There are 4 major categories of component for Organic Soil Technology’s compost. These would be the same categories of materials that you would need as well if you would want to mount your own composting.

  • Fibrous plant material with plenty of carbon
  • Feedstock high in nitrogen or protein
  • Sugar/carbohydrate source for microbe energy
  • Biochar

The above components have much to do with the C/N Ratio. To understand why the below components are necessary, check out the Carbon Nitrogen Ratio Post

 

Fibrous Carbon Source

Animal Litter- Many components, materials or feed stocks used for a protein/nitrogen source could also contain carbon as well. So we wont try to place all types of materials in only one category. For instance animal litter, such as coming from poultry, would not only be high in nitrogen but fiber as well. At Organic Soil Technology we incorporate the bedding from chicken houses as well as pure droppings. Poultry droppings has always been recognized as an important component (D.R. Sloan, G. Kidder and R.D. Jacobs) in a variety of organic fertilizers. Fresh litter bedding in many countries, is pure rice hulls. After a few days it contains too much manure for the poultry and is changed. This poultry litter can be used for composting with a 10 to 20% nitrogen content and 80% fibrous hulls.

Sugar Cane Stalks– For good or bad, right or wrong Costa Rica produces a lot of sugar. It is not grown organically and as we all know sugar cane plantations have a bad name ecologically. But for our organic compost we take advantage of their fibrous byproduct from the cane stalk that would normally be trashed. This is perhaps the best carbon source obtainable anywhere. After most of the sugars have been squeezed out of the cane in it’s processing, what is left is a superior composting material easily broken down by microbes like the Bacteria Actinomycetes. It serves as a carbon source along with added rice hulls. The wasted sugar cane stalks are ideal for composting because not only is much of the carbon in the cane available for microbe decomposition, it also has sugar residues embedded throughout its structural matrix. The sugars help to energize (feed) the bacterias and fungus while they are busy breaking down the other materials in the compost.

Rice Hulls- The rice hulls actually have very little “available ” carbon since it is mostly composed of cellulose and lignin, too hard to break organic molecules that resist the decomposition process of most microbes. But some carbon is available and rice hulls add to the needed air flow in the compost pile and latter in the substrate. using rice hulls without first integrating them threw a 70C composting is not recommended. During the composting cycle the high temperatures render the few rice hulls that still are viable seeds, sterile and empty.

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Nitrogen and/or Protein Source

Why do we say “Nitrogen AND/OR Protein” source? Because either one will give us a usable nitrogen called Nitrate, which is one of the most important nutrients a plant requires for fast growth. Nitrogen is used by the plants to produce proteins for all cellular functions. So proteins contain a lot of nitrogen. Proteins can be easily broken down by microbes after the death of the plant as part of the nitrogen cycle into ammonia, NH3+. With the hard work of nitrosomonas bacteria it is converted into Nitrite, NO4-. At this point a group of bacterias called nitrobacter break it down to the final Nitrate the plants can actually absorb. So any source of

Poultry Droppings– The droppings in the Poultry litter, as previously mentioned, is used here at OST for added nitrogen but the major amounts come from pure poultry and cow droppings with out the litter. The more variety that is used for a nitrogen source, the better. The reason being, there is not only nitrogen in these sources, they contain some of the other 12 major, minor and trace elements as well. The more variety we use for feed stock, the more variety we will obtain with other nutrients. Cost Rica is chicken heaven. I eat so much chicken that sometimes I think I might start squawking and growing feathers. It is my primary protein source. As you might have already read at the above University of Florida link by D.R. Sloan, poultry farms are plentiful and they require constant changing and cleaning of the houses. This provides a steady economical flow of superior raw compost components. Click on the image to enlarge and smell the poultry litter.

Cow Manure- As well our volcanic mountain sides are full of cow manure. We don’t want all forests to be chopped and used for grazing… at all. Meat is used less every day for a human food-protein source, thank goodness. Many of us have already given up strong meats and are consuming more poultry and fish. The more conscientious of us perhaps are strict vegetarians. That is a good thing. But as the world turns at this moment in our progression, cow manure is available in juicy quantities and should be taken advantage of. (by popular demand… no pictures) As you will read at the adjoining post, Compost Needs, you will learn how  wholesome, sanitized and clean all ingredients, such as manures are once churned threw the compost temperatures of up to 70C (158F). Actually all manures are excellent components for composting as the BBC states on their website. A great source of research is provided by www.umass.edu. They state in their article Previous cow manure applications :

“Up to 50% of the total N in cow manure is available tom crops in the year of application. Between 5% and 10% of the total applied is released the year after the manure is added. Smaller amounts are furnished in subsequent years.”

This brings me to a point I would like to make concerning the Advantages of Composting. While much of a component’s, such as cow manure, nutrients, such as nitrogen, is not available right away, once threw the compost cycle it is transformed by the microbe community into available, soluble, fertilizer that can be absorbed by plant roots immediately.

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Sugar/Carbohydrate Source

Microbes need energy to metabolize, move about and break down molecular bonds to obtain their nutrition. In Costa Rica we add molasses from sugar cane to the compost. This gives highly available simple sugars to the microbes at work. It is mixed with 60% water solution and applied evenly over the other components. A slower release of carbohydrates in the form of rice meal is applied as well. Together the two provide the C/N ratio of 30 which is essential for fast composting.

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Biochar

Biochar is specially made charcoal, with a controlled pyrolysis to obtain the desired characteristics of the carbon layers. For the OST compost we place rice hulls in an oven devoid of air. An airless burning of the cellulose seed casings over a somewhat lengthy time frame produces a Biochar that has a truly incredible surface area with billions of tiny holes for microbe life and refuge. I highly recommend buying or downloading a new book about Biochar by Johannes Lehmann.

If you are turned on about Biochar be sure to join the International Biochar Initiative (IBI). It is a not for profit international organization that will hook you up with all the latest research and developments in this fast growing scientific endeavor.