August 2011
Featured Articles

Just Call Him “Captain Compost”

William Cureton dons his cape to become “Captain Compost.”

 

There is a time for everything and a season for everything under Heaven.

A time to be born and a time to die.

A time to sow and a time to reap.

A time to…..make compost???

William Edward Cureton II, better known as Captain Compost, believes "the entire Kingdom of God can be condensed into an organic garden," as illustrated in Mark 4:26, and he sees parallels in more of Jesus’ parables to not only gardening but modern day life.

And the above partial added-to quote from Ecclesiastes 3 is just one illustration of how William combines the practical, spiritual and nature.

Now he’s written one book on composting, with another in the works, has three audio CDs on the subject and is asked to speak all over the country on his special techniques. So how did a native South Carolinian with a degree in Mathematical Sciences and a minor in Operations Research become a "dirt" expert in Alabama?

 

Captain Compost and just a corner of his prolific raised bed garden.

It’s really not complicated, at least with William’s explanation!

William was born and raised in Oconee County, SC. He graduated from Clemson University in 1985 and moved to Birmingham that year where he began his still-current "day job" as a Marketing Systems Analyst for Vulcan Materials.

William has also been preaching since he was just 16 years old and served as Senior Pastor of two major Birmingham churches for a combined total of 15 years. He hosted a Birmingham area TV ministry which was broadcast every week on a local cable station.

But William explained sometimes God uses what we may consider strange happenings and unusual circumstances to lead us in directions of service we couldn’t have even imagined a few years earlier.

William and his wife, Peggy, believe their organic gardening and compost "business" is actually a part of their Christian ministry.

"God wants us to eat, grow and enjoy healthy foods," William explained, calling God Himself the "Master Gardener."

William Cureton checks the compost in mid-process.

 

The couple began their path toward growing more healthy foods by going to the Botanical Gardens in Birmingham in 1997 and reading more than 300 books on organic gardening. They immersed themselves in the topic so completely that William was soon asked to teach a night course at the Gardens on the subject.

William also began answering questions on two Internet gardening forums, www.gardenweb.com and www.organicgardening.com, and used "Captain Compost" as his "chat" name.

That moniker stuck and William laughingly said, "I soon found myself the local compost ‘expert.’"

About four years ago, William and Peggy moved to their current three-acre farm near Odenville in St. Clair County, which has extra room for more compost windrows and stockpiles, sheet compost piles and no-till demonstration raised beds for visitors to see and tour.

They have both received certified honorary Master Gardeners/Composters recognition from the Alabama Cooperative Extension System at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens.

"Really, the compost business almost came about by accident," William explained. "I started out growing and trying to sell organic vegetables. But at that time people in this area were just getting used to the idea of how important organic foods were and weren’t quite ready to buy an organic tomato if it was a little out of shape. It was frustrating.

"Then a friend of mine told me to forget the organic vegetables. He said that wasn’t my calling. So about 13 years ago, I started concentrating just on the compost and now folks drive from all over Alabama and around just to buy it from me or see how I make it.

 

Compost tea

"It’s really simple. Usually it’s just made from seven ingredients, including horse manure/sawdust, grass clippings and grocery store produce and food scraps."

William’s special "hot" composting process enables him to make a ton of mature compost in from two to six weeks!

"It gets hot really fast," William explained. "If you stick a thermometer in it on a good day it will register 160 to 170 degrees. Even in the winter it doesn’t freeze.

"It’s chewing up, metabolizing sugars and starches and also sterilizing. No weed seeds can survive."

But it’s the compost "tea" bubbling in five-gallon buckets and 50-gallon containers that makes William almost appear to be a wizard. While the ordinary compost tea is amazing enough (utilizing all sorts of items including molasses and other animal feeds bought from the St. Clair Farmers Co-op in Pell City), a special aerated tea made using a simple aquarium pump really gets the microbes and other organisms working to produce an organic and healthy product.

 

William Cureton gets a handful of molasses, which he buys at the St. Clair Farmers Co-op in Pell City, to use in his compost tea.

"It’s really a protein fertilizer.

"It’s really so simple to do," William modestly said. "And the tea and the compost aren’t magic. They are just nature being used to the fullest extent."

William stressed the tea needs to be made with rain water or other pure water with no chlorine or other additives.

"It will begin to smell like beer or wine as it begins to activate," William explained. "It’s great for putting on and around plants. It’s a microbiological force field of protection."

William enjoyed meeting one of his favorite organic farming heroes, Malcolm Beck, the founder of one of the largest composting businesses in Texas, while he and Peggy were speaking at a convention in Dallas.

"I’ve tried to model my composting operations on my farm — but certainly on a smaller scale — to his philosophies and methods from his books. He is definitely the ‘Compost King’ as far as I’m concerned."

While William doesn’t currently pastor a church, he feels he’s continuing on his mission by illustrating how the spiritual and physical worlds are similar.

Just as a tiny seed can be transformed into a majestic, healthy and healthy-for-you plant by use of some rotted compost, sunshine and God’s nature, God can take the "rotted compost" of our lives and make something beautiful as well.

"In the spiritual realm, God takes all our garbage…the pain and death of this world, divorces, hurts, etc. And composts them into better things that can be used for His Glory," William said. "Sometimes I think we just need to keep our mouths shut and let God compost us into something better! Composting can purify almost any substance, just like God can take terrible situations and turn them into awesome experiences."

Information on Captain Compost’s books, CDs and other items can be obtained at his website: www.captaincompostalabama.com or by phoning him at (205) 903-9756.

Suzy Lowry Geno is a freelance writer from Blount County and can be reached through www.suzysfarm.com.