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Our tryst with compost...


When we bought this uncultivated and well-grazed land we assumed that it was full of potential. Later we realized that unmanaged land had lost all of the topsoils and we could not get much out of it.


Since we had committed not to use any chemical fertilizers and pesticides in this land, we used Vermi-compost, NPK cultures and other organic inputs. Lessons from these are - they work, cost a lot and are not scalable.

Being students of agriculture for six years, we want to be better in every iteration hence this large scale soil fertility improvement program. Here is what we have done in 2021:


1. Protected the topsoil by building check dams, swales and whatever else that is required to stop the water from taking away the topsoil.

2. Cultivate or manage only the parts that we have means to manage (water, money and manpower) leave the rest to nature. It is not a waste but a long term investment, we will see that later.

3. A good rain in a year bought thousands of weeds that started to thrive on the swales and freshly exposed land. By the second year, some parts of our land were almost impregnable.

4. At the end of rains in the second year, we cut the shorter weeds using a brush cutter and left to cover the ground. This was to give much-needed protection to bare earth during the summer months. (Natures mulch)

5. Bigger bush was cut and trees pruned giving a handsome collection of greens and browns. We realized that in Dharmapuri District Jan-Feb is a good time to do this activity. We were creating aerobic compost, therefore, we did not require a pit. We stacked the greens and browns into a pile in a shaded area. Smalls twigs were allowed into the pile but thicker branches were kept aside to create a holding pen.

6. On top of this we add partially compost farmyard manure.

7. The compost pile was kept just moist (not soaking wet) all the time. Since these are big piles every 2-3 weeks we planned to turn the pile so that the outer surface gets inside and inner parts get some aeration. We abandoned that plan after we tried to turn one pile and realized that uncomposted twigs were always coming to the top leading to the heavier material settling down.

8. We continued to add a bucket of fermented decomposer every week to a pile and kept moist. The Fermentation was done in a 200-litre drum filled with water to which we added commercially available decomposer, 2 Kg Jaggery and one litre of curds. Let it stand for a week.

Rightly done, compost should have been ready after 8+ weeks. But in our case, we had not shredded the material, had not kept sufficiently moisture and few piles were out in the hot summer sun these added few more weeks. Finally, we opened the pile in June (5 months after we started the process) and the results were mixed:


Few piles had not composted well.

But the others had nicely turned into great smelling compost.

As we started to draw the compost from the pile, we moved the pile tighter and planted Banana & Papaya plants around the piles to create shade as well as to benefit from the microbial rich soil around the pile.

With confidence in building low maintenance compost makers, I am ready for my next project that would be to build Johnson-Su compost bioreactor.


Stay tuned.

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