We use manure from cows or sheep as a compost starter. Each manure from a 'grass eater - vegetarian' can serve. The manure must be processed first before it can be used as a starter. To begin we add water. Then also leachate coming from the composting process. But we add that later. When we are already a bit underway in the process. What we gain then is grafting fluid.
Making grafting fluid.
Hendrik: ''In order to allow the manure to be manageable, to make it thin, either liquid, I put it in a small container and moisten it in steps. Submerging it at once, does not work. The manure must absorb the water gradually. When it has fully engorged it falls apart. It then goes into a second container to store, to keep it wet.
I then strain it, to crush it. I do that over a third container, that I use for the final grafting fluid. There is water already and also leachate later. One shovel of manure is sufficient for about 4 times grafting. So I do not need much.
For me the fertilizer value of manure is not so important. The value of the N.P.K. in the manure is negligible in this case. The bacteria that the manure contain are important to me; the pH level: A pH of 7 is an indicator. The intention is that the bacteria get the opportunity to do their work.''
The grafting fluid also contains leachate. This comes from the composting process. In the beginning you have none yet, but that's okay. Later you can use it and reuse it.
Hendrik: ''I like to reuse the leachate. Everything you throw away you lose. And the leachate is optimally useful. So I have already produced a home-bacterial strain. A few times I also mix in some leftover compost. That I do to stimulate bacterial life."
Our water comes from a borehole. It is a bit ferruginous, which is not a problem in itself. Gloor containing water would be a bigger problem. You have to be careful. Because gloor destroys the development of bacteria.
We need to add sufficient bacterial moisture to the process. For optimal heating the optimal moisture content of a mass composting material is 30%, the books say. But we experienced no problems with much more moist in the materials. Here we mean the moisture added, not the natural moisture inside the plant.
We dry wet grasses (and also kitchen and garden waste) before composting. We do this because we need to have lots of good bacteria in the composting material. The moisture in the plant is this too clean, too sterile, as it were. We want to see some action ... a quick start of the heating. And that may be the best with dried materials. These are the most susceptible to external influences.
So to start the actual composting we graft the dried grasses, the hay. For this we use a barrel. An 'immersion barrel', a 'grafting barrel', name it as you like. A barrel where the materials are immersed, grafted:
Hendrik: ''I fill the immersion barrel half with grafting fluid; thus half with pretreated cow dung in water and leachate. If I run short of grafting fluid, I just ad rainwater or water from the bore hole. Here I immerse the hay, press it firmly under the level of the water and than keep it there with a heavy weight.
The upward pressure of the hay in the barrel is enormous. I need my full weight to press it below the water level. And than I use a weight of at least 50 kilos, to keep it there. Here this hay has to stay for at least 24 hours. Much longer is not necessary. It is than over engorged with grafting fluid... Penetrated with bacterial moisture.''
Unpacking the immersion barrel... See the upward pressure and the bacteria, in all colors, on top:
|Closing off the immersion barrel. In order to protect against external influences|
A plant protects itself with a layer of wax. So that moisture, mold, and bacteria can not penetrate into the plant. A dry plant looses its wax easier. This is why we like to dry wet grasses before starting to compost. And we like to wait until the grasses have grown to 'hay on stem'. Here in the Alentejo this is possible. Although we have to break the harvested hay or bruise it. Because the Alentejo crop is stiff, hard and full of thorns.
When I take the hay out off the immersion barrel, it is not dry immediately. Grafting fluid remains sticking to it. (Cleaving moisture.) So it should still drain. This takes a while. For this you cannot wait. So I arranged two barrels for this purpose. Two actually, in order to gain a bit more volume. Here I collect the grafted hay to drain. These are my 'draining barrels'.
Some bars and a wicker or bamboo mat on the floor of the barrel, ensure that the hay can drip off. The leachate is stored under this mat. This I use to supplement the grafting fluid at the beginning of the process. Thus now the starting cycle is complete.''
Recycle leachate from a drain barrel:
Hendrik: ''To gain some more mass, volume, and to get some continuity in the process I have arranged three storage containers, with also a bamboo mat on the bottom. These are my three 'storage barrels'. Here temporarily I keep the inoculated and drained hay. Temporarily, for this is not final. A very small amount of leachate is left to drain. In warm weather the first heating begins here. In cold weather with frost this forcing is only moderately, or actually absent. The real heating, or decomposition needs more mass. For good heating and good composting, you need mass.'
On average, we than gain nice compost in three months. Not always, because sometimes it takes longer, depending on the weather. And the weather is unpredictable. Especially in winter when there can be many nights with frost. Than you can not rely on a good heating. Even in this Alentejo climate.
I still try to find the best possibility to overcome these influences of climate. The best I found yet is a well-packed big bag, well tucked in with plastic studs and canvas. It has enough space for one cubic meter grafted hay. Maybe I will find a better solution. So who knows, stay tuned .... :)''
Composting in three minutes: