The end result is an even, dark brown/ black, humus rich, hygienic, living substance with a pleasant smell.
Success with composting depends on;
The right mix of ingredients.
Treatment with Bio Dynamic preparations 502 -507
In natures ’Wheel of life’ composting occurs at the bottom of the cycle, where death processes are turned back into life processes in the form of humus.
IN BIO -DYNAMICS there is NO ONE METHOD OF COMPOSTING within a farm or garden. There may be several different types of compost systems.
Just like there is no one way to prepare a family meal. The aim of both is to provide a broad range of ingredients to achieve a balanced meal. (For humans or the soil.)
Bio Dynamic practitioners use a broad range of composting methods. The method selected depends on:
- Types of materials available. Both on and off property.
- Quantity of materials / Available equipment.
- Crops nutritional needs.
1. IMPROVES THE STRUCTURE OF THE SOIL. This means the soil will be:
- Easier to work, improved tilth.
- Improved aeration.
- Better water retention.
- More resistance to erosion.
By improving the soil, plants are better able to resist insect and disease attacks due in part to a higher protein content in these plants. Most insects look for sick plant to eat and recycle
2. PROVIDES NUTRIENTS available to plants. - Stable, less leaching.
Compost needs the essential elements of:
FOOD (ORGANIC MATTER)
All these are required in balance by micro organisms in the heap.
In addition to the above elements compost requires the human element or ‘Quinta essentisa’ .The ordering principle to collect the ingredients and put the heap together.
To help master the craft of composting draw some comparisons e.g.
Think of the process of making a cake:-collecting the ingredients, incorporating the right amount of air, baking at the correct temperature, testing for readiness, cutting to reveal the texture, moisture and complete baking.
Once the heap is completed the temperature starts to rise reaching between 30 and 50 degrees Celsius with in a few days. This heating process continues for up to 6 weeks then gradually reduces again until it stabilises at air temperature. The compost goes through 3 stages as it develops.
BACTERIA - FUNGUS STAGE
- Proteins are broken down by bacteria producing amino acids and ammonia
- Carbohydrates are broken down to simple sugars, organic acids and carbon dioxide.
Heat is required.
- The fungi ingest the free ammonia and rebuild it into amino acids contained in their mycelia.
Moisture is critical.
2. EARTHWORM STAGE
- Heating is reduced and the heat loving bacteria has produced spores and the fungi have pre-digested food for worms.
- Mixing of organic substances creating polymerised carbon chains - humus, which absorb captions such as calcium, ammonium, magnesium, potassium, and others becoming a sponge for nutrients.
- Arthropods e.g. centipedes begin to develop.
At this stage the compost can be used for heavy feeders, e.g. cabbage, corn, pumpkins etc.
3. RIPENESS STAGE
- Humus bacteria come in. The compost turns into good crumbly humus with the smell of fresh earth. To test for this stage take a handful of compost and shape it into a ball - it should hold its shape, now drop it, it should fall apart. It is ready to use.
MINIUM size of1 mitre square is required for the composting processes to proceed. Structure of the heap can vary depending on amount and types of material, space available, equipment and machinery, environmental factors such as wind, rain, animals.
Anything that has once lived can be converted into compost. The range of ingredients available will determine the composting systems to use.
Just as you gather and use certain ingredients in certain amounts, carefully mixed and baked at the correct temperature in the kitchen so does the compost maker. As you would serve a balanced meal to your family, so to you would use a large range of materials in the compost to ensure the soil and plants are feed a balanced diet.
It is also of great advantage to have a “pantry” of collected materials. These can be stored in lidded plastic containers until they are required.
Essential compost ingredient. .All the materials need to be moistened (like a rung out sponge ) The compost should be viewed in the same way as plants and when plants require watering so may the compost heap. It needs to be checked regularly.
Essential compost ingredient. When building the heap care needs to be taken to ensure air and air spaces are incorporated.
COMPOSTABLE MATERIAL CAN BE DIVIDED INTO 2 CATEGORIES:
MATERIALS HIGH IN CARBON
MATERIALS HIGH IN NITROGEN
In making compost the aim is to have a mix of materials that form a ratio of:
25 30 parts Carbon : 1 part Nitrogen
In practice this is not measured but knowing the ratios of your available materials will help you determine what other materials you need to source to reach this ratio. Knowing the materials you are using and observing how well they compost will help develop a ‘feel’ for different types of materials.
All animal manures regardless of age must be properly composted with other materials before adding to soil. When raw manure is used it harms the soil microbes and the worms and causes imbalances in the soil. Sure! you get the lush quick green growth, just the same as adding urea or soluble Nitrogen. Animal manures have the potential to contain dangerous organisms such as E coli; another important reason for composting all manures. Studies have shown that applying fresh manure over a number of years has no increase, or even a decreasing humus content in the soil, whereas applying composted manures results in a slow but steady increase of humus and organic matter. Same goes for liquid animal manures (an old time favourite of gardeners) where manure, mainly poultry/ pigeon, is steeped in water and then used directly on plants. This is the same as dissolving urea and using it. All liquid types of fertiliser need to be limited to the capacity of the humus in the soil to absorb; otherwise it is leached into the water table. One of the main aims of organic agriculture is to feed the plants via the humus in the soil. Plants feed through very complex mechanisms. Humus, trace elements, bacteria, fungi, algae all plays a part. To feed nutrients through water soluble fertilisers or foliar sprays can cause the plant to take up too many nutrients, to grow lush and sappy and be more vulnerable to pest and disease attacks.
Guidelines for manure use:
Collect manure as fresh as possible from an uncontaminated site.
Store manure, covered, out of the rain until needed for compost.
Compost aerobically with other materials. The best way to add the manure to the compost is to make a thick slurry by adding a little water to a large container and mixing until smooth. This can then be poured over the layers as you build the heap.
Quality of animal manure varies depending on the type of animal and their diet. In general, the part of the plant upon which an animal feeds is best fertilised by the manure of that species.
HOUSEHOLD COMPOSTING Households today produce large amounts of food waste each day, this firstly needs to be reduced. (It will save you money as well)
Food waste needs to be dealt with daily therefore the compost heap in the garden are unsuitable. Since a compost heap is made at once, covered and left to mature. Imagine you were making a cake and you continually opened the oven and added more ingredients! How would such a cake turn out? Since the ingredient is building up slowly each day the heat generated by the composting system does not happen therefore a different system needs to be employed. Systems using compost worms are ideal and there are many to choose from. When choosing a system consider
- Size of the unit - many worm farms are too small and don’t have a critical mass and can dry out quickly.
- Food scraps attract vermin and flies especially meat and fish scrapes ensure your system has built in deterrents.
- End use of compost ie. do you want lots of compost or a waste elimination system?
SUCCESSFUL HOUSEHOLD COMPOSTING
Worm composting still requires balancing of ingredients. As the bulk is moist food waste (high N) it needs to be mixed with plenty of dry carbon material, like paper, sawdust or dry grass. The worms benefit from a little clay and lime (See ingredients for adding tips)
If the right systems are used, the worm composting system can become a store for composting materials. These materials can be used to add to a compost heap when it is being built. Its value is similar to animal manures.
There are a vast array of small plastic bins available designed to digest household kitchen scraps .These bins require more management than a garden compost system. They don’t produce compost as such. As material is continually being added no heat is generated This process means that high moisture material being continually added and can cause the mix to become too wet and acidic, slowing down the decomposition if carbon materials are not added regularly. As there is no heat seeds will remain viable.
Waste eliminator Good air flow, critical mass, vermin
proof, worm active
Good air flow, critical mass, vermin proof, worm active