Notes to broadcasters
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The following script involves the characters Philip (program host) and Dr. Compost (Peter Composter). Philip is from the city. He has a weak stomach and is somewhat skeptical about farming techniques. Dr. Compost is from a rural background, and has a university education in agriculture.
Farmers in your audience should know that their crops are only as good as the soil in which they grow. Adding composted manure to the soil is like putting money in the “soil bank.” Growing and incorporating nitrogen-rich legumes is also beneficial. If the soil bank is rich, crops will be good. But in many parts of the world, the soil is exhausted, yields are poor, and plants are more vulnerable to disease and insect attack.
Other suggested program ideas about improving soil fertility include:
- How cover crops can improve soil structure
- The role of earthworms in every farmer’s soil fertility program.
This script is a short drama which highlights the benefits of composting animal manure to make your own fertilizer. Two ways to use this script are by simply adapting the drama for your local audience or using it as inspiration to produce your own drama.
Dr. Compost, Ph.D.
(Peter Composter): Agricultural specialist, about age 70, somewhat forgetful. He has a farming background and also a university education. His problem is that, sometimes, he digresses from the topic. Nevertheless, the information he provides is always interesting, useful and practical.
Good morning and welcome, listeners. If you are a farmer, then you already know that by adding fertilizer to your soil you can increase yields and improve the quality of your crops. You can buy fertilizers that are made from chemicals. But you can also use things that you have around your home or farm to make your own fertilizer. For example, you can use composted garden and kitchen waste. Or you can make fertilizer from animal manures such as chicken or cattle manure.
We have a guest in our studio today, an expert on soil fertility and compost. Welcome, Dr. Compost.
(Quite nervous and excited, speaking quickly
) Yes, in fact, animal manure is commonly used as fertilizer. But fresh animal manure contains weed seeds and disease germs. Which can make it a problem. (Suddenly stopping and calming down. Speaking more slowly
) Thank you for the kind introduction, Philip. It’s nice to be here.
(In a disgusted tone
) Did you say “disease germs?” What kind of diseases?
Don’t worry, Peter. They’re plant
diseases. Today I’d like to talk about how you can make animal manure into better fertilizer by composting it. Did you know that Chinese farmers have been using this method for centuries? They make a compost heap with fresh manure, add some plants and soil, and cover the heap with mud. The heat that builds up inside the compost pile kills many weed seeds and disease germs, and produces better fertilizer.
I’ve seen many farmers who simply add animal manure to their fields. Why should you go to the trouble of composting animal manure?
I’m glad you asked that question, Philip. (Pause
) Sorry, what was the question again … (after a two second silence, he remembers
) Never mind, I remember. Well, as I said, compost piles kill most weed seeds and disease organisms that can live in fresh manure. Another advantage of composting your manure is that you can then add it directly to your planting holes, because it won’t burn your crops like fresh manure can.
Thank you, Dr. Compost. So how does a farmer make a compost heap? (Disgusted
) Does he actually have to touch the animal manure?
(Ignoring Philip’s disgust
) If you want to make a compost heap with animal manure, there are several steps to follow. Here’s how.
To begin, you will need a few square metres of flat land near the place where you grow your crops. Clear away all the sticks, stones, and rubbish lying around. You will make your compost heap in four layers.
Make the first layer from weeds, straw, leaves – any plant materials that will rot with time. This layer should be about 20 centimetres high, and flat on the top. Twenty centimetres is about the distance from your wrist to the end of your longest finger.
Now, make the second layer. Spread fresh livestock or poultry manure on top of the plant materials. This second layer should be about the same height as the first – about 20 centimetres high. Next, add the third layer. The third layer should be made of moist soil.
Wait a minute. Let’s review. The first three layers are made of … (he waits for Dr. Compost to complete his sentence
(Slowly and patiently
)The first layer is made with weeds, straw and leaves. The second layer is made with fresh livestock or poultry manure. And the third layer is made of moist soil.You should use three times as much soil as manure or plants. So this third layer should be 60 centimetres high. Sixty centimetres is about the distance from your shoulder to your hand. If you don’t have moist soil, use dry soil, and then water it. But just water it enough to make it moist – not more than that.
There’s one more important thing to do to make good quality fertilizer. You might ask, “What is that important thing, Dr. Compost?” (Pause, then after a few seconds Dr. Compost coughs and repeats himself more loudly
.) You might ask “What is that important thing, Dr. Compost?”
(As if waking up
) Oh! Um … what is that important thing, Dr. Compost?
Good question, Philip. (Slightly sarcastic, but good-natured
) Thanks for asking. The other important thing is to cover the entire heap with a thin layer of mud. (Pause
) That’s right – cover the entire heap with mud. Cover the top and sides of the heap with mud all the way down to the ground. The more clay there is in the mud, the better. Clay is made of very small particles which stick together. (Editor’s note:if the farmer has access to a large plastic sheet,he or she could use it instead of mud, especially in areas where the soil is sandy and doesn’t make good mud).
Mud? But why do you cover the pile with mud? I’ve seen many compost piles that aren’t covered with mud, and they seem to work fine.
The mud cover is important for two reasons. First, it keeps heat inside the mound. The hotter the compost heap, the quicker it will make compost. The second advantage of the mud is that it keeps the nutrients in the heap from being lost to the air.
Now, after you’ve added the mud cover, leave the heap alone for ten days. Or a little longer in cooler weather. You might not see anything happening on the outside. But, inside the heap, tiny creatures called microbes are busy eating and breaking down the materials into tiny pieces …
(Again ignoring Philip’s disgust and continuing cheerfully
) All their activity creates a lot of heat. This heat kills most of the weed seeds and disease germs inside the compost heap.
After ten days, take the heap apart with a shovel and mix all the materials together thoroughly. Your fertilizer, also known as compost, is now ready. You should use it as soon as possible.
Why should you use it as soon as possible?
Here’s why. If you leave your compost sitting in a pile on the ground, it will start to lose nutrients. Some of the nutrients will be lost to the air. Some will be washed into the soil when it rains. If you can’t use your compost right away, cover the heap with banana leaves or other large leaves that will protect the pile.
Let me understand this correctly, Doctor. (Pause
) So you are saying that some of the nutrients in a compost pile will be lost to the air or leach into the soil if the pile is not covered?
But wouldn’t the same thing happen to animal manure that was not in a compost pile? If your cows and goats and other animals are … (disgusted
) excreting, wouldn’t the nutrients in their manure be lost if the manure wasn’t covered right away?
) That’s a very
good question, Philip. Both animal manure and animal urine are good to add to compost piles. Of course it’s hard to put all of the manure and urine from your animals on your compost pile. But there are simple ways to capture as much as you can. One way is to use bedding straw or litter for your animals, and then add the bedding straw to the compost heap. All the urine and manure in the bedding straw and litter will then be added to the compost. If you are cutting and carrying feed to your animals during the cropping season, try to feed them in an area where the bedding can capture their urine and manure.
So I should try to capture as much animal manure and urine as I can with bedding straw. Then add the bedding straw to the compost heap. Is that right?
Exactly. Another good idea is to use a concrete floor for your animals. Concrete floors lose fewer nutrients than soil floors. One last thing is to try to shade the feeding and bedding area. Fewer nutrients are lost from shaded areas than from areas which get full sun.
Wow, that’s a lot of information for one program, Dr. Compost. You’re amazing
(Embarrassed and stammering a bit
) Th-th-thank you, Philip.
Can we quickly review the steps to making a compost pile, Doctor?
Certainly. Remember to build your compost heap in four layers – (speaks slowly
) first plants, then animal manure, then moist soil, and finally a cover of mud. Leave the heap alone for ten days. Then, take it apart and mix it thoroughly. Now your composted manure is ready to use.
Is there a best time to make compost?
Good question, Philip. About ten days after you cover the pile with mud, your compost should be ready. A little longer if the weather is cool. So if you know when you want to use the compost, you should start making the pile about ten days before that.
And how do you use the compost?
You can spread it on the soil between your crops. Or you put it into individual planting holes. You will discover, as Chinese farmers have for years, that composted manure makes your crops healthier and gives better yields.
Thank you for your excellent introduction to composting animal manure, Dr. Compost. And thank you, our dear listeners, for listening. We will be back next week at the same time. Goodbye for now.
- This script was adapted from a Farm Radio International script originally published as Package 8, script 3, and called “Improving manure.”
- Reviewed by: Jibrim M. Jibrim, Associate Professor and Head of Department of Soil Science, Bayero University, Kano, Nigeria.