Coco Compost

This week in the Flog:

  • Article 2 of The Unconventional Composting Series

  • This week: Coco Compost!

Phew, Week 2 of the Compost Series! In case you missed it, check out Week 1 here. It’s a beautiful composting method that is insanely effective. Thanks to you guys who wrote telling me you’re buying roaches! Good luck!

I just love composting. I already have some awesome cockroach compostaging in a bin. Now I want to make a larger batch of more traditional compost with some stuff I have around..

I’ve mentioned this before that coconut products are readily available here in the Philippines, for obvious reasons (you know, a country of

7,107 tropical islands…). This wonder nut produces all kinds of amazing products as it is processed. The husk is removed first – as that degrades it becomes the basis for coco coir, a wonderful soil amendment much like peat moss. I used it to make some amazing soillast year (side note: that soil has supported several generations of plants now with very little input besides water).

After the husk is removed the meat and inside of shell are carved out, grated up, and compressed under extreme pressure to remove the oil for the coconut oil industry. The leftover dried coconut meat, referred to as copra mealor copra cake, is an incredible animal feed as it still contains 10% coconut oil, one of the best sources of fat(energy) you can find.

Now, the same things that make copra an awesome animal feed also make it an awesome microbe and plant feed. High oil content for energy, high protein content for a Nitrogen source, structural fiber for a carbon source, it’s just awesome.

Now I have two excellent items for the garden. I’m going to compost them! They are perfect together. This is a big topic that will be reserved for its own post, but dry composting like this is about balancing moisture, carbon and nitrogen. When you get the amounts right, the pile heats up(to about 40-60 Celsius and even hotter in large piles!) and the ingredients degrade to plant available forms, through the action of microbes. These microbes inhabit the compost and lend their own benefit to your soil when you use the compost. This is perhaps the greatest advantage to composting – inoculating your soil with microbes!

There are a lot of details about dry composting but that’s fine for now. Now back to the ingredients! The copra meal is a very “hot” compost item, very much on the Nitrogen side of the equation. The coco coir is very “cold”, very far on the carbon side of the equation. This is where it gets tricky. The ideal carbon:nitrogen ratio I’d like is about 25:1. You can look up the C:N ratios of many common ingredients and build your pile off of those. For this simple composting exercise though I’m going to stick with the unconventional farmer’s basic composting ratio: 60% carbon source 40% nitrogen source.

So now I have my ingredient ratios, I’ll get my 3.5kg coco coir and 3kg copra meal (I know this isn’t quite 60/40 but it’s close enough). They are both about 5% moisture so a lot of water needs to be added. How much water? Simple test. Grab a handful of compost and squeeze it hard. It should clump in your hand (retain its shape) and feel pretty moist. But if more than a few drops drip out, it has too much water and will limit microbe activity. Technically this is about 60% moisture level.

 

For my compost pile I’ll spice the water up a bit though. I have 5 gallons to draw from however much I need. To that 5 gallons I’ll add:

  • 1 tsp BIM

  • 2 tsp Molasses

  • 2 tsp Grow

 

Just a little nutrients and microbial inoculant to get the pile started. They may seem like tiny amounts but these are the correct ratios for my tiny pile – when the pile gets larger, we still want the same proportion of nutrients and feeds to pile. For example, this would be a typical compost composition:

 

1000 kg pile

  • 600 kg carbon – rice straw

  • 400 kg nitrogen – animal manure

  • 0.5 L BIM

  • 1 L Grow

  • 1 L Molasses

 

This is the natural farming way of composting with added nutrients. You can add more if you want this is just the basic recipe. If you don’t have BIM then lacto is a great alternative. In the same way, fish fertilizer is a great substitute for Grow.

As I’m doing here, the easiest way to get these inputs into the pile is by mixing with water and spraying the pile to correct moisture level. Thus it helps to start with a dry pile. If your pile is wet already, try finding dry materials you can add, inoculate and add them.

When compost becomes too wet, it blocks air passage and the pile becomes anaerobic. It doesn’t decompose as efficiently and pathogenic anaerobes have the opportunity to multiply. However, the beauty of our nutrient/microbe inputs is that they will help ensure beneficial anaerobes proliferate in areas of the pile that become anaerobic. Since many of the bacterial strains are facultative anaerobes, they will do just fine in the presence of oxygen. Thus they will be in the pile working, regardless of conditions, ready to take over if oxygen becomes scarce. This is an awesome way to compost! It’s great to have the benefit of beneficial anaerobes to practice fermentation decomposition in places where the pile is short on oxygen.

So now I have my composting ingredients, dry, and my water source seeded with microbes and nutrients to kickstart the pile. What a great project! Here are my ingredients:

 

Coco coir (peat) and copra meal should be an excellent compost combo

I mixed them together and added enough water to bring the moisture up to the correct level:

 

The water source with added nutrients is used to bring pile up to correct moisture level

Just for kicks, I sunk a thermometer probe in the middle of the little pile. This will record the temperature outside the pile (top #) and inside the pile (bottom #). After several hours the pile has already heated up! That was fast for such a small pile!

 

I’m reading the temperature inside and outside the pile to see how it heats up

I covered the pile loosely with a tarp the first few days. White molds/actinomycetes have formed on the top and sides of the pile. This an excellent sign! White molds and actinomycetes are great for the soil. I’m really happy to see this:

 

These nice white molds are excellent for decomposition

And that’s it! Depending on your ingredients and ratios composting time will vary. In this case I turned the pile once before having to leave for a trip. That’s ok, I will keep using this pile to compost things from the garden – by the time I’m done with it, it’s going to be exactly the boost my garden needs!

Curious about the temperature recordings? Check out the chart!I recorded temps once or twice per day. The second hump is where it came back up after turning the pile. It was already cooling down by the time I left about 2 weeks after starting the pile, but would have come back up a bit if I could have turned it again. That’s ok as I said this will be a continuing effort. I’m surprised such a small pile got so warm. Fun!

 

The temperature of the pile over time – looks great

What a fun project. I love composting, it’s just awesome! It is pretty neat I’m able to compost on my little balcony in the middle of the city. It goes to show you can be a farmerof some kind (in this case a microbe farmer) no matter what your living situation. I hope I’ve inspired somebody to start composting! It’s awesome to watch those piles heat up and break down. 

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