NEVADA CITY, California | Keisha Wheeler and Casey Ernst didn’t exactly dream of working with compost when they were children. Instead of examining microbes under a microscope and monitoring worms in piles of dirt, they dreamt their adult lives would be much different – Keisha wanted to be a marine biologist and Casey wanted to be a veterinarian.
But for Wheeler and Ernst, the co-owners of Catalyst BioAmendments, a high-end composting facility in Nevada City, California, compost is now the dream they work with daily
Their journey to professional composting started when they began learning about soil regeneration and permaculture. Training with Dr. Elaine Ingham of Soil Food Web, their initial goal was to consult on soil fertility, but they needed compost. Finding compost with the required microbes and quality presented a challenge.
“We were in a position where we needed the compost to do our work, but none was available,” Wheeler said. “We saw the need and set to fill that space.”
Catalyst BioAmendments was founded in late 2018, when Wheeler, Ernst and their business partners, Gregory Munn and Zach Ellis, found a suitable facility and created their first windrows.
The feedstock used by Catalyst BioAmendments isn’t traditional food and green waste – it must be organic and without chemicals. They are so dedicated to using clean, untarnished feedstock that they have somewhat reversed the traditional method of gathering composting materials, said Wheeler. Green material is grown on their own site or purchased from organic farmers, wood chips come from fire clearings in natural forests, and manure is sourced from a local horse ranch – one that doesn’t use antibiotics of course. In addition, specialty seeds are purchased from other local businesses
Ultimately, it’s the life within the soil that separates Catalyst BioAmendments from other composting facilities. That life being microbes like fungi, bacteria and protozoa, which must be managed effectively through the compost process to create the special blends that CB are renowned for.
In addition to selling compost, they offer classes on the subject and train their customers on how to maintain their product. Wheeler stresses this is an important aspect of who they are as a company.
“We educate people a lot on how to use the product,” she said. “No one just walks in the door, buys compost and goes, but leave the building with a better understanding of how the product they just purchased will enhance their growing process and quality of the product”
The Machine Behind the Magic.
Just as cultivating these microbes requires quality feedstock, the process of making compost requires a quality machine. With a recommendation from Dr. Ingham, Catalyst BioAmendments purchased a BACKHUS A30 turner, and Wheeler and Ernst couldn’t be more pleased with its performance.
The Backhus turner has been developed over the years to allow the maximum aeration of the material, throwing so all the material gets a chance to access moisture and oxygen. Wheeler describes the action of the throwing tools as “gentle,” moving the compost from the inside out as opposed to chopping or slicing it.
“The heat comes from the source materials, so depending on what you’re using it can generate different amounts of heat,” said Ernst. “The way the drum is designed on the BACKHUS – with no separation between any of the tools and a central scoop – it works to properly distribute the compost.”
Since the BACKHUS A30 is tracked, they don’t have to worry about using a tractor and leaving tire marks or ruts which can collect and trap water. Besides, the size and quality of the windrows the A30 creates are much better than anything a tow unit could make, said Wheeler. The machine also leaves less space between rows than any tow behind would, Wheeler added.
Additionally, Catalyst BioAmendments use the water injection add-on, which sprays water directly into the center of the compost as it’s being turned. Ernst said this is much better than just spraying water directly on top of the piles, which would evaporate quickly.
“The only real way you can get moisture down into the center of that pile is having that jet sprayer off the back literally hitting the entire bulk of the compost as it’s being turned,” he said.
“The Perfect Design”
With the immense detail and hard work that is put into the compost at Catalyst BioAmendments, Ernst says they can always depend on their BACKHUS to get the job done.
“It’s the perfect design for turning compost,” he said.
Catalyst BioAmendments offers hands-on classes and demonstrations. They also ship 1- or 2-yard totes of their compost through LTL freight throughout the US.
For more information on their services, visit their website at catalystbioamendments.com.