Ray Oliver took to heart the saying “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” The result was Stout Ollie Compost, a Certified SC Grown product. Originally formulated as an organic fertilizer for the pastures on which Oliver grazes his grass-fed Angus beef herd, bags of his homegrown compost are now headed to local retail stores.

You can’t get more down-to-earth than compost. As a farmer and avid gardener, Oliver, who lives in Vance, was looking for a good organic fertilizer and soil conditioner for both his commercial and private endeavors. After some experimentation, he came up with a formula using local ingredients that fulfilled the carbon and nitrogen component needs of a good mix. His patience and perseverance paid off.

“This is a grass-roots operation,” Oliver said. “We use cotton waste from ginning, by-product from a catfish farm and cow manure.”

All of the materials that go into the mix are obtained nearby and are normally considered refuse. Ingenuity and resourcefulness — plus a little help from Oliver’s mother and calf operation — churn out a product that grows some of the biggest, tastiest tomatoes around.

“It takes about a year of turning and aerating to get it fully composted,” Oliver said. “The pH is ideal at 6.5 and it doesn’t burn, so you can even plant right in it.”

Compost, by definition, has gone through a heating process that eliminates any weed seed. The resulting organic matter helps improve soil structure in sandy and clay soils. It also increases the soil’s ability to retain water and nutrients so that plants can more readily take them up.

“We recommend it for use in soil mixes, as a top dressing, in containers and tilled into the garden or beds,” Oliver said. “I plant my tomatoes straight in it in big nursery pots.”

Oliver’s passion for sustainable farming may have been what led him to develop Stout Ollie Compost for use on his own crops, but his passion did not stop there. His desire to share a product that could help gardeners grow to their full potential led him to get his compost certified and bagged. Now he and his son Les are making it available locally.

Although the compost provides amounts of phosphorous, potassium and minor nutrients to plants, Oliver said that gardeners should plan on adding a regular dose of a nitrogen source such as a liquid fish emulsion fertilizer or a chemical nitrogen product. Gardeners will also find that the compost is very “worm-friendly” and will quickly become home to beneficial earthworms once incorporated in the garden soil.

Oliver’s farming operation, in addition to his grass-fed beef, includes growing kiwi, pomegranates and pawpaws for the wholesale market at his River Run Farms in Vance. Growing heirloom tomatoes is one of Oliver’s favorite personal pastimes.

“There’s nothing prettier than a big basket full of Cherokee purple, Beam’s yellow pear and Golden Ponderosa heirloom tomatoes — it’s just beautiful,” Oliver said.

Contact the writer: 138 Nature’s Trail, Bamberg, SC 29003.

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