural Research Centre
Gardeners Supply Company
Society for Organic Urban Land Care (SOUL)Contact Us