6 May 2008

Compost Cuban style

It's Compost Week apparently which suits me, I am increasingly obssessed.

Compost is a good illustration of green principles, turning waste into a beautiful resource...the alternative is letting it rot in land fill or burning it in incinerators.

Good ecological principles reduce work and increase wealth. A good layer of compost can act as a mulch, this prevents weeds so cuts down on weeding.

By upping the organic content of soil, more water is retained, sponging up potential sources of floods and conserving it so less watering is needed.

More compost = less work in the garden and nicer veg.

You could apply this approach to all areas of human society so we were wealthier, healthier, happier and lived in an infinately ecologically sustainable system.

Capitalism promotes waste. Chucking away, buying food on a planetary scale.

I have worms, in my worm bin not my gut, they do a horror show good job.

Keeping a mix of wet (food waste, grass clippings) and dry like cardboared helps.

I am more and more interested in the Cuban approach to permaculture based on worm bin compost described by Monty Don from the BBC Gardener's World.

Here is a nice account I found on the web:

Cuba's Composting!
Caught in a vice of economic sanctions, political pressures and faltering production, Cuba has been forced to find alternatives to its reliance on imported fossil fuels, fertilizers, pesticides, animal feed and the like. Agricultural imports have been cut by as much as 80%. Consequently, the Cuban government has established new soil management programs and has made earthworms a key agent in the drive for agricultural sustainability. Cuban scientists are finding that vermicompost performs better than regular compost. With select earthworm species, they have developed a technological package for the production of vermicompost.

Cuba's verimcomposting program started in 1986 with two small boxes of red worms, Eisenia foetida and Lumbricus rubellus. By 1992, 172 vermicompost centers were producing 93,000 tons of worm humus annually. Several different institutions and companies are involved in vermiculture, but research is primarily conducted by the Institute of Soils and Fertilizers and the National Institute of Agricultural Sciences.
Compost Production

Vermicompost production requires a mixture of worm castings, organic material and bedding in various stages of decomposition. Most vermicomposting operations in Cuba use cow manure as the primary source of organic material. Other sources include pig and sheep manure, filter press cake from sugarcane, coffee pulp, plantains and municipal garbage.

First, manure is aerobically composted for approximately 30 days then transferred to open vermicompost beds. The beds are approximately 1.5m wide and vary in length. The compost is mixed with soil and "seeded" with earthworms. At certain sites, the beds are in the shade of large mango trees that benefit from nutrients leached from the piles.

Vermicompost beds are watered to maintain optimum moisture and temperature levels. The worms feed on the freshly applied compost at the top of the beds and deposit their castings in the lower levels. Compost is continually applied until the beds reach a height of approximately 0.9m, after about 90 days. The worms are concentrated in the top 10cm of the pile and are either scraped off or separated from the vermicompost in a screening process. The humus is sold in bulk or used on-site as a soil amendment and fertilizer.
The Benefits
The humus produced in vermicomposting provides binding sites for plant nutrients, helps control plant diseases and stimulates plant growth. Humus also increases water permeability and water retention, contributing to better plant health and more efficient use of soil moisture. Cuban researchers have found that nitrogen concentrations are higher in vermicompost than in aerobic compost piles. Earthworm castings are 1.5 - 2.2% nitrogen, 1.8 - 2.2% phosphorous and 1.0 - 1.5% potassium, and remain in the soil for up to five years. Worm populations under vermiculture can double in 60-90 days.

Worms not used to seed new compost piles are dried and used as a supplemental protein for animals. Earthworms are high in protein and contain the amino acid methionine (4%), which is absent from feed grains. Cuba's future plans include production of earthworm excrement to be used as substrate for bacteria, which in turn will be used as biofertilizer.

bokahshi...which sounds like an alternative to Scientology or a bizarre new sexual practice also looks worth a try especially if you eat meat, fish or dairy...vegan means straight in the worm bin though.

This is from a green blog in todays Guardian.

If you're an early adopter- the kind that had an iPod months before anyone else – Bokashi might be right for you. Bokashi is the new kid on the composting block, and there's a lot to be said for this system, particularly if you don't have a kerbside food waste collection service and want to compost in your kitchen because, provided you set things up correctly, there should be no smell. All you do is add waste to the bin and sprinkle on bran containing a special mix of microorganisms – bacteria, yeast and fungi – which will handle with ease stuff you wouldn't put on a regular garden heap or in a wormery – dairy, fish, cooked food and meat. In a fortnight or so the Bokashi mix will have turned the waste into a substance that looks a bit like the contents of a pickle jar, that can be added to a wormery, put into a kerbside food waste collection or dug into the soil, where it will breaks down very quickly.


Dave Riley said...

Worms as Charles Darwin insisted are important critters. "Food for worms..." can be almost anything.

Worms are also highly efficient carbon sequestors. By taking organic matter underground, the worms reduce carbon release into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide and worm farming is akin, in my estimation, to such practices as Agri Char (aka Terra Preta) in the role it can play to reduce global warming.

Check out this video
on vermiculture in India on a massive scale.

Anonymous said...

I love composting too....I have started using the compost from my bin - supplied free by the local Council (Camden)! I had to pay a nominal charge of £5.00 for the base. Looking forward to a feast of veggies this summer.

Terry Townsend said...

More great videos on Cuba's green revolution at http://www.links.org.au/node/416

Unknown said...

My name is Nachum Hirschel and I live in Beit Shemesh, Israel just a few kilometers down the road from where David slew Goliath. I started with a small bag of earthworms less than three years ago and now I have more than three meters of boxes packed with earthworms. I give power point workshops on vermicomposting where I sell earthworms and home made bins.
I have only read and seen pics of other earthorm growers, but never seen other growers.
Worms consume all of the organic waste of my family that includes seven children. I would love to see pics of the composting system in Cuba.
Israel is a small country with alot of people. We can do alot for the land by employing vermicomposting methods. They love cardboard, melons, and rotten tomatoes. Keep up the good work

Derek Wall said...

thanks friend,

my worms are doing good here in the UK, very neat solution and I am growing lots of good stuff,

by the way have you seen this excellent blog on red green alternatives in your part of the world http://www.sustainablecityblog.com/tel-aviv/

Jerry Smith said...

Thanks for the exellent posts on verniculture and Bokashi. Jim Conrad of Backyard Nature turned me on to it. As he said about Cuban agriculture export:What goes around, comes around!"
I wonder how many readers got the subtle "horror show" relation to Russian "Xorosho" worms?
Love, Joy and Peace
Thomas Jerome Smith

Unknown said...

The worms in manure or compost are not earthworms though similar. They are the red stripped worms. Earthworms are generally grey. They perform different functions.

maria jose said...

Hello, I would like to buy worms in Israel, I wonder how can I contact you Nachum? do you sell them? thank you

maria jose said...

Hello Nachum, im very interested in buying worms here in Israel, how can I contact you? do you sell them? thank you.

Sandie Anne said...

This is very interesting about Cuba and worm composting. They are really ahead of the game. Worms certainly eat lots of garbage and create great fertilizer. I do worm composting in the US. I started with 1000 redworms and now have 3 Rubbermaid bins filled with worms. They are easy to take care of. I would be interested to learn more about Cuba and India and their programs for vermicomposting.

Sandie Anne

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