Eating is an agricultural act - Wendell Berry

Sunday, June 06, 2010

blogpost on compost

composting requires little introduction to readers here.
it is a simple process of converting organic 'wastes' to usable soil fertility enhancers.

we have been doing the amrut mitti format of composting since january 2010.
it is a good system and i personally have a great rhythm with this process.
we have piled amrut mitti around 30 odd trees (over jan and feb) and we can see that it has had a positive effect on them.

but it has a higher level of physical effort, time and general logistics than the other standard and easier composting methods.
while standard composting methods are advantageous in making compost at scale, amrut mitti composts evenly and faster.

thus we set out to do a standard compost pile.
here is the journey in pictures.

identify the size of the pile. ours was laid out on a 10 feet by 4 feet rectangle and expected to rise to 4 feet.
a total of 160 cubic feet of organic matter. as it decomposes, it will reduce significantly to a third of this size.

sometimes the composting is done in a ditch. we ditched the ditch for a on-the-ground pile.

the composting process needs air. normally this is achieved by physically turning the pile at regular intervals.
we have innovated a bit by building a porous grid of coconut branches. the organic matter will be piled on top of this grid. there is a 3-5 inch clearance from the ground and this should allow (what we consider) and adequate level of aeration.

choosing the right branch requires diligence :-)

once this is done, it is simple.
we need to layer dried leaves, green leaves, soil and fresh cowdung till you get to the desired height or you run out of one of the items. soil and cowdung is used sparingly (approx 10 cupped handfuls for the pile of our size). the leaves layers were 2-4 inches thick.

csm in his atlas avataar.

carrying dried leaves...

green leaves/weeds...


layering the pile.

it is important to moisten the pile after each layer.

and you will end up with a delicious looking smorgasboard like this one. this is just short of 3 feet. we will be building this higher over the coming days.

it would take 8-12 weeks to fully compost and be ready to use in our vegetable beds and fruit trees.
it is likely to attract a whole host of insects and worms (vermi-composting, another popular method expressly uses earthworms to accelerate the composting) and microbes.
in our case, we expect the earthworms to burrow their way into this lip-smacking buffet.
they eat/digest the organic matter and it is their excreta which is so rich in nutrients.


Vanessa said...

This is nice info.
I have seen ads for composting bins. Small ones for homes, so we could compost household organic waste. Just periodically rotate the bin. Thats all.
Do you recommend those?

csm said...

if you have a yard, you could do it right there without any equipment.
you have hot weather for most of the year. so it should not be a problem.
using enough soil will prevent odours, flies and other bothers which are common.
if above is not available, then get a bin.

siddharth said...

I've heard the rotating bins are good. An experienced gardner friend of mine uses them with good results. However, I've been having decent luck with composting just by piling up organic waste in a corner of the backyard. What I've been doing is: putting everyday kitchen waste (vegetable/fruit skins, eggshells, tea leaves, NO OILY STUFF), sprinking some partly decomposed leaves I picked from the yard, sprinkling some soil on it....and just continuing this process everyday. After 4-6 weeks I start a new pile and leave the first one untouched. Wait for another 4 weeks or so and the first pile is ready to start taking the sweet smelling stuff from. This may not be the fastest way to do it, but its just have to makesure you dont let the pile get waterlogged during rains (could cover with a tarp).
There's a great book out there that I've been reading on this subject (Let it rot! - Stu Campbell). I'm quite new to gardening in general, so this was a great intro...
Our trash volume has gone down significantly after we started composting. However, what was more striking was the reminder that we generate tons of unnecessary waste by buying packaged produce. All our trash now is plastic/paper packaging material. So this has been motivating us to grow more of our vegetables in our backyard!

siddharth said...

using the coconut tree branches (as against wood planks) sounds like a great idea...I suppose they are hard enough to not decompose as fast as the rest of the stuff and hence provide support for the next 12 weeks.
as an aside, I read that lot of the construction type wood thats commonly available in the US (maybe in India too?) in stores like home depot is treated with chemicals containing arsenic...certainly dont want to use that anywhere in the garden (e.g vegetable beds, base for the compost to sit on etc.)

Unknown said...

Great work! If you get heavy monsoon, then you would want to cover it.

Rags said...

In case you are looking for the composting bins. I have one @ home.

csm said...

sid - agree on the piling system if a year is available. keep it as natural as possible. the versatility of the coconut is not new to us :-)

kedar - we cover with a tarp in heavy rain. we already cover with coconut branches to protect from wind and minor rain.

rags - DD is doing good work in urban centers in south india. thanks for the link.