Composts – JP006

A small step into the history of composts, why you should, why you shouldn’t, how it could work, and how it couldn’t. This episode is the real beginning of our philosophical journey :]

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Thank you for listening to



Peace, I am Mason Olonade and this is Jigijigi: Africulture Podcast. Here we believe building a healthy soil builds a healthy soul and we share strategies on how to do both.
We now ask two questions:
How do you grow while you grow Kale, Collards, Tomatoes, and Melons?
And Deeper:
Why do you think the healthiest soils are Black?

On today’s episode we discuss Composts, one strategy for building soil.

I want to start this episode with a reflection.

As I went back over these notes and referential information I am aggregating to provide for my listeners, I noticed some interesting feelings and thoughts.

It pained me, bored me so to write on the appropriate way to prepare composts. This is partly because composting as a system is:
A lot of work.
Dealing with the process of producing produce for sustenance is intensive, and properly focusing that intensity is key! I’d rather pay strict attention to the observation of my crops, than to my compost.

Allow me to quote from Masanobu Fukuoka in One Straw Revolution from the section titled No Need to Prepare Compost on page 27.
“There is no need to prepare compost. I will not say that you do not need compost – only that there is no need to work hard making it. If straw is left lying on the surface of the field in the spring or fall and is covered with a thin layer of chicken manure or duck droppings, in six months it will completely decompose.
To make compost by the usual method, the farmer works like crazy in the hot sun, chopping up the straw, adding water and lime, turning the pile, and hauling it out to the field. He puts himself through all this grief because he thinks it is “a better way.” I would rather see people just scattering straw, hulls, or woodchips over their fields.”
The 2nd of Four Principles of Natural Farming, on p 19 of One Straw Revolution is:
No chemical fertilizer of prepared compost.
(For fertilizer Mr. Fukuoka grows a leguminous cover of white clover, returns the threshed straw to the fields, and adds a little poultry manure).
People interfere with nature and, try as they may, they cannont health the resulting wounds. Their careless farming practices drain the soil of essential nutrients and the result is yearly depletion of the land. If left to itself the soil maintains its fertility naturally, in accordance with the orderly cycle of plant and animal life.

Youngsang Cho of JADAM has his own criticisms of compost, in addition to what I will mention later on in the show.
Our ancestors did not need fancy compost bins or engage in arduous “turning” of the compost ro calculate the green to brown ratio or worry about mixing oxygen into the heap; but still did excellent farming.
On Page 105 he goes in, deeper.
Some say the compost has to reach 75C/167F in order to kill off the harmful microbes. They also say that beneficial microbes survive the temperature. Such a claim is not backed by science. All organic matter has, for billions of years, decomposed at ambient temperatures. Is the nature, as a result, full of only harmful bacteria? Temperature claim is just another trap set up to scam farmers.
In our traditional farming system there was no composting in the for practiced widely in the organic circles today. Forget the complicated and difficult compost-making and do as nature does. Nature makes it a rule to apply fertilizer: in Autumn, on the surface and in raw form.

  1. Fragile; meaning, if it isn’t just right, it’s wrong. Life goes in so many directions, to expect the process of creating life to work, just driving “prudently” can have Google Maps miss your exit. The greater amount of work we are putting in to making the compost can make something actually detrimental to your soils and composts because of how fragile this system is. We should be looking towards robustness, things that can take on challenges and become better. Building from the ground up!
    For example, in the episode about Johnson-Su composting. Johnson talks about a compost that he made from coffee that ended up killing his blueberry plants.

Balance. If I didn’t present you with critical takes on a contemporary technique, what kind of knowledge would I ultimately be imposing? Thus I would teach you how to think like myself, and not for yourself.
Allow me to quote again from Mr. Fukuoka.
Putting “doing nothing” into practice is the one thing that the farmer should strive to accomplish…When it is understood that one loses joy and happiness in the attempt to possess them, the essence of natural farming will be realized. The ultimate goal of farming is not the the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings.
I will show you some origins of the philosophy of compost, but I do want to speak on this lightly.
Encouraging the decomposition and re-application of your food wastes, to return to the soil is excellent. I do want to make it clear that I still actively decompose my food wastes and redirect them from the landfill. What I am against is the often done messianic attribution to any particular technique. I have witnessed this first hand when talking about composting and carbon farming and different agroecological practices. What is always behind what they are telling you in these media outlets is attributing the responsibility of cleaning up the environment to you, the individual. Then what they will do is invoke some Dr. Kingsia-type quote to say “each one of us can make a difference.” None of this is illogical. It makes sense, and it may even be correct. But it is not right.
The way that composting is spoken about is one of a curative function. This is ridiculous. What is particularly interesting is the many different ways that the curativity of the technique they prescribe to you is also reliant upon the different materials they produce. If you are finding what I am saying within this 4th point to have merit and would like me to elaborate, email me and I’ll prepare an episode on it.

Let us go on with the rest of the show.

One of the most interesting passages I read recently was from Youngsang Cho in his book JADAM Organic Farming.
“It is frustrating that people think of Sir Albert Howard’s An Agricultural Testament of the 1980’s and similar books as the gospel of organic agriculture. They believe J.I. Rodale started organic farming inspired by Howard’s book. However, our history of organic farming began long before that. It is true that An Agricultural Testament played a pivotal role in making into theory and disseminating the Indian method of compost-making. Unfortunately, the work made a serious mistake: It over-complicated the process of making farming inputs. It talks about working to increase aeration, turning to meet the optimum moisture level, improving carbon to nitrogen ration, adjusting pH, etc. These, in JADAM’s opinion are too complicated, difficult, and unnecessary. It seems that Sir Howard had his focus no on the nutritional aspect but on eliminating odor. He also overlooked the importance of making technology easy so that the public can more readily accept it.

This passage is but one of many provocative passages of the book. What was most interesting to me was this sentence:
“…making into theory and disseminating the Indian method of compost-making.”

I hadn’t, until then, thought that agriculture technique could have a cultural root. This brings to it philosophical, and ideological shoots, of course. But lets save that for another podcast.

Prior to the production of this episode I was ready to prime you all, in a how-to sort of way, on various composting techniques. Now I’ve realized all I can provide is referential information instead of direct instruction because that wold incease your reliance on my word and contribute to the very same thing I criticized earlier in this episode.

Now; composts.

Compost is the finished product of the process of composting. Composting is when organic matter is broken down and decayed, rendering it’s building blocks nutritionally available for plants and soils. Compost is an active part of humus, the alive part of the soil. Here in the humus is that rich, healthy blackness of the soil. In the humus contains the microbial life that creates the fresh geosmin and petrichor fragrances that dance in the air after a good rain.

Composts can be created in a variety of ways, for the rest of this episode I will describe a couple techniques that I have heard of, followed by what I have done that has appeared to be successful.

Compost Techniques

Compost Piles

Compost Bins





Compost Pile

Roughly, for a compost pile one would select two clean sites. One for the pile and another to turn the pile onto. By turning I’m referring t olifting and shifting the top of the pile to the bottom of that same pile so that uniform decay occurs. The professed knowledge is that this should be performed three times before the compost is ready for redistribution on your soils.
Start with your clean site and layer soil, then wastes (food scraps, manure), then dry matter (leaves, grass, paper, straw, cardboard), then soil, waste, dry, and repeat until you get to a height that you can manageably lift and turn, usually around 3ft/1m tall. After your pile is constructed water it and keep it moist. Cover it to protect from excess rain. Then the decomposing process will begin. As the microbial populations increase, the pile will begin to heat up and begin shrinking. In the winter if your compost really heats up because of its microbial activity you can see steam rise up from it. A Frenchman has built a compost pile large enough to get 500 hot showers from it!.

Other composting schools of thought say that the heat bakes off/bakes away the nutrients for the soil, so more research is required to validate that. If the pile gets to a certain temperature, which you can measure with a meat thermometer, it should be turned and once this process is repeated, it should be turned two more times before it is ready for redistribution.

Compost Bins
Drill holes in a Rubbermaid container in a honey comb pattern, 1-2-1-2-1-2, then above, 2-1-2-1-2-1. Layer matter as previously described in the compost pile section and keep moist. Ensure that your bin has some drainage, otherwise you will be anaerobically composting. We will go more into that in our episode titled Fermentations.
Depending on the size of the bin the turning can be done by shaking the bin or by manually rearranging with a shovel. The lid of the bin should also be drilled, less holes, to prevent masses of rainwater and other smaller animals from getting in.
The heat generation here will be much less but over time the pile will shrink.

Bokashi Composting
To quote from the Introduction of Bokashi Composting: Scraps to Soil in Weeks by Adam Footer:
Bokashi is a form of composting that uses a specific group
of microbes to anaerobically ferment organic matter, resulting
in a finished product that can be rapidly digested by the soil
biota. The process doesn’t require mixing of greens and browns
and doesn’t generate heat or greenhouses gasses, and all of the
by-products are contained within a closed system so nutrients
aren’t lost in the composting process. Since the system is closed,
the user doesn’t have to worry about insect or rodent problems,
or unpleasant odors emanating from a pile of kitchen waste. All
of these advantages make bokashi a good option for someone
with space constraints. That might be an apartment dweller, an
occupant of an office building, or anyone who doesn’t have room
for a large traditional compost pile. If you have enough room
for a few five-gallon buckets, then you can compost all of your
kitchen waste, keeping it out of the landfill and ending up with
a finished product that will add a lot of organic matter to your
garden. Bokashi composting is also a potential solution for individuals
who have tried to compost organic waste in the past using
more traditional techniques but have been unsuccessful for one
reason or another. The bokashi composting process takes a lot of
the complexity out of composting food waste, making the whole
process much easier to follow for the average person, so hopefully
they can recycle all of their kitchen waste.
Bokashi composting has an extensive methodology. It is an art much like ballet or sculpture, where there is freedom for expression in learned exact technique. I can foresee complication with this technique that would result in a less-than-ideal farm input, but it would still be useful. The book itself is written in a very forgiving and encouraging tone, so you will feel less bad if it doesn’t work out exactly.

Johnson-Su Composting

I’ve put in the show notes a useful Best Management Practices Guide from a joint venture between the USDA Farm Service Agency and New Mexico State University where the technique was developed. I also will link to the podcast from NCAT-ATTRA where I heard about the technique.
Johnson-Su composting is very different from other techniques mentioned here because it does not make nutrients for your soil, but instead, it is a bio-reactor for amplifying microbial populations to build soil from the ground up. Usually there aer plenty of nutrients in the soil and once the right microbes are there, they can unlock the nutrients and release them to the plant. The Guide shows how to build and use the bio-reactor.
In short, from the introduction:
The compost produced in the Johnson-Su composting bioreactor provides nutrients and, more importantly, results in a microbially diverse and fungal-dominant soil microbiome that can be applied at concentrations as low as 1 kg/hectare, a concentration at which it operates more as a microbial inoculation for soils than as a soil amendment. In other words, the compost introduces beneficial microbes to the soil like a baker introduces yeast to bread dough. The increased presence of fungi appears to be a key indicator for soil quality, both in the terra preta soils of the Amazon and the compost produced in the Johnson-Su bioreactor.

The Terra Preta soils, shortly, of the Amazon were and are extremely fertile soils that were cultivated and produced using biologically active charcoal, pottery shards, among other things. I’ll include a short video that explains it in the show notes.


As promised in the Building Up Our Soils episode, I’ll read Nana Kwame Afrani, Dr. George Washington Carver’s method for composting advocated in Bullentin No. 42 published in 1940.
How To Build Up and Maintain The Virgin Fertility of Our Soils
No fertilizer or system of fertilization to date has been found that will build up the land as effectively, cheaply, and permanently as farmyard manures.

Make Your Own Fertilizer on the Farm, Buy as Little as Possible
    A year-round compost pile is absolutely essential and can be had with little labor and practically no cash outlay. 

Build one long bin or several small ones sufficient to hold a yearly supply.
Spread two wagon-loads of muck and leaves over the bottom of the pen; then one of barnyard manure; build up this way until the pen is full.
Put a rough shed over the pen to turn the bulk of the water from heavy rains, or mound up like a potato hill. This will prevent the excess of water from washing out the readily water-soluble fertilizing constituents.
Put into this compost-heap all the wood ashes, old plaster, waste lime, rags, paper, and any other matter that will decay quickly. Bones beaten up fine are also excellent. If you cannot get the barnyard manure make the compost without it. You will be agreeably surprised at the increased yield of crops of all kinds.

He later cautions
Do not allow this compost heap to become hot enough for steam to rise from it (“fire fang”), as you will lose much of the value of the manure. If the pile begins to heat and give off a strong odor, tear down at once and scatter dry earth, leaves, or something of this kind amongst it.

As I stated before, Nana Afrani’s bulletins should at the very least be read, if not studied because of their contained wisdom.

As far as what I have done, I have built the compost bin that I described. When it got to the point where I felt it needed to be turned, I usually left the lid on and lifted it and shook it. When it got too heavy for this I turned it manually using a shovel over and under. Two years later, as I wasn’t gardening then, I spread it onto my little plot. There were times where it was infested with houseflies, I read that then it was too wet, needed to add some dry’s, and it was just co-incidence that my neighbors grass had just been cut with a weed-wacker and left to dry out. I gathered it and added it to my compost and the flies left. Then a different issue arose, maggots. Much larger maggots than I had previously seen before, writhing around in my bins. I took my shovel and vigorously began stabbing my pile. I later learned that I had attraced Black Soldier Flies to my compost. BSFs are an excellent resource, the larvae acan turn over significant amounts of organic matter waste into rich compost. They are also excellent feed for livestock, chickens in particular, and you can reate a low-cost/input/ feedingsystem for your chickens. This will be further covered in the episode titled Helping Nature Do Her Thing.

This year, I began using the bin I found in the alley last year. I grew a very tall amaranth in the compost bin last year, accidentally, and this year the mulberry branch I stuck in there actually overwintered and propagated so now my old bin is a pot for squash and mulberry. So using last years Red Bin I attempted to drill the 1-2-1-2-1-2-2-1-2-1-2-1 pattern in, but it proved to be a formidable opponent. So I forgot about that plan and let everything collect, and ferment instead. I started the compost with some soil that I had already had and grass clippings from my yard. Of course food scraps. Following some of the advice I read in JADAM Organic Farming I took a couple sticks that were molding in my backyard and added them to this bucket of coffee grounds I got from a local restaurant. I added some water to this bucket and let these sticks with their different moldy species mix up. My thinking was that, because these populations turn over so fast, they would begin to incorporate the coffee as fuel in breaking down this sticks. They’d begin using the coffee and be better prepared to start breaking down the coffee I had supplemented all of my plants with. I checked on it frequently and once the mushroom blooms had happened I added those sticks back to my Red Bin.
After a period of time the housefly population backed off and hoverflies moved in. I as delighted to see them because I hadn’t consciously seen them before and I found out from Wikipedia that some of the hoverfly species are quite beneficial. After reading that I definitely recalled seeing them earlier in the season pollinating my dill and cilantro.

Once I redistributed my coffee inoculant, I saw mushrooms fruit out of the soil that I started my chickpeas and holy basil in. That was especially cool!

When we moved out into Nu Ray Research Gardens we took the red bin composts and added that to the transplantation holes that we dug for all of our plants. We then built up the Red Bin again with some compost from a local restaurant and some soil and right now we are witnessing the same mushroom fruiting. Black Soldier Flies are back also, despite the distance of a couple miles downtown.

We are also using African Nightcrawler earthworms, and learning Vermicomposting. This is working out fantastically despite our early loss. We purchased a pound of worms and lost half of them. We don’t fully know why we lost them but we have since learned that worms can’t consume citrus. This destroys their intestines. We have also learned that they don’t care that much for spices, nor do they like onions or garlic. It turns out that the restaurant that we were getting food scraps from uses heavy amounts of all those things. The bucket that we originally had them in probably didn’t drain well and then when it rained we think they drowned. The population that survived, however, has rendered plantain peels almost into paper. We are very thankful and grateful for the lives of the worms, alive and lost. We are additionally thankful for all of our lessons and the opportunity to share all that we have learned.

We hope this episode has been constructive for you, and will help you get started in building your soils and composts. Definitely check out the resources in the show notes. If you’d like more direction, or answers to any questions, email me,

Leave us a 5* review wherever we are being listened to and we will say now as we say then, asante sana, medaase pa, modupe O,

Thank you, for listening to Jigijigi.