Thursday, April 2, 2020

Composting - Study

Since I started with natural farming after reading Masanobu Fukuoka and he didn't advise to use any compost, composting was never in my farming activity. But now for my kitchen garden, needed some manure, so thought of making compost and started doing research on this topic. Fukuoka san also talks about composting in couple of occasions...”In making the transition to this kind of farming, some weeding, composting or pruning may be necessary at first, but these measures should be gradually reduced each year”. Also there is a reference that for his kitchen garden he makes compost from kitchen waste and wood ashes. Subash Palekar is also talking about problems with compost and he also suggests to use mulch with Jeevamrithm,basically it is inplace composting. Issue with this approach is that, maintaining moisture is difficult also C:N ratio of the waste to 30:1.

Another reason why I started on compost lines was that, I have been reading about the theory that by just adding carbon alone, humus doesn't get generated and it needs nitrogen also in 30:1 ratio, along with air and water to make humus. If the C:N ratio is too high (excess Carbon), decomposition slows down. If the C:N ratio is too low (excess nitrogen) you will end up with a stinky pile. After decomposition,35% of carbon will be converted to humus and 65% will be released as carbon dioxide.Hence in the humus, C:N ratio will be 10:1. Soil organisms has C:N ratio of 8:1,with 22 parts of carbon for energy and 8 parts of carbon for maintenance.

These are the C:N ratio of some items:

Dried leaves - 60:1,food waste - 15:1,grass clippings 17:1, so when all these are used in compost pile, total C:N becomes - 60+15+17:1+1+1 = 92:3, that is - 31:1. This is a good combination. Hence add one bucket dried leaves, one bucket food waste and one bucket grass clippings. Experts also say, even one bucket of dried leaves with one bucket of food waste+grass clippings also will work, basically equal parts of brown material and equal parts of nitrogen rich material.

Subash Palekar's mulching suggestion also follows this, he asks to use mulch from leguminous cover crops. When we just mulch with leaves, it just dries up and only a very small portion gets converted to humus and add to soil fertility, especially in hot climates. In cold climates, it just remains well in the soil and gets added as humus. As per theory, they say in hot climates, mulch gets oxidised without nitrogen. Practically I have seen that when straw is spread back in the rice field after 2nd crop, scorching sun just cooks it and after a while, nothing much can be seen later. So in short, to make humus, C:N ratio, moisture and oxygen is important and this can not be easily assured when we mulch around the trees, but in compost pit, this can be easily done,especially the moisture part. In short, true composting can be achieved only when the vegetable and animal elements are combined in correct proportions and have been subjected to the influence of moisture and of air.

Some informations from Steve Solomon's Organic Gardener's Composting book...

If there is too much nitrogen in the heap, it heats up very rapidly, become as hot as the microbial population can tolerate, lose moisture very quickly, and probably smell of ammonia, indicating that valuable fixed nitrogen is escaping into the atmosphere. There are other bacteria commonly found in soil that uptake ammonia gas and change it to the nitrates that plants and soil life forms need to make other proteins. That is why it is very important to ensure that about 10 percent of a compost pile is soil and to coat the outside of a pile with a frosting of rich earth that is kept damp. Clay is capable of attracting and temporarily holding on to ammonia until it is nitrified by microorganisms. Most soils contain significant amounts of clay.

Also recently when I looked at the beautiful market gardens people doing around the world came across Charles Dowding who does no-till market garden just using compost. He spreads 6 inhces of compost initially and plants directly into compost and then yearly add another 3 inches of compost. All the compost was made in his garden using agriculture waste, kitchen waste, coffee grounds and some manure. So at this point I think, making some compost for kitchen garden and other farm may be good and can be reduced gradually once the farm is at its best productivity.

So I started searching for composting solutions in Internet and here is a summary of composting options which interested me.

Berkeley Compost Method
This method developed by University of Berkeley is aerobic (in presence of oxygen) composting technique and will produce compost in 18 days. These are the features:

  • In this compost temperature is between 55-65 degree celsius
  • The C:N (carbon:nitrogen) balance in the composting materials is approximately 25-30:1
  • The compost heap needs to be roughly 1.5m high
  • Materials has to be broken down to small pieces.  Microorganisms are not capable of chewing or mechanically attacking food.the greater the surface area the composting materials present the more rapidly microorganisms multiply to consume the food supply. And the more heat is created
  • Compost is turned from outside to inside and vice versa to mix it thoroughly
  • No turning till 4th day, then onwards till 18th day, turn till 18th day. Basically remove outerlayer and keep it on one side, and then inner side keep and apply to outerside
  • Can put activator in the middle of compost heap to start off composting process. Activators include comfrey, nettles, yarrow, animal, fish, urine, or old compost
  • Has to make it wet initially
  • If you are in a hurry use 1/3 of manure and 2/3 of carbon materials. Add one bucket of nitrogen rich material, for every 2 buckets of carbon rich materials. 
  • Since it's hot compost not much volume change at the end of 18th day

Reference - - How to create and maintain soil fertility. This video tells that there is no much volume change when the compost is created and every 2 weeks one 1m3 of compost is made.

Indoor process

Sir Albert Howard was the founder of the organic farming movement, worked for 25 years in India as an agriculture investigator. He developed Indore composting process when he was working as a Director in Instistute of plant industry at Indore.

 It is a 90 day process and is an aerobic process. 50 cart loads (each 27cft) of ripe compost can be obtained per pair of oxen, if there is sufficient vegetable wastes available, this could be doubled. Malvi breed cattle was used for Indore process. At Institute 300 acres produced 1000 cart loads of compost using 40 oxen. The limiting factor was not animal, but vegetable wastes. The amount of animal wastes from forty draught oxen gave a large surplus, which could be used either directly as manure or as fuel for cooking. As each cartload of compost was equivalent, as regards nitrogen content, to two cartloads of ordinary farmyard manure, and taking other factors into consideration, had about three times the value of such manure, the fields of India could be supplied as required and yet leave enough material over to allow for the manufacture of the well-known kundas, cow-dung cakes for fuel.

Raw materials needed: Vegetable waste - In the tropics and sub-tropics the vegetable wastes consist of very similar materials including the vegetation of waste areas, grass, plants grown for shade and green-manure, sugar-cane leaves and stumps, all crop residues not consumed by live stock, cotton stalks, weeds, sawdust and wood shavings, and plants grown for providing compostable material on the borders of fields, roadsides, and any vacant corners available.
The ideal chemical composition of these materials should be such that, after being used as bedding for live stock, the carbon: nitrogen ratio is in the neighbourhood of 33:1.

Animal Residues. The animal residues ordinarily available all over the world are much the same -- the urine and dung of live stock, the droppings of poultry, kitchen waste including bones. Where no live stock is kept and animal residues are not available, substitutes such as dried blood, slaughter-house refuse, powdered hoof and horn, fish manure, and so forth can be employed.

At Indore the work-cattle were kept in well-ventilated sheds with earthen floors and were bedded down daily with mixed vegetable wastes including about 5 per cent. by volume of hard resistant material such as wood shavings and sawdust. The cattle slept on this bedding during the night when it was still further broken up and impregnated with urine. Next morning the soiled bedding and cattle dung were removed to the pits for composting;

Every three months the earth under the cattle was changed, the urine-impregnated soil was broken up in a mortar mill and stored under cover near the compost pits. This urine earth, mixed with any wood ashes available, served as a combined activator and base in composting

Compost is made using pits or heaps. In places there is heavy rains or water logging heaps are used, otherwise pits can be used. Size of the pit should be 30 feet x 14 feet and 3 feet depth with sloping sides.Air percolates the fermenting mass to a depth of about 18 to 24 inches only, so for a height of 36 inches extra aeration must be provided. This is arranged by means of vertical vents, every 4 feet, made by a light crowbar as each section of the pit is charged.
During monsoon, 7 ft. by 7 ft. ( 8 ft x 8 ft at bottom) and 2 ft. heigh heaps are made.

Charging a pit 30 feet long takes place in six sections each 5 feet wide. The first section, however, is left vacant to allow of the contents being turned. The second section is first charged. A layer of vegetable wastes about 6 inches deep is laid across the pit to a width of 5 feet. This is followed by a layer of soiled bedding or farm-yard manure 2 inches in thickness. The layer of manure is then well sprinkled with a mixture of urine earth and wood ashes or with earth alone, care being taken not to add more than a thin film of about one-eighth of an inch in thickness. If too much is added aeration will be impeded. The sandwich is then watered where necessary with a hose fitted with a rose for breaking up the spray. The charging and watering process is then continued as before until the total height of the section reaches 5 feet. Three vertical aeration vents, about 4 inches in diameter, are then made in the mass by working a crowbar from side to side. The first vent is in the centre, the other two midway between the centre and the sides. As the pit is 14 feet wide and there are three vents, these will be 3 feet 6 inches apart. The next section of the pit (5 feet wide) is then built up close to the first and watered as before.

Turning Compost

First turn - The first turn should take place between 2 and 3 weeks after charging. Second turn. About five weeks after charge the material is turned a second time but in the reverse direction.

Three months after charge the micro-organisms will have fulfilled their task and humus will have been completely synthesized. It is now ready for the land. If kept in heaps after ripening is completed, a loss in efficiency must be faced. The oxidation processes will continue. Nitrification will begin, resulting in the formation of soluble nitrates. These may be lost either by leaching during heavy rain or they will furnish the anaerobic organisms with just the material they need for their oxygen supply. Such losses do not occur to anything like the same extent when the humus is banked by adding it to the soil. Freshly prepared humus is perhaps the farmer's chief asset and must therefore be looked after as if it were actual money

Amrith Mitti (Nursery Soil)

This composting method was developed by Professor Sripad Dhabolkar as part of his Natueco farming development. Nutrient value of Amrith Mitti is said to be one of the best and equivalent to forest soil.The soil needs to be produced only once in the life of the farm, and over the years it increases in nutritional value and most important, in microbial variety.

Ingredients are Amrut Jal, Dry bio-mass and green bio-mass (with many varieties of plants),top soil (scrape 1cm of top soil from the shade of trees/bushes), variety of seeds (fruits, vegetables, leafy vegetables, herbs, grains, pulses, big trees, oil-plants, spices)

Amrit Jal is made by mixing 10L of water,with 1L of cow urine (need not be fresh) , 1Kg of fresh cowdung and 50gms of organic black jaggery.

Stir the solution twice every day and 4th day, it will be ready.

  • Collect dry organic matter such as straws, leaves, grass, stems, twigs, plants, shredded bark, branches, etc.
  • Crush it so that decomposition is faster
  • Soak the biomass in Amrit Jal for 24 hours
  • Heap should be made with 3 feet width, 1 feet height and any length
  • Form first layer of bio-mass by spreading it
  • Sprinkle a thin layer of soil
  • Do this till a 1 feet height is reached
  • After the heap is ready, keep it mulched
  • Keep the heap for composting for 30 days
  • Every 7th day, mix the heap,ensure mulching after tilling
  • Sprinkle with Amrih Jal and water to keep it moist
  • Once the compost is ready do the greening process which is another 70 day process
  • Soak the collected seeds in Amrit Jal for 8 hours
  • Sow the seeds, approximately 10gms of seeds in every square feet
  • Keep the heap mulched by 2-4 inches of dry organic matter and keep it moist by watering and Amrit Jal application
  • On 21st day, prune 25%, without uprooting. These gives the tender parts of the plants which contain a different sets of nutrients
  • On 42nd day, prune and mulch another 25%
  • On 63rd day, prune the entire plant 0.5” of the stem above the ground,without disturbing roots
  • Keep the cuttings for drying for 3-4 days, after dried crush and soak in Amrit Jal for 8 hours
  • Mix into heap

A good one litre of Amrit Mitti should weigh 400gms.

Thumboormuzhi composting
This is a composting model developed by Dr. Francis Xavier of Kerala Veternary University. This is a 4ft x 4ft x 4ft bin made with enough holes on all 4 sides. This is either done by bricks with alternate bricks not present. Otherwise concrete slabs of 4” width is used, in between them there will be 4” gap. Carbon materials like dried leaves or shredded news paper is filled then cowdung slurry is applied. Above this kitchen waste or meat waste is spread and this process is repeated. Enough moisture should be maintained. Compost will be ready in 45-90 days. Around 1 ton of compost will be available per tank.

NADEP composting

The NADEP method of organic composting was developed by a Gandhian worker called Narayan Deotao Pandharipande of Maharastra (Pusad). Compost can be prepared from a wide range of organic materials including dead plant material such as crop residues, weeds, forest litter and kitchen waste. Compost making is an efficient way of converting all kinds biomass into high value fertilizer that serves as a good alternative to farmyard manure, especially for crop-growing households without livestock.

This method of making compost involves the construction of a simple, rectangular brick tank with enough spaces maintained between the bricks for necessary aeration. The recommended size of the tank is 10 ft (length) x 5 ft (breadth) x 3 ft (height). All the four walls of NADEP tank are provided with 6// vents by removing every alternate brick after the height of 1ft. from bottom for aeration. Tank can be constructed in mud mortar or cement mortar.

Raw materials required for filling NADEP tank: Agricultural waste (Dry & green) – 1350-1400 kgs. Cattledung or biogas slurry – 98 – 100 kgs. fine sieved soil – 1675 kgs. Water – 1350-1400 litres.

The important technique in the manufacture of Nadep compost is that the entire tank should be filled in one go, within 24 hours and should not go beyond 48 hours, as this would affect the quality of the compost.

Inside the composting tank a series of layers of agricultural waste, dung and soil are successively laid.100-110 kg of agricultural waste is first placed on the floor in a layer of about 6 inches. 4kg of dung mixed with 125-150 liters of water is applied on top of this layer. The quantity of water varies with season and atmospheric temperature, more water is necessary in the summer months. On top of the second layer, clean soil, roughly half the weight of the agricultural waste used (i.e. 50-55kg) is spread. Thereafter little water is sprinkled. In this manner successive layers are heaped to a height of about 1.5ft. above top of the trough. Then the top of the pile is sealed with a 3 inch plastering of soil mixed with dung (400-500kg). Within 2-3 months dark brown, friable, soft and moist compost, free of all foul odour is ready. The nutrient status of this manure is Nitrogen 0.5-1.5%, Phosphorous 0.5-0.9% and Potassium1.2-1.4%.

: About 3 tons of compost is generated per tank per cycle. Typical application rate is 3.0 tons per hectre.

One disadvantage of this method is the use of soil in large quantities...may be there is a way to overcome this


Trench Composting

In Trench composting a trench is made and your kitchen waste and some dried leaves are added and soil is put above this. It decomposes nicely and you can plant, after 2-3 weeks. Some people say, pumpkins and ash guards grow very well in compost piles, so these may be planted directly.

Some references:


Khetigaadi said...

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Kevin said...

Hi Nandakumar, I am Kevin; I hail from Tiruvalla/Ranni region. I read your first article on how you decided to become a part-time farmer. Your story is very inspiring. I am living abroad currently, but I am interested in getting into farming at some point in my life. Keep writing!

Nandakumar said...

Khetigaadi, Thanks...our aim is to avoid big tractors and use only small tools, maximum tillers...

Kevin - Nice to hear from you..making a sustainable income from farming may take some time, so you have to plan accordingly. But it is an interesting life.


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