An All India Compost Conference was held in New Delhi during the month (of December 1947) to consider the question of compost development on the widest scale possible. It was the conception of Shrimati Mirabehn and was presided over by Dr. Rajendraprasad. Sardar Datar Singh, Dr. Acharya and other eminent men in the line took part in it. Several important resolutions were passed by it on schemes for towns and villages. A sub-committee consisting of Shrimati Mirabehn, Shri Shivakumar Sharma, Dr. B. N. Lai and Dr. K. G. Joshi (with Dr. B. N. Lai as convener) was appointed to prepare a skeleton scheme for the provinces. The resolutions emphasized the necessity of "the agricultural utilization of town sewage, sullage and sludge, the utilization of the by-products of the slaughter house and other trade wastes (for example, wool waste, mill waste, leather waste, etc.) and for the composting of other materials like water-hyacinth, canetrasb, press-mud, forest leaves etc."
These resolutions are good and useful if they do not remain merely on paper. The chief thing is whether they would be reduced to practice throughout India. To do so would tax the resources of many Mirabehns. Given the willing co-operation of the masses of India, this country can not only drive out the shortage of food, but can provide India with more than enough. This organic manure ever enriches, never impoverishes the soil. The daily waste, judiciously composted, returns to the soil in the form of golden manure causing a saving of millions of rupees and increasing manifold, the total yield of grains and pulses. In addition, the judicious use of waste keeps the surroundings clean. And cleanliness is not only next to godliness, it promotes health.
H., 28-12-’47, p.484
One potent way of increasing production is proper manuring. Artificial manures, I am told, are harmful to the soil. The compost manure emit no bad odour. It would save lakhs of rupees and also increase the fertility of the soil without exhausting it.
H., 28-12-’47, p.488
Generally agreeing with Mr. Bravne's suggestions regarding the need for pulverizing manure pits in villages, but at the same time differing from him in his view that the pits should be six feet wide and six feet deep, Gandhiji wrote as under:
I know that the pits such as Mr. Brayne suggests are generally recommended. In my opinion, however, superficial burial recommended by Poore is more scientific and more remunerative. The cost of digging is lessened and that of removal avoided altogether or certainly lessened. Add to this the fact that the excreta are turned into manure in almost a week's time, for the reason that the bacteria, which live within six or nine inches of the surface of the earth, and the air and the rays of the sun, act upon the excreta and turn them into sweet manure much more quickly than when the refuse is buried deep.
But the chief thing to remember is not the various methods of disposing of refuse, so much as the necessity of burying all the refuse for the double purpose of promoting the villagers' health and their material condition, through the better yield of their crops which the manure must produce. It should be remembered that organic rubbish other than excreta must be separately buried.
H., 1-3-’35, p.20
Night-soil as Manure
G. I. Fowler states, in his Wealth and Waste that a proper disposal of human excreta would realize Rs. 2 per head per year. In the vast majority of cases, all this rich manure is being wasted and disease invited. He quotes Prof. Brultini, from his volume The Use of Waste Materials, who says that "nitrogen derived from the 282,000 residents of Delhi is sufficient to fertilize a minimum of 10,000 and a maximum of 95,000 acres." Because we do not know how to treat our scavengers, Delhi of ancient fame has pestilential spots of which we have to feel ashamed. If we all become scavengers, we would know how to treat ourselves and how to turn what today is poison into rich food for plant life. 30 crores of the population of India should mean, according to Dr. Fowler, an annual gain of 60 crores of rupees to the country, if we would but make a wise use of human excreta.
H., 15-3-’35, p.36
Preparation of Compost Manure
There is in Indore an Institute of Plant Industry. It issues from time to time leaflets for those whom it is designed to serve. The first one of these describes the utility and the method of preparing compost manure from farm wastes. As it is valuable for Harijans and village workers who handle cattle-dung and night-soil, I copy below practically the whole of the leaflet incorporating footnotes into the running description of the process.
—M. K. G.
It has long been recognized that adequate and systematic recuperation of organic matter in Indian soils must be part of any successful scheme for intensive agriculture. It is also equally understood that the available sources of farm yard manure cannot supply the quantities needed, apart from the fact that during the making a large portion of the nitrogen is lost and the final product takes a very long time to attain the most efficient physical condition. Green manuring is perhaps a possible substitute, but under monsoon conditions it is uncertain in most parts of India. The decomposition of green manure in the soil also interferes for the time being with the natural processes of recuperation of available plant food in the soil which 'lay a very substantial part in the maintenance of soil fertility in tropical regions. It is clearly the best course to relieve the soil of the burden of manufacturing humus and enable it to concentrate solely upon the work of recuperation and crop growth. The simplest way of doing this is to prepare humus as a byproduct during the routine of farm work, utilizing all agricultural wastes which are not needed as fuel or fodder.
It should be emphasized at this stage that any substitute for farm yard manure must closely resemble humus in composition, and the Indore method aims at and achieves this. The object of the Indore method thus differs radically from that of processes where the aim is to produce a highly nitrogenous active manure whose special utility is similar to that of artificial.
The work carried out at the Institute of Plant Industry at Indore, which was the final outcome of twenty years' attempts by Mr. Albert Howard in this direction, has now proved definitely that these principles can very easily be put into actual practice. The Indore method of compost making supplies a practical technique and opens new avenues for development. The unlimited resources of natural wastes both from the farm and the towns can thus be tapped for use in agriculture. A copious supply of manure is made possible without having recourse to any unnatural measures such as encroaching upon the use of dung as fuel and the export of oil-cakes, at the same time securing economy in the use of artificials which give their best results when reinforced with organic matter.
The problems and underlying principles involved have been discussed and the elaboration of the Indore method described in the Utilization of Agricultural Waste (Howard and Wad, Oxford University Press, 1931). This article gives only a brief working outline of the process as applicable to the Indian cultivator's conditions.
The value of farm yard manure is appreciated in the case of irrigated crops in India, but periodic moderate dressings to fields under dry cultivation are equally essential. The Indore compost method quickly produces larger amounts of richer manure, which is moreover, actively useful to crops immediately on application, which is not always the case with farm yard manure. Indore compost is ready for use after three months, when properly prepared, and is then a dark-brown or coffee-coloured amorphous substance, containing about 20 per cent of partially decomposed coarse material readily crushed between the fingers, the rest being fine enough when wet (and the colloidal particles therefore swollen) to pass through a sieve of 6 meshes per linear inch. The nitrogen content varies from 8 per cent to 1.0 per cent or more according to the nature of the wastes used. About fifty cartloads of compost per pair of bullocks can easily be made each year by the use of only one-fourth of the fresh dung along with 100 to 125 cartloads of farm wastes of all kinds and half of the quantity of urine-soaked earth which is available from the cattle-shed. The remaining half is also a good manure and can be added directly to fields. If more residues are available, all the dung and urine earth can be utilized to make about 150 cartloads of compost. The cost of making is annas per cartload of ripe compost at Indore rates of wages (men 7 annas, women 5 annas per day of eight hours).
Outline of Indore Method
The main feature of the process is to decompose rapidly a mixture of otherwise useless farm wastes with fresh dung, wood ash and urine earth in pits. The pits should not be deeper than 2 feet and should be 14 feet in breadth. A convenient length is 30 feet. This suits both large and small scale work; for instance a portion 3 feet in length can be filled in 6 days with bedding from under 2 pairs of bullocks. The adjacent portion is next filled, each being subsequently treated as a separate unit. The material is uniformly moistened with a slurry of water containing small quantities of dung, wood ash, urine earth, and fungus starter from an active pit. Actively decomposing compost soon becomes white with fungus growth. This material is then used to start vigorous decomposition in a fresh charge. For the first time when no starter is available fungus growth is stimulated by the addition of a small quantity of green leaves to the bedding when made. Full activity is attained in the starter after 3 to 4 generations. The activity is then kept up by regulating moisture and air by means of surface waterings and turnings assisted by a second addition of starter, this time taken from a pit more than 30 days old. The mass soon becomes very hot and remains so for a long time. The systematic handling secures a good mixture (as shown by its uniform appearance) and a copious air supply at every stage. Moderate watering begins decomposition at once, which continues without a break to the end, producing a very uniform final product.
The Making of Pits
Select a well-drained area near the cattle-shed and if possible near a source of water supply. Dig out one foot of earth and spread it on all sides to make a pit, 30 feet by 14 feet by 2 feet; such pits should be arranged in pairs, the long side being east to west. The distance between two pits in a pair should be six feet and the pairs themselves should be twelve feet apart. The final heaps and monsoon heaps are made on these broad spaces which are also useful for removal of manure by carts directly from each heap.
Earth and Urine
The urine passed by cattle is rich in valuable manurial matter and this is mostly wasted in the usual method of making farm yard manure. A pakka- floor in the cattle shed is both costly and unsuitable for the bullocks. A soft, warm and dry bed on which cattle may rest and sleep can be made cheaply of loose earth. Convenient sources are threshing floor sweepings, silt from choked drains and earth from silage pits. A flat 6 inches layer is sufficient to absorb all urine without nuisance, if wet patches are scrapped daily and thinly covered by a little fresh earth and with uneaten fodder from the manger over it. This urine earth should be removed and replaced every four months by a fresh layer. The finer portion should be reserved for compost making and the bigger lumps directly added to fields. It is a rapidly acting manure specially suitable as a top-dressing for any irrigated crop.
H., 17-8-’35, p.213-15
Cow-dung and Ash
Only a quarter of the daily supply of fresh dung is needed; this is applied as liquid 'slurry', being mixed with water; the rest can be made into fuel if required. Wood ashes from the kitchen and other places should be carefully collected and stored under cover.
Farm Wastes or Kuchra
Every type of vegetable waste not otherwise needed on the farm can be made into compost, e.g. weeds, stalks of cotton, pigeon pea, sesamum, safflower, niger, linseed, rape, black and green gram, sugarcane trash, stools of juar, and sugarcane, fallen leaves of trees and uneaten residues of grass, straw, juar and other fodders. Hard materials require cracking. This has been successfully done, even on soft unmetalled roads in Sind, by simply spreading such material on a cart track and periodically removing crushed portions and replacing them by unbroken stuff. Very hard residues like stumps and roots require (in addition to cracking) soaking in water for at least two days, or burial with moist earth for two to three months before they can be successfully utilized. The latter can be done easily during the monsoon period. Green materials must be partially dried and then stacked. Small amounts of various kinds of residues should be stacked together, while separate ganjisy i.e. stacks, must be made for larger quantities of any single material. At the time of removing to the compost pit care must be taken to get a mixture of all types, no single material ever exceeding ⅓ of the total amount thus removed. The very hard soaked or softened residues should be used only in very small quantities at a time. This is really automatically achieved by the proportions of different residues normally available if they are stored and used in quantities which will ensure a steady supply all round the year. The quality of the compost can be further improved by using for it a kharif-sown catch-crop of sarin or other legume harvested green, and stacked after withering. The land will be clear in time to sow a rabi crop which will also benefit by the sann having been grown.
It is a saving of labour and an advantage if household waste water is led to a small pit or sunk tub near the compost area and utilized every day. Any kind of water which has long been lying stagnant is harmful. Additional water required must be secured by other means. Between 50 to 60 four-gallon kerosene tins of water are necessary to prepare one cartload of compost according to season.
The Process in Detail
Filling the pits with bedding: Take a pal or a stretcher made of a piece of gunny sacking 4 feet by 3 feet, the longer edges being fastened to two bamboos each 7 feet 6 inches long. Up to one palful of farm wastes for each bullock and one and a half pals for each buffalo should be spread every day on the floor of the cattle-shed on which the cattle rest and sleep. The material thus gets impregnated with urine as well as mixed and crushed by the animals. The bedding in the rainy season is made by sand witching a layer of green withered stuff between two of dry wastes specially reserved for the purpose. Fresh dung left over after making the slurry can either be made into kurdas, i.e. dried dung cakes, or spread over the bedding in lumps not bigger than a small orange. The portion of the urine earth and fungus starter also left over after making the slurry is then scattered over the bedding next morning when it is removed by spades and pals from end to end of the floor to be directly dropped in pits and spread in thin layers by rakes. Every such layer is then moistened uniformly by the slurry containing ash, dung, earth and fungus starter in small amounts. After the removal of all bedding the floor is swept of all finer portions which are then added to the pit as a surface layer. The top layer is wetted by sprinkled water and soaking is completed by further sprinklings in the evening and next morning. A pit, or a portion of it according to the quantity of waste material available, must be filled to the top in six days. A fresh charge in another portion or pit should then be begun. Trampling while charging is harmful as air is excluded.
During the monsoon rains the pits get full of water. When the rains begin the contents should be removed and heaped on ground level taking advantage of the routine turnings. During the rains fresh compost should be made on the ground in heaps 8 feet by 8 feet by 2 feet with vertical sides, and closely grouped together on the broad spaces so that they are protected from cold winds.
Turning and Watering of Compost
The surface of the decomposing compost is kept moist by weekly sprinkling of water. It is necessary to restore moisture and air in the interior at intervals and hence 3 turns have to be given, accompanied by watering to make up for lost moisture. In wet weather the quantity of these waterings may be lessened or no water may be added, but the water during the first filling or stacking must be added in all seasons.
First Turn after about 15 Days
Remove the undecomposed surface layer from the whole pit and use it as part filling for a fresh pit. Scatter compost about 30 days old over the exposed surface and sprinkle water over the top till well moistened for about six inches. During this first turning the pit is divided lengthwise and the half on the windward side is left undisturbed. The other half is then thrown over it (a wooden rake is convenient for this). The material should not be taken off layer after layer but as far as possible from the top to the bottom of the pit by a vertical or slanting stroke. Every layer of the turned material, about six inches thick, must be soaked with sprinkled water. In the monsoon the whole heap may be turned to avoid too much height.
Second Turn after One Month
The material in one half of the pit is simply raked as above on to the other vacant side of the pit with adequate watering, the same care to mix it from top to bottom being taken.
Third Turn at the End of Two Months
The compost is similarly transferred by shovels to the surface on the broad spaces and watered. The material from two pits can be conveniently shovelled on to the space between to make one heap 10 feet broad and 3½ feet high; the length is immaterial and several pits or heaps can thus be stored together. If convenient the manure after moistening well may be directly carted from pits to the field. The heap should be made on the spot where the product is to be used, thus saving valuable time at the sowing season. All heaps should be dressed to vertical sides and flat tops to prevent excessive drying which stops decomposition.
Good compost gives no smell at any stage and the appearance is uniform throughout. If smell or flies appear it is a sign that more air is wanted and the pit should therefore be turned and a little ash and dung added.
The quantities required in individual cases can easily be found out by simple calculations with the help of the following data:
Quantities Required for 40 Animals
Filling into pits every day for six days:
Bedding and sweepings removed to the pit in one day; 40 to 50 pals after scattering on it 4 tagaris, i.e. sheet iron basins being 18 inches diameter by 6 inches depth, of fungus starter, 15 of urine earth and excess of dung if not used as fuel.
Slurry: For one day's output from cattle-shed 20 kerosene tins (4 gallons) of water, 5 tagaris of dung, 1 tagari of ash, 1 tagari of urine earth, and 2 tagaris of fungus starter.
Water: For one day's output from cattle-shed 6 tins immediately after filling, 10 tins in the evening and 6 next morning.
Surface waterings: 25 tins each time.
Water at turning time: 1st turn 60 to 100 tins, 2nd turn 40. to 60 tins, 3rd turn 40 to 80 tins according to season.
Fungus starter at the time of 1st turn: 12 tagaris
Volume (in double handfuls) and weights (in lb.) of the contents of a tagari or basket.
|Material double-handfuls||Volume in lb.||Weight|
|Fresh dung||6 to 7||40|
|Urine earth||20 to 21||22|
|For 1st turn starter||6||20|
Time Table of Operations
|15-16||First turn and addition of old compost|
|90||Compost ready for use|
When circumstances do not permit the adoption of the Indore process in full detail its advantages may be partially secured in the following way: The mixed waste is used as bedding for cattle and the requisite amounts of dung, urine earth and ash scattered over it next morning before removal as already described. The material is then carried to the margin of a field where the manure is to be used, or to some other suitable well-drained place, and stored in heaps not more than 3 inches high and 8 inches broad, and of any convenient length. After the rains have set in the fungus will establish itself in about a month. One full turn is then given choosing a cloudy or moderately rainy day. Another turn or two after an interval of a month will cause the material to rot by the end of the season, given a favourable distribution of rainfall.
A year of waiting is, of course, necessary before the manure is ready and possibly longer if the rains fails seriously.
The resulting manure, though probably rather inferior to compost made in the standard way, will be undoubtedly better than ordinary farm yard manure, for even by this modified process hard, woody waste can be rotted easily, thus giving a far larger quantity of manure than is produced in existing village practice.
H., 24-8-’35, p.218-19,224
Every village's first concern will be to grow its own food crops and cotton for its cloth. It should have a reserve for its cattle, recreation and playground for adults and children. Then if there is more land available, it will grow useful money crops, thus excluding ganja, tobacco, opium and the like.
H., 26-7-’42, p.238