Notes from the Garden: Tropical Composting

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Soka Instructional Garden, Soka University of America. Photo credit: Leia Marasovich

Composting where I live in a sunny Southern California desert climate is very different than the composting we have done since I have been here in tropical Thekkady, India. Here are some pictures of our composting at my university garden I work at. We do ‘hot composting’ above ground. At Cardamom County they’ve been doing a type of vermicomposting, or worm composting. As a gardener, I have always considered earthworms to be a little magical. When there are worms in our garden beds, we always take it as a good omen that our soil is healthy, and healthy soil is the only path to healthy plants. They speed up the decomposition process and essentially create compost gold. They add really beneficial microorganisms to the soil and their castings, or poop, is extremely nutrient rich with the essential ingredients of good soil: nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium! Where I work in the Soka Instructional Garden (SIG), we make compost tea from the worm castings, and any time a crop is struggling, we can usually nurse it back to life within weeks of adding worm compost tea.

So here, I was happy to see, not only are the worms already dancing happily in the soil, but they have a thriving worm composting bed.There is a hole dug in the ground, maybe 6 feet deep and a good 10 feet across. They fill the hole with any garden waste, add several wheelbarrows of dirt dug up from the poultry area, which is already rich in nitrogen from their poop (therefore speeding up the decomposition process and helping the pile heat up) and then just let the worms feast.

Vermicompost pit, Cardamom County. Photo credit: Kayleigh Levitt

It is currently monsoon season here, so they can just let the rain fall down, which adds the essential ingredient of moisture to their compost bed because that is what allows for the microbial activity that makes decomposition happen to take place. I haven’t done composting like this before but I would imagine with all these naturally occurring good ingredients, we will have rich compost within six weeks! We do vermicomposting in a little worm factory at the SIG, separate from our normal compost piles. We turn the compost at least once a week and chop up everything as small as we can in order to speed up the decomposition. I would love if the worms would do it for us! Our desert garden has no naturally occurring worms to speak of, only once we cultivated the plots did the worms come. We also only have rain in the winter. So I am a very happy farmer in this environment. Stay tuned for more updates!

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