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Go organic!

How to Make Compost Tea

This compost makes a perfect compost tea. Fill a sack half with compost, tied at the neck and then dip into a water tank and agitate twice a day for three days. You can remove the bag in 3 days or leave it for longer. Compost tea forms the base as a foliar feed which is best mixed with seaweed.

Our little friends in the soil, unseen and seen make the soil fertile. With knowledge now made available to us, we now understand this biodiversity and how to create and assist this interdependence and symbiosis in our home gardens. Green Thumbs speaks to Founder/ Director of Sunrise Farms and Organic Farmer, Lawrence Goldberg on the importance of healthy soil and the consequences of poisoning our soil. Goldberg has been teaching organic practices in Sri Lanka for the last 26 years.

“There are many ways to create healthy soil and there are many factors that go into this creation. Living soils have a diversity of micro-organism, fungi, bacteria and larger life forms like millipedes, mole crickets and earthworms. If you are expecting a large yield from your home garden plants and trees, then these will need to be fed a variety of organic materials. One of the best ways to feed your soils is to make compost,” said Goldberg.

One can raise the question - how does the presence of these life forms contribute towards growing healthy vegetables and fruits?

Mycorrhizal association

He went on to explain that one of the ways these life forms contribute to growing healthy vegetables and fruits is called the mycorrhizal association. These are fungi which live partly in the soil and partly in the root of the plant. They act as translators for the nutrients to move between the soil and the root hairs of the plant. If we use chemical fungicides these useful fungi will not and cannot exist, he warned.

Other creatures such as earthworms help the soil with their aeration and their castings. Another important function they perform is to help bring the lower substrates of soil up into the higher ones by tunneling through them.

Loving kindness is so important in your home garden. The more you care about the living beings in your garden the more they will respond. In a study performed by the Royal Horticultural Society, researchers discovered that talking to your plants really can help them grow faster. Adherents of the Jain religion revere even the tiniest of lives, down to the most microscopic of beings. They say – ‘If it is on the sidewalk, I will try to walk around. If it is in my house I will try to sweep them slowly into a dust pan and put them outside. I won’t kill it.’

Biggest role

“A home gardener’s biggest role is to create this eco-system where the soil is alive and healthy plants co-exist with all the creatures in your garden. You poison your soil by adding nitrogen based or any chemical fertilizers.

They burn the earthworms, who cannot survive in that environment. And if you use insecticides on your plants you will chase away the bees, butterflies and other beneficial insects and birds who can help your garden,” added Goldberg.

Herbicides like Glysophate kill all vegetation, useful or not. Plus, it keeps us from having the biomass for future carbon material. When you kill all the organic matter in your soil that changes how the soil can thrive and support life.

It seems that as humans we are responsible for numerous crimes against nature. We pollute our air and we cause deforestation, both leading to climate change. But we also poison our soil.

“Pesticides, fungicides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers are the many ways we poison our soil. One of the many reasons we continue to do so is mostly for profit because the faster and the bigger you can grow your crops the more you earn. This thinking does not take into account the consequences of what these toxins do to our soil, our biodiversity and our bodies. The hybridization of seeds is another ripple effect which then goes into the issue of plant geneticists changing the genes of the plants, perhaps shortening the roots of traditional varieties to respond better to chemical fertilizers and eliminating the immune response so that farmers need to use pesticides,” explained Goldberg.

The next question is can we reverse the process? Can we return the soil back to what it was? There are of course some remedial crops that help to pull toxins. One example is radish which seems to accumulate toxins from the soil. The addition of compost also helps to repair and bind up the heavy metals and other toxins in your soil.

Healthy soil

“Healthy soils grow healthy plants and healthy plants ward off disease and insects. Just like for human beings’ - disease does not get a foothold if your immune system stays strong and healthy. There are also tonics to strengthen plants and natural fungicides like rosemary. Another principle to be conscious of is soil compaction, which means when you drive heavy machinery over soil it can remain compacted so that plant roots cannot penetrate. Once soil is compacted it is very difficult to loosen,” said Goldberg.

Goldberg pointed out a startling fact! He points out that some say since World War I, our physical bodies have been exposed to more than a 100,000 different chemicals that were never seen before. We absorb these chemicals by breathing polluted air, drinking polluted water and eating polluted food. The body in its attempt to deal with these new substances often sends them to the fatty areas of the body and shortly thereafter tumors appear. No one likes to speak about how these chemicals recombine in our physical bodies.

“Recently a review of the numerous studies done on human male sperm count revealed a pattern where over the last 40 years worldwide, male sperm count has come down by 50 percent. There are many confirmed studies on how compounds in chemicals we use on our soil can impact fertility, cause hormonal imbalances and even serious toxicity,” stated Goldberg.

Goldberg suggests that the best way to treat the environment around you is by carefully observing nature and how nature works. Nature is the best teacher. Just think to yourself - Nobody fertilizes the natural forest but it exists in perfect balance. Every time your crop finishes you can add compost. You can do top dressings of compost and you can foliar feed. What is foliar feed? It is feeding the plants through their leaves preferably during the morning on a dry day.

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What kind of compost and manure can be used to nourish the soil?

Here is a useful recipe for making heap compost. This recipe makes 5 -6 tons of compost and takes 6 – 8 weeksLocate your compost pile close to a source of water 

Mark out a space

(1.5 meters wide and 4 meters long)

Materials you will need

Rock Powders

5 x 50 Kg bags of ERP (Eppawala Rock Phosphate)
5 x 50 Kg bags local Dolomite powder
5 x 50 Kg bags of fine Granite powder

Carbon materials

1000 Kg of dried leaves and grasses and weeds _ kitchen waste from your garden (Without meat)

Nitrogen materials

2000 Kg of any fresh manure (except human, dog or cat)
Herbal accelerators
Comfrey 1 kg
Yarrow 1 kg
Stinging Nettles 1 kg
Horsetail 1 kg
Old Compost – 50 Kg

Method

Fork the earth for aeration – then put 6 to 8 inches of carbon material and another 6-8 inches of the manure and another layer of carbon. Then add the rock powders and herbs at 1/5th of each rock powder and herbs. Water the pile well. After watering use a digging fork to aerate and compact the pile. Now repeat this layer. Once complete add top soil as your top layer.

The height of your pile should reach 1.5 meters to ensure enough mass and weight to decompose.

After 10 days turn the pile and keep wet like a moist sponge without seeing rivulets of water leaving the pile

After another 10 days turn the pile again and let it sit for another three weeks watering as needed to keep moist.

Things to watch out for. Good compost never smells so if it does start to smell, you need to turn the pile and use less water. If the pile’s too hot you will lose the nitrogen in the form of ammonia gas.

This can be observed as a white powder usually on the top of the compost heap. Any large bits of un-composted matter you can put through the next compost cycle.