At Walker’s Quarry, compost serves a multitude of functions, including that of restoration, production, and regenerative enterprising. Composting is an aerobic decomposition process that transforms raw organic materials (including, but not limited to, wood, leaves, herbaceous growth, food scraps, manure, sugar-cane bagasse, and other industrial plant-processing byproducts) into biologically-active and nutrient-rich soil amendment. High-quality finished compost acts as super-charged topsoil. Spreading it across the landscape, 6” – 36” deep, replaces the top layers of organic matter and re-inoculates the essential biological activity that has been lost by disturbance. Walker’s Quarry has all of the necessary equipment, infrastructure, and human resources to start an industrial-scale composting operation and, as such, is actively pursuing the collection and composting of organic material as the transition from quarry to food forest proceeds.
Compost tea utilizes the wisdom of Elaine Ingham’s Soil Food Web to create diverse ecosystems of aerobically-adapted microorganisms that help to nurture plant growth and build soil. This can be paired with anaerobic systems that concentrate on nutrient collection and dispersal. As part of the restoration process, compost tea is applied to all planting areas at least 4 times per year, and sometimes, ideally, more. This repetitive application of compost tea inoculates the soil with a huge variety of beneficial fungi and bacteria that will work 24/7 to help make the regeneration process a success.
The use of mulch is a key way to build soil and store water so that plants can survive the harsh effects of the dry season. Mulch refers to the application of organic matter, that is not yet composted, directly on top of the soil so that it shelters the soil from sun and wind, and becomes bio-available to plants as it slowly breaks down.
Chop and Drop
Chop and drop is a key system for the broad acre establishment of permaculture systems. Chop and drop involves the use of rapid-growing nitrogen fixers (or other bio-accumulating plants), usually planted on contour, to build soil by seasonally chopping the vegetative matter and dropping it onto the soil to feed the nearby plants via the soil ecology.
Tropical soils are, by nature, lower in organic matter and nutrient-holding capacity that the soils of temperate and arid landscapes. Recent research has indicated that native agricultural practices in the Amazon basin involved the use of a technique called Biochar or Terra Preta (Black Earth). Essentially, the technique incorporates finely-crushed, locally-made charcoal into agricultural soils – the charcoal then becomes a home for beneficial bacteria & fungi, and this facilitates nutrient retention and transfer to plants. Biochar is formed through an anaerobic burning process called pyrolysis, and can use any form of woody plant material as its feedstock – including bamboo, wood chips, or even spent coconut husks. Used in combination with composting or other soil-building patterns, biochar represents an innovative and climate-appropriate approach to regenerating the Quarry’s soils.
Nitrogen is a key fertilizer for plants. Some plant species possess the ability to partner with the microbes that take atmospheric nitrogen and convert it into a form that is usable by plants. This enables the rapid growth of nitrogen-fixing species that build soil fertility and organic matter over time, thus benefiting surrounding plants. Some practices, such as repeated hard pruning (“coppicing”) of nitrogen-fixing species, can rapidly speed up this process. The site already has vast amounts of nitrogen-fixing species, including some native to the island and others which have naturalized from elsewhere.