The July 19 Soil Crawl at the Sandy Arrow Ranch near Square Butte hosted a “class” of 25 attendees for a day-long workshop. Soil scientist Molly Haviland of Haviland Earth Regeneration and ranch manager Joe Barta led those attendees around the farming and ranching operation where composting is a top priority.
Over the past four years, the ranch has experimented with windrow thermal composts (they need to be turned, and to maintain a hot temperature), vermicasting (with worms), and the Johnson-Su Bioreactors (requires no turning… Google it!).
Once they’ve made each kind of compost, in order to make it useful atscale for a large ranch, Haviland and Barta have experimented with making compost extracts and teas, as well as retrofitting equipment to spray the seeds with compost as they go into the ground (like on a no-till drill!) Haviland says, “Composting in Montana is doable, but it’s very different in the high plains than in the Midwest. We’ve really taken time to learn that here.”
While the innovation at the Sandy Arrow is exciting in itself, their willingness to share their hard lessons and successes is even more inspiring.
A few lessons:
- Don’t use city (chlorinated) water for your compost – it will kill lots of good bugs and stunt progress.
- You need at least 25 times more carbon material than nitrogen – carbon is the dead stuff (hay, cardboard, leaves, etc.)
- Compost should be 50% water, which you can tell if you squeeze a handful and you get a small drop of water.