Farmer’s advice: Cooking Up Compost – A Banquet for Your Soil

By Amanda Moyo, Purple Horizon Farm, Kwekwe

“Rice, sadza, roast chicken, beef stew…is your mouth watering? Hay, straw, manure, maize stalks, peanut shells, banana peels…well, this might not be so exciting to you, but it is for your crops, this is delectable, if you cook it right.”

Compost is both highly fibrous and nutritious organic material that needs to be ‘cooked up’ and served back to the soil, so that it can give back healthy and robust crops. Composting is deemed an as an easy, God given, and natural way to give back to the soil. It builds up soil structure increasing its efficiency in retaining moisture and releasing a steady flow of nutrients and minerals to your growing crops.

Basically, bacteria, fungi, worms, grubs and beetles are responsible for breaking down the plant and animal waste material in the compost. When residue materials are strategically brought together at one time and in one place, the breaking down process becomes a pile of goodness that supports new and long life. Therefore, be advised not to overlook all those leftovers from harvest time. Start to ‘Collect and Protect’ the material, and apply the art and science of composting. At Purple Horizons we advocate for the excellent methods, instructions and explanations on composting by the Foundations for Farming Organization.   

Thermal Compositing is based on heat creation; where heat (ideally 55-68°C) is created through the decomposing process. The heat kills many diseases and weed seeds. A properly managed compost heap can yield ready-to-use compost within 8 weeks’ time. For small farm holders, an ideal size of compost pile is be 1.5m width, 1.5m length, and 1.5m height.  The compost pile needs a great quantity of materials; so, start collecting and protecting.  Be sure to measure and keep the compost pile in a square shape for best retention of heat and moisture. It is important to flip the pile weekly, this aerates the composting heap, adding oxygen and managing heat generation. It is important to choose a well-protected area to place away from the reach of livestock that can pose a threat on destroying it. Evenly apply about 100l of water per week to the compost pile.

A compost heap is built up with layers of approximately:

  • 40% Dry plant material –anything that has dried up on the field, weeds or crop residues
  • 40% Green plant material—freshly cut vegetation, weeds, cabbage leaves, etc.
  • 20% Manure and residues from green legume crops, for nitrogen.
  • Extras – Hops from beer making, ashes from wood-based fire, peelings, leaves or spoilt vegetable matter, ashes from crop residue that was burnt to destroy disease or egg shell; basically, anything decomposable.
  • What to avoid – animal fat and proteins, diseased vegetation (if you are concerned it cannot be destroyed in the heat process), and too wet material, such as hops, that will suffocate the oxygen flow.

At Purple Horizon farm, we have made and used compost fertilizer for the past 2 years with marked success. It is important to note that, although, we still add conventional fertilizers, we now add them at lower dosages and they stay longer in the soil. We recommend the use of compost to all farmers. Check out the resources cited above or do your own research, but do not miss out on this amazing practice. The manual labor required in forming the pile, rotating it weekly, and watering it daily, will take some commitment, muscle and time, but the efforts will be well rewarded. Whatever you cook up for the soil and crops will surely be served back to you plentifully, so start cooking up compost.

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