Amritapuri’s ecovillage offers “Get Growing” classes and workshops which are oriented around teaching visitors (mostly westerners) the fundamentals of organic and sustainable farming.
Recently I was asked to give a talk on composting to the would-be farmers and gardeners of “Get Growing”. For much of my stay in Amritapuri I’ve been in charge of composting for the tea farm, so I took everyone out to where the action was happening to provide visual aid.
Above is the “finished” pile of compost I showed the crew. Finished compost smells good, so I had everyone take a handful and smell it. If your compost smells rotten then it means it got too hot and the anarobic bacteria took over the decomposing process, producing byproducts that are bad for your plants. How hot is too hot? We use a thermometer, and once we get readings above 70-75 degrees Celsius, we know the pile has heated up too much. Another method I like to use is to dig my hand into the middle of a still-composting pile–if it’s too hot for me to keep my hand in, then it’s probably too hot. So far that method’s worked great for me and the garden.
Next I showed the class the “still composting” pile. I also had them grab a handful from this pile–and squeeze it. Compost needs moisture for the good, arobic bacteria to do their job of decomposing viable organic matter. Too much moisture will prevent the pile from heating up enough though. I try to keep these piles just moist enough that they’re on the brink of dripping moisture when you squeeze a handful.
The pile above is my “hands off” pile. Normally compost piles should be turned once or twice a week, but this pile is not very dense and doesn’t get watered so there’s not much danger of it heating up too much. It’s really more of a very, very thick mulch.
Indians were dumping waste in this corner of our garden, so much so that not even many weeds were growing in this section, so I cleared out as much garbage as I could, then filled in the area with several feet of organic matter. On the bottom I put branches and logs, then above that twigs and green leaves, and I’m in the process of adding a final layer of brown leaves. The lumber will retain water, providing moisture for new life that will begin growing on top after the brown leaves have fully composted.
Finally, we went to check out the worm composting bin pictured above. Worm composting is a little different than regular composting–you feed the worms a layer of organic material a few inches thick that is to be laid down on top. The compost is never turned (by humans at least–worms do all the turning themselves). The soil should be more moist than regular compost, so that when you squeeze a handful of soil it does drip slightly.
I enjoyed teaching the Get Growing class the fundamentals of composting, and I hope you learned a bit too reading this post!