Composting can be heaps of fun
From field experiences we have learnt that continuous application of plant manure has a significant effect on organic carbon status in the soil. Using gliricidia as a green manure provides a sustainable means of maintaining soil fertility. Most farmers practising natural farming grow gliricidia as a live fence (hedge). The stems are used as fuel wood. A mixture of the bark and seeds of the plant are used as insect repellents.
In Gummalapuram farmland, we have a compost pit of the size - 5.5 ft (width), 14 ft (Length) and 3 ft (Depth). A structure is raised and built on the earth (with kadappa stone) and the base of the pit is not cemented, unlike a vermicompost pit.
One of the important aspects of constructing a compost pit is to ensure enough aeration for the microbes and the earthworms to thrive. Comfortable moisture and climate are required for the microbes to work actively. Similarly, when there is excess water (due to rain), there needs to be a way for water to drain out. Care must be taken to avoid excessive gaps that may invite snakes and other creatures.
We follow the NADEP composting method where a wide range of organic materials such as crop residues, weeds, forest litter and kitchen waste is mixed resulting in a fertiliser that serves as a good alternative to farmyard manure. We do not buy earthworms from outside. Earthworms naturally work their way up from the ground beneath.
There are 4 main components we use to prepare compost - gliricida, cow dung, cow urine and red soil.
We make 5 - 6 layers in any compost pit.
Each layer will have
- 1 foot of mulching material which after compression becomes half a foot.
- Cow dung slurry. Mixed with 5 litres of water. This helps to generate microbes.
- Cow urine. This contains a lot of nutrients which act as a supplement. This also helps avoid the attack of ants on earthworms.
- Red soil. The pit is covered with 3 inches of soil.
There is a lot of nitrogen present in the green leaves in the form of ammonia (NH3). Once the leaf starts drying, the ammonia will evaporate and only carbon will remain. So to keep the nitrogen intact and not escape into the atmosphere, we add 3 inches of soil as the final layer.
For the first 20 – 25 days, the entire compost material will heat up to 70 degree centigrade due to the presence of thermophile micro organisms. Only after it has cooled down, bigger insects and caterpillars will start working on the mixture. Post this, mesophile microbes make their appearance in the second stage and pulverise it. Next comes the earthworms, in the 3rd stage. With their excreta, the nutrient content of the manure is increased multifold.
Complete composting takes up to 3 months of time. The compost pit in our farm can contribute up to 1.5 Ton of compost which can be used to fertilise up to 1.5 acres of crops like ragi, cereals and millets. In a year, we are able to make about four batches of compost from one composting tank.
When participants are invited to volunteer at the compost pit, there are always one or two in the group who feel awkward touching the cow dung slurry. However, once the role of cow dung, cow urine and the process is explained to them, they overcome their hesitation. They even offer to volunteer at the cow shed. Children and adults equally enjoy this activity of preparing the compost pit.
- Shankar, Facilitator - Bhoomi Eco Village, Gummalapuram
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