What a pile of sh*t! Or, if you prefer the less colloquial term, what a pile of cow manure! This week #TeamTomatoJos has begun preparations for our organic compost.
First, let’s talk about the source of our cow manure. A remarkable feature of life in Nigeria is the presence of Fulani herdsmen who drive their cattle across the country (indeed, the entire region!) in search of the finest pastures. The Fulani or Fula people are a West African tribe present throughout much of Cameroon and Nigeria - an estimated 18.7 million live in Nigeria. The Fulani are generally grouped according to their settlement patterns: nomadic, semi-nomadic and settled.
Our manure comes from a semi-nomadic Fulani tribe living in Nasarawa State, who let their cattle roam freely across the land. They rarely consider property to be private – and this can lead to heated or even violent exchanges between the Fulani and local farmers from other tribes whose crops may have been eaten or destroyed by the cattle. There is always underlying tension between the Fulani herdsmen and the farmers.
Tension aside, the diet of the Fulani cattle is remarkably diverse. They graze on pretty much anything they find, and consequently they produce wonderful organic manure. When we approached the local Fulani tribe to enquire how much we must pay for the manure, they seemed delighted that we wanted to take it away all away from their village. So they gave it to us gratis - we guess one man's trash truly is another man's treasure!
Back to the compost. Making compost is a simple process – all you need is the right inputs, and a bit of patience! The Fulani manure is a little stinky because of its high ammonia levels, but this is actually good for tomato plants! So is the excess salt. We mix the cattle manure with other organic material, and the natural heat from aerobic process kills off all the bad microorganisms, leaving the most wonderful organic compost mix. So besides manure, what else do we need to make compost?
- Organic Matter: The base layer should consist of dry organic material that is about 10 centimeters deep. This week, while we were digging a trench for our nursery (stay tuned for more on that!), we cut down a lot of wild grass, which will act as our base layer.
- Manure: On top of the dried grass and other organic material like maize husks and leaves, we add about 5 centimeters of manure.
- Layering: The organic matter and manure are be layered until the pile is about a meter high. Every layer is doused with water to facilitate the fermentation process.
- Soil: After all the layering is complete, add 55 centimeters of soil on top.
- Time: This is where the patience comes in to play. The pile of compost material needs to be turned every 3 days, and should be kept moist but not soggy.
- Temperature Checks: The temperature in the middle of the pile should be between 120 and 160 degrees Fahrenheit.
The compost is ready when the heat stabilizes in the center and the contents have become dark brown and crumbly with an earthy smell.
For those of you who want to try your own hands at DIY composting, here are a few red flags to watch for:
- Compost that does not heat up or is too dry probably does not have enough nitrogen – you will need more water and more organic matter
- Compost that is damp and cool needs more manure
- Compost that stinks is probably too wet or has too much manure – you need to spread it out and add more carbon material
- Compost that is getting too hot will kill all the microorganisms that make compost from the fresh materials.
Tomato Jos is an African agricultural production company that believes in the power of farming and processing local food products for local consumption. We say this on the homepage of our website, and try to live by this credo in all of our actions. We truly believe that using local organic inputs to make fertilizer for our tomatoes will help us make the best tomato paste that Nigerians have ever tasted!