Layers of alfalfa dated to 6000 B.C. found in southern Iran point to long-term human knowledge of the value of compost. Archeologists interpret the evidence that people kept animals based on milk in pottery shards and turned alfalfa into the soil in addition to feeding it to their livestock.
William Shakespeare references compost/manure in Richard II (line 2098), Henry IV, Part II (line 2683), and this quote from Othello (line 677):
“Virtue! a fig! 'tis in ourselves that we are thus or thus. Our bodies are our gardens, to the which our wills are gardeners: so that if we will plant nettles, or sow lettuce, set hyssop and weed up thyme, supply it with one gender of herbs, or distract it with many, either to have it sterile with idleness, or manured with industry, why, the power and corrigible authority of this lies in our wills.”
The Romans used alfalfa to “dung the land”, as written in “De Re Rustica”, a 12 book treatise on farming by Lucius Moderatus Columbella written in AD 60 – 65.
George Washington committed himself to the practice of rotating crops and built a dung repository. In 1796, Washington said, “Let others rake, and scrape up all the trash, of every sort and kind about the houses, and in the holes and corners, and throw it (all I mean that will make dung) into the stercorary”. Washington subscribed to John Spurrier’s principles as outlined in “The Practical Farmer”, 1793.
Sir Albert Howard published “An Agricultural Testament” in 1943 and was the first to write about the formula of one-part greens to three-parts browns, layered and turned frequently. J.I. Rodale continued Howard’s composting research and shared his views with the American public in “Organic Farming and Gardening” magazine in 1942.
The first chemical fertilizer plants developed in the 1920’s. Commercial farm yields have increased dramatically and the price of fresh produce dropped. Proponents of organic gardening believe that heavily-farmed, chemically fertilized, pesticide treated soils correlate to the decline of minerals in our foods and the increase of mineral deficiency diseases over the last 50 years. Soils are depleted of trace minerals found naturally in organic material, as are the livestock that are fed fodder grown in these soils; thus the foods we eat are less nutritious that in times past. Opponents point out the higher cost of organic food production and fickleness of the average shopper. Indeed, each of us casts our vote on how we'd like our food produced every time we visit the grocery store.
Read kittycook’s article on how to make Compost.
Copyright kittycooks, January 9, 2011 23 degrees
American Scientist: Alfalfa
Urban Agricultural Notes: America's First Composter