The Holistic Compost Reaction Lab

In the year of 2021 I worked at Steingrubenhof helping to raise the chickens, holistic grazing management of the cows and all other tasks in between. The farm in southwest Germany lies in St. Peter in the Schwarzwald region and is led by Isabell and Tim. It is roughly 50ha in size with grassland and forest which was used for milk cows by Isas family before they retired the business in 2014. The whole farm got „revived“ in 2021 when Isa and Tim took over. I had met them both in a regenerative permaculture design course at Ridgedale Permaculture in Sweden and we kept contact ever since then exchanging ideas about farming and life.

During the season Andreas came to buy some chicken and meet us. He lives about 15 minutes away from the farm near Freiburg and found us by looking for regenerative farms in his area. He has a great interest in regenerative farming and a deep understanding of microbes, soil life and a lot of other things.
We connected well and the idea of the Holistic Compost Reaction Lab was born. We want to explore soil life, it’s importance on the farm and how we can improve it. We believe that soil life is a key factor to a healthy farm and is a field where a lot of research can still be done.

Soil life analysis using microscopy

Our first analysis of soil life in the meadows of the farm showed that not a lot of life was present. I would have expected at least some microbes to be present since the meadows looked good. They where usually mowed up to three times during the season for hay or silage and fertilized with cow slurry.
We immediately marked out some test plots of 1m x 3m on a piece of pasture, took samples and begat treatment with compost extract and broadfork. The first plot was control which only got water, the second plot got a compost extract treatment, the third plot got extract and broadforking and the fourth plot got extract, broadfork and compost spread out.
We repeated the treatments a couple times in hopes of getting some soil life to flourish on a test plot.

The HCRL is an exciting project through which we want to find out more about soil life, it’s role on our ecosystems and how to actively improve and nourish it on our farms through good practices.

Thoughts on solving complex problems

With climate change and other complex problems getting more and more important to us humans a lot of ideas are created to finding solutions to these problems. There is a pattern to be observed with technical solutions failing to provide good, long lasting solutions. Often times we apply the same pattern of thought onto solving a complex problem to solving a complicated one. So what are these patterns and what are complex and complicated problems?



Today we organized a Barbecue down at the lake for dinner. To get there we walked through the peat bog that belongs to Ridgedale Farm. All farms in the village have a part of the local peat bog which has not been used for at least 50 years.
It looked like a swampy forest with birch and other trees in between but actually had lots of moss as ground cover. And when Richard took a piece out of the ground with a spade it was all peat moss. Pure carbon nice and fluffy that has great water holding capabilities. Basically what commercial compost consists of, peat moss, chicken manure and cow manure.

The piece of swamp that belonged to the farm was about 15×40-50 meters I would guess. Richard said they dug down two meters before and it was still pure peat moss and that he would suspect it to go down to even eight meters. This could last the farm practically indefinitely as cow bedding for the winter which could then be used to make compost for the garden beds.

A lot of people argue that peat moss is an unsustainable resource but compared to straw which relies on plowed grain crop monocultures, it is a quite sustainable resource which is readily available for the farm.

The barbecue was a nice way to relax a bit and have amazing food.