April and Kevin in Kuna Yala, the northeast coast of Panamá

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Composting update....

So, it has now been about two weeks since we made the compost "bocachi" with the contents of our compost toilet. The response to the last post on this subject has been very interesting...and at times revealing.

I am happy to report that the compost heated up very nicely for a few days. It also lost about 8 inches in height in the box...a really visible decrease in volume. After that (this is only about 5 days after making the pile) it cooled down to where you could not feel heat above the tubes anymore, just in the pile itself.
(Kevin next to the settled pile after one week; it started as high as the screening)

We decided to mix the pile to kickstart it again and ensure complete composting. Mixing, or turning the compost serves to mix the un-composted materials into the center, stir more space and oxygen into the materials, and promote microoganism growth. We turned the compost just by opening the box, shoveling it all out, shoveling it a bit to mix it, and shoveling it all back in. While it never did regain the high heat of the first few days it did heat up nicely and is warm to the touch just an inch or so below the surface.

(Kevin turning the compost before putting it back in the bin.)

When we turned it we found that the whole contents of the pile had become fairly uniform in color and texture. There were still bits of banana tree and leaves that were identifiable, but on the whole it was well on the way to looking and smelling just like good black soil. We were very happy with the results so far just based on 7 days time. We could almost taste big tomatoes.

(The humanuare compost after just 5 days of composting time...looking good!)

We also co-taught a class about making a compost pile with MIDA (the national agricultural ministry) on Friday and used a sample from our pile to show what was possible in 2 weeks time. During the class we worked with the students to make a sample pile that will then be used in the school garden when we get it started (waiting on the rain to arrive as the school does not reliably have water). The class went well and much fun was had by the students (all adults). We also gave away compost tea (a liquid form of compost fertilizer) as prizes for people who correctly answered questions about compost at the end of class.

(April (on the left) and the community watching the hands-on portion of compost pile creation)

(The men working on spreading bala leaves in the first level of the pile)

(The women working on spreading bala leaves in a later level of the pile)

However, while we told the community that we made our pile with manure, we didn't mention that it was humanure. We aren't sure they're all ready for that, and we don't want them to think we are so far out there that they decide to dismiss all of our ideas as too far-fetched to try.

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