By Patricia Bianca S. Taculao 

It’s no secret among gardeners that the key to successfully growing plants lies in the quality of soil. Hence, they make sure that the soil they plant on is prepared well or receives the proper amount of nutrition. 

One way to nourish the soil is through composting, where organic matter is broken down by microorganisms present in oxygen until it reaches a state where it’s safe to handle and then applied to soil as a fertilizer. 

Adolfo Babiano, a retired labor arbiter from Novaliches, Quezon City who enjoys gardening as a hobby, has a different approach when it comes to composting. 

He prefers hot composting using microbes over worm composting (vermicomposting) because he finds it “faster, cheaper, more convenient, less technical, and suitable for small spaces” since he gardens on his rooftop, which measures about 70 square meters. 

“I developed the technique after reading articles about composting. It is unlike other techniques in that I use powder-dry soil instead of moist or wet soil,” Babiano said.

The retired labor arbiter added that hot composting combines green manuring, tea composting, and cold composting into one and does away with the tedious process of turning over the compost pile by simply turning over the bagged compost mix.

His daughter Dessa Babiano shared the process of soil-hot composting that they practice in their rooftop garden via social media. The steps are as follows:

1. Air-dry the soil completely. For this step, any kind of soil—used, old, or new, can be applicable. Avoid from drying under direct sunlight since it could make the soil crusty rather than moist.

Air dry the soil completely, preferably in a shaded area to avoid the soil from becoming crusty or getting wet from the rain.

Babiano recycles his used garden soil by repeating this process of leaving it to dry out thoroughly before using it in the next compost mix. This way, he manages to save money from buying new soil.

2. Put in a large mixing pot, preferably plastic. Add in food scraps or brown cartons that’s cut into one-inch pieces. 

Mix kitchen scraps and paper scraps into the soil.

3. Mix the scraps into the air-dried soil using a trowel.

4. Keep adding compostable materials. Once the mixture becomes sponge-wet, transfer it into small bags–preferably those that have ventilation to air out any excess moisture. Turn over the bags once every week for four weeks to complete the microbial activity for hot composting. 

Once the middle part of the mixture is warm due to bacterial action, this signifies that the hot composting process works.

5. Transfer in a large tub and mix again before applying to the plants’ soil. If the compost pile is odor-free and black, that means that the compost that came out is of good quality.

Transfer the mixture into small bags to air out any excess moisture.

Using this method of composting, Babiano managed to grow vegetables such as tomato, eggplant, beans, chaism, pechay, lemon grass, turmeric, pandan, kinchay, ampalaya, ginger, camote for its leaves, squash and zucchini, among others in his given space. 

Babiano grows vegetables and more in his rooftop garden that measures about 70 square meters.

“I also have calamansi, dragon fruit and ornamentals for color. I’ve experimented and successfully fruited strawberry, lemon, watermelon and grapes but only for show. I also have a mini forest and a newly-installed orchidarium,” Babiano said. 

The retired labor arbiter was first exposed to gardening when he was an elementary student at the Leyte Normal Laboratory School in Tacloban City. 

“I consider growing plants and trees as taking part in God’s re-creation of life. It is also a productive hobby that I benefit from and be proud of,” he said. 

This article appeared in Agriculture Monthly’s May to June 2020 issue.