March 19, 2012
I made a foot of beautiful dark soil the year before last, and this is how: I piled four feet of leaves up into a wooden frame style compost bin. The leaves were maple, poplar, and a few cherry leaves with some other bits such as lilac, plum, grass rakings and so on, mixed in. It was at least 4 feet high when I first piled all the leaves in there. I had to hose them with water and squish them down to get them all to fit.
Next, I piled on about 4 to 6 inches of rotted cow manure. I figured the manure would help compost the leaves quicker. Then, my cousin came over with a bag of seed potatoes he had left over from his planting. I thought "what the heck" and buried the seed potatoes about an inch or two down in the rotted manure. I had heard that potatoes will condition bad soil so I thought maybe there is a little magic in potatoe roots. I watered the whole pile occasionally when it didn't rain, but pretty much left it alone. The potatoe plants grew 2 to 3 feet high! I thought "wow, I wonder if we will get any potatoes".
Well, at the end of the summer, the pile had shrunk down a couple of feet but there were very few potatoes to speak of. However, by the next spring, it had shrunk again to about 12 inches of rich black compost that smelled nice and earthy. All the leaves were decomposed, and I hadn't chopped or mowed them at all. (lazy)
So, I can't be 100% certain, but I think the potatoe roots did a magical thing and sped up the composting process. The spuds and leaves were free, the cow manure was cheap, and the result was priceless. I'm going to repeat that again this year for comparison purposes. I'll let you know how it turns out.