Sunday, March 12, 2006

Compost for Mother Earth's worship

Sripad Paramahansa Maharaj has developed composting techniques in India at Vrindakunja, Vrindavan during the last ten years, he is always ready to promote and support environmental care cooperating with anybody interested in intelligently dealing with wastes like plastic, paper, recycling and specifically with the useful organic materials.

Why Make Compost?

Compost is one of nature's best mulches and soil amendments. It can be used instead of commercial fertilizers. Best of all, compost is cheap. You can make it without spending hardly a cent. Compost forms humus, the soil’s life, the most valuable fertilizer, which when added to the soil makes it more fertile.

Using compost improves soil structure, texture, and aeration and increases the soil's water-holding capacity. Compost loosens clay soils and helps sandy soils retain water. Adding compost improves soil fertility and stimulates healthy root development in plants. The organic matter in compost provides food for micro-organisms, which keeps the soil in a healthy, balanced condition. Nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus will naturally be made available as a product of the feeding of micro-organisms.

Understanding how to make and use compost is in the public interest. The problem of waste disposal climbs towards crisis levels, landfills are brimming, and new sites are not easily found. For this reason there is interest in conserving existing landfill space and in developing alternative methods of dealing with waste. Don't throw away materials when you can use them to improve your lawn and garden. Start composting instead.

Tips for better composting

1. Don't throw away your kitchen scraps - add them to the compost pile. Kitchen scraps are typically high in nitrogen, which helps heat up the compost pile and speed up the composting process. But, avoid putting cooked food in the compost.

2. If you're composting with a compost pile, bigger is often better. Heat builds up with a big pile. A maximum height is about 3 feet (1meter) by 3 feet (1m) wide.

3. Keep your compost aerated. If you are composting with a tumbling composter, make sure you turn it whenever you add new materials. If you are composting with a pile, or in static (non-tumbling) compost bin, be sure to mix up the contents so that the pile gets oxygen and can break down effectively.

4. Don't let the compost completely dry out. A compost pile needs moisture to keep the composting process active.

5. Don't keep your compost too wet so that it gets soggy and starts to stink. Just as too dry is bad, too wet is also something that you should avoid.

6. Too much of any one material will slow down the composting process. If you have all leaves, all grass clippings, or an overload of any other single type of material, it can throw off the balance of the pile. In general, it's good to keep a mix of green and brown material.

Composting Methods to Try at Home

The art of compost-making has progressed rapidly. In heaps or bins, underground or on top of the soil, today's composting methods provide the key to building soil fertility for future crops. Development of composting techniques was well developed in ancient India, and was given scientific support in the occidental world by the British scientist Albert Howard in the year 1905 who showed how a method of composting used in Indore, India, was highly efficient and productive. During the early days of organic gardening, the Indore method was the most widely known way for the home gardener to convert waste materials to humus. With this method, a compost heap is built in layers, using first a 6-inch layer of green matter like weeds, crop wastes or leaves. Next, place a two-inch layer of manure, which is in turn covered by a sprinkling of topsoil. The layers are repeated until the pile reaches a height of about 5 feet, and the heap is watered. The pile is turned after 6 weeks and again after 12 weeks to allow air to penetrate so that the heap will heat up properly. After 3 months, the compost is finished and ready for application to the soil.

Simple as it now sounds, these instructions revealed to thousands of gardeners a way to prepare homemade fertilizer. And while these people started using the Indore-heap method, leaders in the organic gardening field were already making changes to the original plan. One improvement was that the materials be mixed as they go into the heap. Instead of sandwiching them, thereby keeping the soil, vegetable wastes and animal wastes separated, they are mixed as one goes on. If we start with a six-inch layer of vegetable wastes, put on a two-inch layer of farmyard manure, and a sprinkling of earth, and then fork up the layers; they get mixed up quite a lot and decomposition is very much better and more complete than if the material is left as separate layers. By doing this, we need only turn the heap once instead of twice.

Compost can be developed in a ground of three square meters (according to necessity) where separated divisions for the decomposition of organic wastes will take place. Each division, or bed, will be about 1.5 m in height, 1 m in length and 1 m wide. The first bed can be filled up to 1.30 m with all kinds of organic wastes (except acidic wastes like lemon, orange, etc, to avoid bad smells), including about 20 cm of dry grass, husks, wood shavings and earth; this will need around two months to decompose. Then the mass can go to the second bed, where it should be mixed with ashes and dry manure. Start to fill the first bed again to repeat the same process. When the second mass becomes three or four months old take out the stones, wood pieces, big sticks, etc which have remained unprocessed. Then pass the pure humus to the third bed, which is the place of this first class fertilizer that can be applied to the soil when required.

Another way of composting is by using a stick, two meters high and 50 cm wide, fixed vertically into the ground; start to deposit around it the organic wastes on a basis of dry grass. When the heap reach up to 30 cm, cover it with 2 cm earth and repeat the process until a tower is created. After 4 – 6 months, humus is ready to be applied. In the meantime other compost towers can be prepared.


The compost must be watered in dry climates. In rainy, humid climates watering is not necessary and covers are needed in order to avoid waterlogged conditions. The mass needs to remain undisturbed as much as possible during the period of decomposition. It does not matter if it has developed in layers of different kinds of organic materials, or if they have become mixed by natural processes. Worms are very favourable and need to be brought into the compost mix through animal manures or from other mature composts.

Compost Boxes and Bins

You can actually use just about any compost container you can think of. This includes "cages" made from woven wire fencing, picket fences, cement blocks, wooden planks, bricks, stones, or whatever else is available. You are limited only by your imagination and the materials you have handy. Such compost containers make a neat, firm compost pile — especially suited for backyard suburban gardens. You can make them with little expenditure (a ton of compost needs a space of only 4-cubic feet). By having one side open, or an easily-removable side, it's simple to turn the heap or remove finished compost.


Vermicomposting, or worm composting, is different than traditional composting. Worm composting is a process that uses red earthworms, also commonly called red worms, to consume organic waste. Worms produce castings (an odour-free compost product for use as mulch), which act as a soil conditioner. Naturally occurring organisms, such as bacteria, fungus and millipedes, also assist in the aerobic decomposition of the organic material. For domestic use in small gardens, make a box or bed of 2m x 1.20m and no more than 60cm high. Fill a quarter of the box with earth and drop the red worms inside. They can be collected from the soil or acquired in nurseries; the most commonly used are the Red Californian Worms. Deposit inside the box directly all organic wastes including cow dung, etc. After 4 – 6 months the humus will be ready. A trick is to hit a few times the box’s surface so that the worms fall to the bottom in order to not kill or take them out from the box. Only then, about 15 cm of humus may be taken out of the box to be used in the garden and orchard.

Using Compost

Finished compost is dark brown, crumbly, and is earthy-smelling. Small pieces of leaves or other ingredients may be visible. If the compost contains many materials which are not broken down, it is only partly decomposed. This product can be used as mulch; though adding partly decomposed compost to the soil can reduce the amount of nitrogen available to the plants. The micro-organisms will continue to do the work of decomposing, but will use soil nitrogen for their own growth, restricting the availability of nitrogen to plants growing nearby. Allow partly decomposed compost particles to break down further or separate them out before using compost on growing plants. Or add extra nitrogen such as manure, to ensure that growing plants will not suffer from a nitrogen deficiency.

Compost serves primarily as a soil conditioner, whether it's spread in a layer on the soil surface or is dug in. A garden soil regularly amended with compost is better able to hold air and water, drains more efficiently, and contains a nutrient reserve that plants can draw on. The amended soil also tends to produce plants with fewer insect and disease problems. The compost encourages a larger population of beneficial soil micro-organisms, which control harmful micro-organisms. It also fosters healthy plants, which are better able to resist pests. Compost one-inch thick is enough to spread on your garden beds. Compost continues to decompose, so eventually the percentage of organic matter in the soil begins to decline. In temperate climates, compost is mostly decomposed after two years in the soil. In tropical climates, it disappears even faster and should be replenished every year. A garden soil that has been well mulched and amended periodically requires only about a half-inch layer of compost yearly to maintain its quality. Some people recommend late fall as a good time to spread compost over a garden bed, and cover it with winter mulch, such as chopped leaves. By spring, soil organisms will have worked the compost into the soil. Others recommend spreading compost two weeks before planting time in the spring. There is really no wrong time to spread it, the benefits remain the same.

If your supply of compost is really limited, consider side-dressing, a way to use compost sparingly by strategically placing it around certain plants or along certain rows. This is best done in late spring and early summer so that the rapidly growing plants can derive the maximum benefit from the compost. To side-dress a plant, work the compost into the soil around the plant, starting about an inch from the stem, out to the drip line, taking care not to disturb the roots. For shallow rooted plants, leave the compost on the soil surface. A 2" layer works best when left on top. For new lawns, a 2 to 3" layer of compost is best when planting. Once the new lawn is established, a ¼ to ½" layer yearly will maintain the quality of the soil. A compost/mulch can benefit trees and shrubs just as it does other plants. Spread a ½" to 1" layer of compost on the bare soil under the tree as far as the drip line. Then cover with a 2-3" layer of some other kind of organic mulch, such as chopped leaves or pine needles. The mulch will hold the compost in place and keep it from drying out.

Compost is the ultimate garden fertilizer. It contains virtually all the nutrients a living plant needs and slowly releases them over a period of years. Compost made with a wide variety of ingredients will provide an even more nutritious meal to your growing plants. Compost is the best material available to enliven your soil no matter where you live. Farmers around the world will testify that healthier soil grows healthier plants that naturally resist diseases, insects, and environmental pollution. Adding compost to your garden is a long-term investment - it becomes a permanent part of the soil structure, helping to feed future plants in years to come.

Compiled by Gopini
Editor: Gopananda dasa


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