Quick-Return Composting – Maye Emily Bruce
Born in Dublin, Ireland on 3rd May 1879, Maye Emily Bruce first purchased her own property in 1921, a neglected farm near Cirencester in the Cotswolds.
Initially, she used the manure from the farm to restore and bring life back into the stony Cotswold soil; however, the manure eventually ran out and the soil became in desperate need of sustenance.
As a means of producing compost, she had heard about the Anthroposophical Society through a friend and decided to join it. The society based their work on the theories of Rudolf Steiner and Maye Bruce learnt the virtues of biodynamic compost making.
Whilst she maintained a good relationship with the society, she had her own thoughts about the methods and decided to move on and follow her own ideas. Inspiration came in the shape of her theory:
“The Divinity within the flower is sufficient in itself’.
Miss Bruce decided to experiment; she extracted the essences from the flowers used in the bio dynamic method and combined them with oak bark and honey and at a dilution ratio of 10,000 to 1, her activator produced a compost of excellent ‘manurial’ value. What made her compost even more special was the speed with which it was produced; Miss Bruce claimed the compost could be made in 4 weeks for a heap made in the spring, 8 weeks for a summer heap, 12 weeks for an autumn heap and hence she named her composting system ‘The Quick Return Method’. Furthermore, because of the way in which the activator worked, the heap required no turning.
She uses all the herbs that Steiner listed in his preparate but combines them to innoculate the heap:
Wild Chamomile (Matricaria Chamomilla)
Common Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
Common Valerian (Valeriana officinalis)
Yarrow (Achillea Millefolium)
Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica)
Oak bark (Quercus robur)
Honey with milk sugar
she offers alternative plants:
Hollyhock (Althea Rosea)
Walnut bark (Juglans Nigra)
Strawberry (Fragaria Vesca)
Yellow Dock (Rumex Crispus)
Marigold (Calendula Officinalis)
Sage (Salvia Officinalis)
Elder (Sambucus Nigra)
Chicory (Cichorium Intybus)
Note: The two essential ingredients are yarrow and nettle. The others are used because of their prophylactic qualities; if unobtainable, any one of them may be omitted.
Gather flowers and leaves before mid-day. Dry as soon as possible with slow heat. When dry crush and pass the herbs through a fine wire sieve. Keep each of the herbs separate.
Oak bark: Use the outside rough bark, grind or rasp it to a powder, pass it through the sieve.
Honey: Rub one drop of honey into one 1½ teaspoons of milk sugar until the honey is completely absorbed.
For Stock Mixture
Take equal parts (say a level teaspoonful) of each of the ingredients, mix them thoroughly, keep them in a covered jar.
Building the Heap (Materials)
Use any vegetable matter. Weeds, clearings of beds and borders, lawn mowings, cabbage leaves, vegetable peelings, tea leaves, coffee grounds, straw, old hay: animal. manure, if you can get it. Don’t use meat refuse, skin, bones, fat, or cooked stuff. Why? Because if kitchen refuse other than vegetables, are admitted to the heap, you will get greasy water, greasy remains, in short: swill. Such grease makes a scum and keeps out the air, and that will lead to putrefaction. Also a daily libation of this refuse will over-balance your heap, and the result, again, will be putrefaction, smell and flies. In a large farm heap with manure, kitchen refuse might be risked, but I strongly advise against it.
Build in layers 10 cm thick. Alternate layers of tough stuff with soft green weeds or grass, the one will help the other. If you have animal manure, or poultry manure, put a 5 cm layer or less after every 30 cm. If you have none, throw in a scattering of soil. Introduce three dustings of rock dust. Repeat dustings only at 30, 60 and 90 cm.
Keep the heap level. It will tend to build up in the centre and sink at the sides; a light treading or packing with a spade will correct this. It will also break down crossing stems, which make air pockets.
Always keep some sacking on the last layer. This is very important. Why? Because sun and wind dry up and shrivel the exposed area, and heat, moisture and vitality escape from the heap. This heat can be intense, it reaches 71-82 degees C for a short time, then dies down; it rises again when fresh material is added. To maintain a steady heat make new additions as often as possible. Decomposition is quicker, and the intense heat destroys weed seeds and disease.
The heap will shrink tremendously as you build it. As long as there is heat in it, you can go on adding fresh material. When it is full and firm, cover it with four inches of soil, let it settle for two or three days, then treat it with the ‘activator’.
How to use:
Stir again to ensure an even mixture, and liquify as follows:
Mix 65 mg with 570 ml rain-water. Shake well. Let it stand for twenty-four hours before using. It will keep for about three weeks. Shake thoroughly before use.
Inoculation of the heap
Make holes with a crowbar from approximately 30 to 60 cm apart, and to within 8 to 15 cm from the bottom of the heap; pour 85 ml of the liquid into each hole. Fill them up with dry soil, and ram it down to prevent air pockets. Cover the heap with a sack, and forget it for a month.
When you open it, burrow into it with a trowel. If it smells sweet (and it has a lovely smell) it is all right: dig further, breaking it up as you go. If rightly built it will be very rich dark soil.
Remember, it is impossible to give a definite date for the ripening of any heap. There are so many differing factors: season, weather, building materials — one can only give an average and approximate time. Roughly speaking:
A spring and early summer heap takes four to six weeks. A summer heap six to eight weeks. An autumn heap eight to twelve weeks.
A winter heap moves very little if at all. The earth sleeps in winter and this seems to affect both growth and decay. You may make a wonderful heap of winter weeds, between 21 December and March: it develops no heat, it just remains as you put it in. But when you get some fresh spring growth, or, best of all, the first lawn-mowings, remove the top half of your winter collection, introduce a 10 cm layer of the living green, and build up the heap in alternate layers of winter weeds and fresh growth. That heap will decompose in about a month, and you will get the advantage of increased bulk with the help of the winter collection.
If, when you open your heaps, you find they are not entirely soil, there is usually a reason, and always a remedy.
1. You may find a sodden corner, or possibly a sodden layer. Why? Probably rain has seeped in, or it may be after a wet spell your plants were full of moisture which could not drain away. Remedy: Let it remain in the air for a few hours, it will soon disintegrate.
2. It may be that some stems or tough grass have not broken down. Why? Probably they were too wiry, too dried up; dry old grass is difficult. Remedy: Fork them into a loose pile in the open, and pour some compost or manure water over them; in a couple of days they will be fit to put on the garden.
Storing Ripe Compost
When the compost is ripe and you need the bin, you can stack it in a compact heap, with steeply sloped sides, covered with soil, so that rain will run off. It will go on ripening and come to no harm.
The method is very flexible and open to experiment.
The three chief rules are:
- Keep heat in.
- Keep rain out.
- Let the heap breathe.
Herbs and ingredients are flexible, it works with Nettle and Yarrow alone.
No waiting, no animal offal, sculls, no astrological or moon phases involved
No turning the heap, quick decomposing process.
No financial motive on the part of the creator, no secret recipie.
Available to anyone willing to collect the herbs
…no wonder she called it Common-Sense Compost Making
Can be purchased under the name “Humofix” from the Benedict Abbey in Fulda
Source: Common-Sense Compost Making by the Quick Return Method – Maye E. Bruce
Faber and Faber Limited
24 Russell Square
First published in Mcmxlvi
Faber and Faber Limited
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