By Patricia Bianca S. Taculao

Composting is the process of breaking down natural materials to release their nutrients which can be used for improving soil quality and helping plants grow healthily. 

Not only does it improve the yield and quality of agricultural crops and other plants, but composting also helps in reducing wastes such as kitchen scraps, paper, and other materials to promote a healthy environment. 

In one episode of AgriTalk, Brian Belen of Ato Belen’s Farm in Laguna discussed the basics of how to make compost from materials available in one’s surroundings. 

Established in 1987, Ato Belen’s Farm engages in engaging in different farming opportunities such as seedling propagation, livestock rearing, and more. The farm was born out of Ato Belen’s, Brian Belen’s father, agribusiness ventures. 

(Read about Ato Belen’s Farm here.) 

When it comes to composting, Belen said that the easiest way to be familiar with it is by turning the word ‘compost’ itself into an acronym. 

For instance, the first two letters, CO, stands for a container with a cover which will serve as the compost bin. 

CO: Container with cover

“If composting in an urban area, there’s no space to dig and practice composting directly in the soil so we use a container that can be tightly sealed with a cover,” he said. 

After acquiring the container, Belen said that the next step is to drill holes on the sides and bottom of the container for circulation. Afterward, place the container in a washbasin so that it catches any juices that come from the compost bin. These extracts can be watered onto the plants to promote their growth and development. 

M: Materials 

Next, the letter M stands for materials. 

Belen said that there are three groups of materials that need to be acquired: brown materials, green materials, and enhancers. 

Examples of brown materials include dry leaves, paper, and garden soil. These materials are used to increase the carbon content inside the compost bin. 

On the other hand, green materials such as fresh-cut grass and kitchen scraps are added into the bin to increase moisture and nitrogen levels. 

Lastly, enhancers such as coffee grounds and ground eggshells serve as food for the microorganism in the compost bin to expedite the process of composting. 

P: Procedure and placement 

To make compost, Belen instructed that the lasagna-type of layering materials should be followed. This means brown materials, green materials, then brown again, and then green again, until the bin becomes full. 

Garden soil about one inch thick will serve as the first layer inside the bin before adding in brown materials. Press down lightly to make more space for the other materials. 

Next, add in green materials then lightly press down to promote circulation inside the bin. 

Upon reaching half of the container, add in the enhancers. Continue layering afterward following the said sequence until all materials are used. 

“There should be an equal ratio of green and brown materials in the bin. Too much of the other can result in an unsuccessful composting attempt,” Belen said. 

For the last layer, seal off the bin with garden soil to keep pests out from contaminating the mix. Add a little water to moisten the ingredients and expedite the process of decomposition before sealing off tightly with the lid. 

Place in a safe area where it won’t be toppled over and away from direct sunlight. 

O: Observe

After completing the bin, Belen advised checking regularly to monitor the progress inside. But he warns to not do it too often to maintain the temperature inside that’s ideal for decomposition. 

“If you see white mold, these are good microorganisms and that the attempt is going well. But when you see black mold, dispose of the contents immediately because these are harmful pathogens,” Belen said. 

S: Signs

When checking the compost bin, it is important to note that compost does not have a rotten smell since it’s covered with soil, and the texture should also be similar to that of soil. 

T: Temperature and turn over

Belen said that it is important to maintain a good, warm temperature in a compost bin. If it’s too hot, it could kill microorganisms, and when cool, means that there are too many green materials that contain high moisture levels. 

Some solutions include drilling holes for hotter temperatures and adding more brown materials for colder conditions. 

If successful, compost can be harvested after 90 days to six months. But if decomposition enhancers such as bokashi are added, then the compost can be used after four weeks. 

To secure successful composting, Belen added to start small so that the bin can be easily controlled and monitored. He also said that only readily-available materials should be used since one benefit (and goal) of composting is to lessen waste. 

Watch the full video of the webinar here.