Quality compost is hot stuff

From shredded wood and alfalfa, microbes create heat as decomposition occurs, a byproduct of the creation of rich compost for growing food.

Dean Dack of Classic Compost has to drop the handful of compost because it's become so hot

By Judie Steeves

staff reporter

Rows of black soil are lined up in a field, some a slightly different colour than others—but only one is releasing a mysterious vapour from the peak of the pile.

This is the row to which Dean Dack added pomace last fall after local grapes were crushed for wine, and he is delighted to report that it’s been creating immense heat all winter.

He clambers up the pile and digs in with his hands, coming up with a bare hand overflowing with compost that he quickly shakes off—because It’s simply too hot to hold.

His thermometer reads 144 F or 62 C when he stabs it a few inches into the middle of the pile, near the top.

“That’s enough to heat a greenhouse,” he crows with elation. “We need to capture that warmth,” he adds.

He started this pile in November, and points with pride to tiny mushrooms sprouting from the top on this cool spring day, at the peak of the ‘wigwam,’ where cold air that’s been drawn in from the bottom of the pile, vents into the air as steam.

It’s all about the microbes, he explains. “All those little microbes are eating and pooping and turning this pile into good compost,” he explains. In the process heat is produced.

He says he used a combination of carbon-rich shredded wood, pomace from crushed grapes, alfalfa and other materials, to create a compost that will provide the perfect addition to garden soil for growing healthy, happy, nutrient-rich, flavourful vegetables and fruit, he says passionately.

Alfalfa is a great addition for compost used to grow food because its long tap root brings up nutrients like zinc from deep underground into its leaves where it becomes available for food to take it up and grow to feed people.

“There are more living things in a pile of compost than there are people on the planet,” he exclaims.

When he starts a pile of compost the first microbes begin breaking it down in spots, but soon spread throughout the whole pile, starting the process of decomposition that results in creation of a product that will eventually enrich soil for growing food.

Dack is careful to keep grass clippings out of the compost he creates for growing food because he has concerns about what chemicals might have been applied to it.

While he does accept materials from landscapers, he uses that for a landscaping mulch, not for compost that will be used for growing food.

He’s also interested in paramagnetics and says soils higher in paramagnetic values grow produce with a higher brix or sugar content as well as promoting better growth of plants.

He is frustrated that he hasn’t been able to interest anyone at UBCO in doing more experiments into the growth-enhancing qualities of soils high in paramagnetics, or soils with added ground volcanic rock.

It’s eight years since Dack began experimenting with commercially-created compost he calls Classic Compost, and he says it was a natural evolution.

He was born on a worm farm and says when he first bought his own home he made a compost tumbler in which to turn kitchen and yard waste into compost.

“I enjoy the environment and I’m glad to see more people are enjoying growing their own food. It’s amazing,” he comments.

He says people water too much though. That extra water makes plants unhealthy in spring, and then by summer they’re not hardy enough to be able to take the intense heat.

Dack is passionate about the soil as well as about the importance of growing food.

“We need to respect our soil and our farmers and we don’t,” he feels. “The Agricultural Land Reserve has farmers by the neck, yet the government doesn’t support them. They don’t need subsidies; they need support,” he believes.

He’d also like to see a farm school established in Kelowna where people could learn about beekeeping, composting, raising chickens and other farm skills.