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On the History of Controlled Heat Composting

May 30, 2014

Creating Humus on the Farm: The Controlled Heat Method of Composting

By Roland Ulrich

Excerpted from a newly published English translation of Roland Ulrich’s Creating Humus on the Farm: The Controlled Heat Method of Composting (Outskirts Press 2014). The book is available through Amazon, Mercury Press, and, for quantity discount for booksellers and retailers, Outskirts Press.

creating humus - coverBecause this method is not so well known today, it can be helpful to learn how it came into being. Controlled heat composting is much older than one might think; one can trace its origins to the twelfth century. The Templars and Cistercians were ahead of their time, especially in their management of large farms and in their feeling of responsibility for the future of the earth and mankind. They knew about this method and they used it successfully. Ancient documents found in Spain and southern France testify to this.

Jean Pain was a modern pioneer of the organic movement in France; his use of this method influenced the development of permaculture. He wrote a book called Another Kind of Garden in 1979 ( As time went on, other people carried the development of this method, thus helping to preserve this knowledge.

Another of these outstanding personalities was Dr. Ehrenfried Pfeiffer (1899-1961), an important pioneer of biodynamic agriculture. He helped to birth biodynamics in the USA. With his knowledge of the controlled heat method, he successfully converted tons of city waste from Oakland, California into compost on a large scale and in a very short time with the aid of his biodynamic compost starter (a concentration of many types of soil bacteria), thus doing his part to adapt and preserve the method for us and future generations. As a microbiologist, scientist, practical farmer, and international advisor for soil fertility and compost economy, he made a fairly elaborate method understandable (The Compost Manufacturers Manual: the Practice of Large Scale Composting, Pfeiffer Foundation, 1956).

In addition to his other accomplishments, Dr. Pfeiffer developed a specific method of qualitative analysis, chromatography, to produce a picture or chromatogram, resulting in a picture of a substance or organism. The technique is used to research areas of agriculture such as nutrition, soils, and composts (Chromatography Applied to Quality Testing: The Art and Science of Composting, Dr. E. E. Pfeiffer, Biodynamic Literature, 44 pgs, 1956).

…The author of this publication has studied the principles of the controlled heat composting method many years. He has practiced and succeeded in modifying it for large-scale barnyard use. It has proven its value over many years of practical application. Although he makes no claim to the superiority of this method with respect to other composting methods, the product speaks for itself in the resulting quality and quantity of foodstuff produced; it is a fast and efficient method, thus serving as a great aid to good farm management.

Roland Ulrich, German born and bred, was educated as a gardener, forester, environmental engineer, and biodynamic farmer. His professional experience has been gained on three continents: Europe, Africa, and the United States. Since 1982 when he began to learn biodynamic agricultural practices, he has followed in the footsteps of Ehrenfried Pfeiffer, who, alongside Rudolf Steiner, has been his spiritual and practical guide.

Creating Humus on the Farm: the Controlled Heat Method of Composting is a thorough and technical resource for individuals, particularly farmers, interested in how our suffering soils can be replenished and invigorated step by step in an efficient and effective manner.

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