In this part of Agripool’s Organic Series, we will be addressing the organic, prized possession of compost. Building and maintaining a compost pile is a crucial ingredient to successful farming or gardening. The leaves, grass clippings, orange rinds, and eggshells, for example, gradually transform into rich compost filled with healthy microorganisms that supplies the best possible food for one’s garden. Compost should be used as a healthy, organic additive in your garden too!
What is compost?
Composting is the decomposition of organic materials such as fruits, vegetables, prunings, grass, leaves, etc. The process can be sped up with sufficient water to moisten the compost along with mixing and turning the pile to allow aeration. Once the compost is a dark brown color, resembling forest soil, and the organic materials no longer have their characteristic look or smell, the compost is ready for use.
There are many advantages to composting:
- Compost Improves Soil Structure
As mentioned in a previous organic series article soil erosion is a huge issue all across the world. However, the components of compost help to not only reduce soil erosion and enhance its fertility, but it also helps the soil retain moisture and become more arable (soft and loamy). By adding compost to the soil, whether it is compacted, sandy, stony, heavy or wet, it will improve its texture, fertility, and water-holding capacity, thereby enhancing the entire soil structure. At Agripool, we experience a sandy soil, so compost is imperative to improve its structure for the health and viability of our crops.
- Compost provides a balanced source of plant nutrients
Added decaying organic material provides the necessary microorganisms that produce the required nutrients for plants. In other words, the microorganisms that are found teeming in compost helps to convert nutrients into a form that can be readily absorbed. This extra organic matter and nutrients helps to regulate soil pH to optimum levels for nutrient availability for plant life, supporting the duration of vegetative life and improving plant growth.
The microorganisms, enzymes, vitamins, and natural antibiotics present in compost actually help prevent many soil pathogens from harming plants as well. Earthworms, millipedes, and other macro-organisms tunnel through the soil, opening up passageways for air and water to reach the plant’s roots, ensuring proper development.
- Composting is sustainable
Utilizing compost also dotes sustainability measures by reducing waste that would otherwise be landfilled or burned. Further, if soils are managed sustainably, they can play an important role in climate change mitigation as they act as our silent allies in the fight, sequestering carbon and decreasing greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere. At Agripool, sustainability is the core of our beliefs—it’s what guides and directs the processes we take in all aspects of our farming.
How Compost Happens
Organic matter is transformed into compost through the work of microorganisms, soil fauna, enzymes and fungi. When making compost, the farmer or gardener’s job is to provide the best possible environment for these beneficial organisms to do their work. If so happens, the decomposition process works very rapidly—sometimes in as little as two weeks. If one does not provide the optimum environment, decomposition will still happen, but it may take from several months to several years.
The trick to making an abundance of compost in a short time is to balance the following four things:
Carbon-rich materials are the energy food for microorganisms. High-carbon plant materials can be identified because they are dry, tough, or fibrous, and tan or brown in color. Examples are dry leaves, straw, rotted hay, sawdust, shredded paper, and cornstalks.
High-nitrogen materials provide the protein-rich components that microorganisms require to grow and multiply. Freshly pulled weeds, fresh grass clippings, over-ripe fruits and vegetables, kitchen scraps and other moist green matter are the sorts of nitrogen-rich materials that one probably has on hand. Other high-protein organic matter includes kelp meal, seaweed, manure, and animal by-products like blood or bone meal.
Moisture is very important for the composting process, but too much moisture will draw down the microorganisms, and too little will dehydrate them. A general rule of thumb is to keep the material in a compost pile as moist as a well-wrung sponge. If water needs to be added, insert a garden hose into the middle of the pile in several places, or sprinkle the pile with water the next time it is turned. Using an enclosed container or covering the pile with a tarp will make it easier to maintain the right moisture level.
To do their work most efficiently, microorganisms require a lot of oxygen. When a compost pile is first assembled, there will probably be plenty of air between the layers of materials. But as the microorganisms begin to work, they will start consuming oxygen. Unless the pile is turned or in some way aerated, the microorganisms will run out of oxygen and become sluggish.
What is needed?
Beginning a compost pile is simple and requires few materials, most of which may already be on hand.
- 1-by-1-meter space
Composting requires approximately a 1 by 1-meter space convenient to the garden where the organic material can be placed in a pile. The pile can also be placed in a container, if need be.
- Brown and green organic material
Add layers of brown and green organic material in equal proportions. A small amount of good soil or compost should be added to a new pile to supply the micro-organisms.
As needed, wet the pile to keep moist, and mix the pile, turning it to bring material on the bottom to the top to provide aeration. As the organic matter decomposes, the pile will become smaller.
To compost more rapidly, cut the organic material in smaller pieces and turn the pile once or twice a week, adding water to keep the pile moist. To avoid slowing the process, do not continue to add fresh material, but instead use this material to start a new compost pile.
After assembling the layers of green and brown organic matter, left untouched, the compost will be ready in about a year. To speed the process, spray the pile with water (1-2 times a month) and mix with a shovel or pitchfork to assist with the aeration.
Fresh organic matter can be added by making a hole in the pile, adding the material and covering it with a layer of the existing compost.
Containers for composting
It is not necessary to use a container for composting, but they can be used if a more orderly appearance is desired. Some containers can actually speed up the process. There are various containers that can be built or used:
- Cubicle composting
Using bricks, wood, or whatever material is available, assemble a 1-meter square to hold the compost. During rainy seasons, a cover can be placed over the compost to prevent it from becoming too wet.
- Barrels or plastic drums
Drill 24 to 48 holes of 1 cm to obtain good aeration. Because there is no contact with the soil, add a small amount of old compost or garden soil to begin the composting process.
- Wire container composting
Using a piece of screen or wire about 3.5 meters long by one meter high, tie the ends together, and fill with organic material. To mix the compost, remove the wire, turn the compost and then refill the wire container.
Composting System at Agripool
As Agripool has been building up 200+ acres of farmland, we require a commercialized system that can maintain a large capacity of compost that we continuously turn-and-burn to ensure the availability of compost at all times. Therefore, we utilize a 5-bin system that organizes the compost from unprepared, to ready to use.
What materials can be used in composting?
In general, all organic matter from the garden can be used, along with all yard waste such as leaves, straw, twigs and grass clippings. Any material larger than 2 ½ cm in diameter can be cut into smaller pieces before adding to the pile. Kitchen scraps from fruit and vegetables, coffee grounds, and eggshells can be added. Animal manure (from animals that do not eat meat) can also be added to the pile to add nutrients and speed up the decomposition. DO NOT ADD feces from humans, cats or dogs because it could transmit diseases. DO NOT ADD meat, bones, grease, milk or cheese to the pile because it could attract animals to the site.
Points to consider
The decomposition of organic matter in the compost pile will be dependent on the activity of microbes. This activity is dependent on adequate aeration, the amount of moisture, the size of the organic material and the nutrients available. A well prepared and maintained compost pile in a warm climate can provide organic fertilizer or soil amendment within 2 months.
When is the compost ready?
When the pile of compost has completed its decomposition, remove any sticks, rocks and debris that remain. The final product should be a uniform, brown, loamy, organic product that can be used as a fertilizer.