- Compost works best when applied to the soil before planting.
- Compost can also be used as mulch – the protective cover placed over the soil to keep moisture in, reduce erosion, provide nutrients and prevent weed growth. Advice on saving water on the farm usually includes (1) Use more mulch and compost combos and (2) keep the crops covered.
- The steep increases in the cost of inorganic fertilisers and pesticides (many derived from petroleum products) have led many farmers to look at replacing them with organically-derived composts.
- Continual use of inorganic products have sterilised the soil and killed off the billions of micro-organisms that occur in nature. Reducing (or eliminating) the use of inorganic products and replacing them with organic products brings the micro-organisms back into the soil. These micro-organisms bring depleted soils back to life and provide all the necessary nutrients for healthy plants.
- When plants have a good, solid food supply at the roots, they are able to combat diseases more effectively than poorly-fed plants. Using composts as fertiliser and plant food ensures a supply of food throughout the growing season and not, as occurs with inorganic fertilisers, a huge boost when applied but a starvation when this is used up or leached out.
Source: Ronald Thomson; Water Wise (Rand Water)
Use more mulch and compost combos (Saving water on the farm)
You can use de-composed organic matter to improve your soil structure and increase its water-retention volume.
“Mulch is a material spread over the top of the soil to keep moisture. Mulch prepared from organic materials such as wood chips or straw will be broken down into compost, further increasing the soil’s water retention ability,” Talisa Water’s experts say. A combination of this mulch and your regular compost can help the ground hold more water in dry spells.
You can also use ‘black plastic mulch’ to cover soil and squash weeds while cutting down water evaporation at the same time. This mulch is basically the same as traditional wood chip mulch, but with added plastic particulate to prevent the sun from drawing more water than you want it to.
“Integrated crop-livestock systems improve soil health (if done properly). Leaving animals on field means more nutrients on the land and higher Carbon sequestration” (Hendrik Smith, Grain SA).
- Compost is formed in nature all the time as plants and animals die and decompose. This natural compost is generally called “humus”. Decomposition involves the breakdown of plant and animal remains into simpler components. As a result nutrients, which are essential for plant growth, are released into the soil. The process of decomposition is essential for the recycling of nutrients.
- Good compost is an excellent source of beneficial organisms and organic matter. Compost returns nutrients to the soil, increases the soil’s ability to hold water and air, and prevents erosion by binding the soil.
- Anybody buying bulk compost is advised to seek professional help in choosing a supplier as, in any industry, there are good and bad composts!
Sources: Jako Pieterse; Don Blacklaw; Ken Reid; Ronald Thomson
Liquid composts (compost tea)Find the notes at www.ecosoil.co.za.
Compost tea is the cheapest and fastest way to improve soil fertility. Compost tea is made by adding compost to water and multiplying specific micro-organisms. Compost tea restores the biological balance again and improves soil structure and counteracts compaction.
Training and research
Agricultural Colleges offer short training courses on making compost. An example is Madzivhandila College, which can be contacted at 015 962 7200/7/8. Contact details for all Agricultural Colleges can be found on the “Agricultural education and training” page.
ARC-Agricultural Engineering (AE)
Tel: 012 842 4017 britzpj [at] arc.agric.za
Find details of ARC publications under the last heading of this page. Technical enquiries can be directed to Petrus Britz.
Biodynamic Agricultural Association of Southern Africa
Tel: 021 881 3628
Biowatch does training, see https://biowatch.org.za/biofertiliser-training/.
Lindros Whole Earth Consultants
Tel: 082 719 7263
Nelson Mandela University
School of Natural Resource Management
Dr Jaap Steenkamp
Tel: 044 801 111
The Unit for Environmental Sciences and Management at North-West University in Potchefstroom does research on soils, organic farming and waste management. Speak to Prof Nico Smit at 018 299 2128 or write to nico.smit [at] nwu.ac.za.
Department of Soil Science
Dr Eduard Hoffman
Tel: 021 808 4789
The Sustainable Fruit and Vine study Group
Tel: 021 808 5329 / 083 629 7896
Find spreader implements (for manure spreading) on the “Implements” page.
- Africa Biomass Company Tel: 023 342 1212 www.abc.co.za
- AJEA Broiler Cleaning Services Tel: 072 300 4759 Chicken manure
- Atlas Organic Fertilizers Tel: 078 457 2743 / 078 451 8988 www.atlasorganies.co.za
- Bark Fibre Tel: 082 789 3730 / 072 034 0603 https://barkfibre.com
- Biodyne South Africa Tel: 060 526 0434 www.biodyne.co.za Composting enhancement
- Biogrow Tel: 028 313 2054 www.biogrow.co.za
- Culterra Tel: 015 307 3475 www.culterra.co.za
- Demeter Organic Fertilizer Tel: 011 465 9783 tarnya [at] demeter.co.za Organic fertiliser in both liquid and granular form
- Earth 2 Earth Tel: 013 734 4852/3 www.earth2earth.co.za Outlets in Limpopo, North West, Gauteng, Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal.
- Earth Probiotic Recycling Solutions Tel: 011 783 3380 http://earthprobiotic.co.za Helping companies, households and communities recycle their food waste back into soil food through composting.
- Earthworm Organic Mediums Tel: 087 151 3374/5/6 www.earthworm.co.za
- EcoChem admin [at] ecochem.com www.ecochem.com
- Eco-Fert Tel: 086 100 50 51 www.eco-fert.co.za Most products are based on soil friendly sources derived from the sea and land.
- Ecosoil Tel: 021 848 9434 / 072 906 1636 www.ecosoil.co.za A business which specialises in compost extract machines. Pieterse consults farmers on creating healthy soils.
- Farmyard Organics Tel: 033 569 0680 www.farmyardorganics.co.za
- Gecko Fert www.geckofert.co.za Read about Langfos, a phosphatic fertiliser, on the website. Contact details are available for agents across the country.
- Go Organic Guano Tel: 023 342 6495 www.goorganicguano.co.za “droppings of seabirds”
- Gromor Tel: 031 782 3105 www.gromor.co.za
- GuanoBoost Tel: 081 838 9382 www.guanoboost.com
- Jacklin Organic Tel: 082 456 8886 www.jacklinorganic.co.za ECOPOST® compost made from invasive wattle trees
- Jelliman, Redge jelliman [at] vodamail.co.za Compost expert and consultant
- Karibu Farm Tel/fax: 032 947 1194
- Langplaas Organics Tel: 012 252 3653 https://langplaasorganics.co.za
- Living Seeds http://livingseeds.co.za/green-manures
- Mahlathini Development Foundation (MDF) Tel: 082 873 2289 www.mahlathini.org
- Master Organics Tel: 021 396 1066 www.master-organics.com
- Mayibuye Ndlovu Compost Tel: 042 233 0320 www.srcc.co.za/compost.html A partnership between Mayibuye Ndlovu Development Trust and Sundays River Citrus Company (SRCC) which delivers certified organic compost
- Onderberg Verwerkingskoöperasie Ltd Tel: 013 790 1146 www.onderberg.com
- Organic for Africa Tel: 033 413 2960 www.organicforafrica.co.za
- Ritlee Sales & Services Tel: 011 452 3434 www.ritlee.co.za
- Rossgro Tel: 013 665 1999 www.rossgro.co.za [website not working, 18 April 2018] Rossgro produce and sell organic compost collected from their farms.
- Slurry Tech Tel: 082 932 0481 www.slurrytech.co.za
- Soil & More Reliance Tel: 0861 888 784 www.reliance.co.za
- Southern African Cover Crop Solutions Tel: 031 785 1581 www.sacovercropsolutions.com A seed company which specialises in cover crops and green manure
- Stanler Farms Tel: 021 975 1724 Johannesburg: 082 657 3715/6 http://stanlerfarms.co.za
- Talborne Products Tel: 013 933 3172 www.talborne.co.za
- TurfNet Tel: 011 469 5051/464 5088 www.turfgreen.co.za
- Waste-to-food Tel: 073 228 8513 www.waste-to-food.co.za
- Weldhagen Boerdery Tel: 012 819 8000 www.weldhagen.co.za
- ZZ2 Tel: 015 395 2040 www.zz2.biz
Websites and publications
Visit websites of role players for a wealth of information.
Beck M. 1997. The Secret Life of Compost. Texas: Acres.
Find the Guidelines “Using manure to supply plant nutrients” on the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Agriculture website, www.kzndard.gov.za.
Subscribe to the monthly Ecosoil newsletter. Write to jako [at] ecosoil.co.za.
Call 012 842 4017 or email iaeinfo [at] arc.agric.za to obtain the following publications, available from the ARC in Silverton:
- Kompostering en komposteringstelsels
- Composting and composting systems
- Besproeiing met dieremiswater
- Irrigation with animal manure water
Visit www.kejafa.com for several compost-related publications, available from Kejafa Knowledge Systems.
Find the presentations of the 2019 Regenerative Agriculture held at Reitz, Ottosdal and Joostenbergvlakte at www.netwerk24.com/landbou/Bedrywe/Bewaringsboerdery/kry-hier-voorleggings-van-2019-se-herlewingslandboukonferensies-20190322. Regenerative Agriculture includes the use of cover crops, mulching and the remedies covered on this page.
Find the “Composting and manure utilisation manual” farmer handout at www.mahlathini.org, website of the Mahlathini Development Foundation (MDF).
Find the notes on the Soil Foodweb Inc website: www.soilfoodweb.com.
The Info Paks (booklet) Using Kraal Manure (as a fertiliser) and Making organic fertiliser can be viewed (and downloaded) at www.dalrrd.gov.za. See also Vegetables – Manure and other organic fertilisers, Vegetables – Mulching and Vegetables – Compost.
Find the notes on making compost at www.greenworks.co.za.
Hands On: Soil And Compost Life – A Field Guide. I. van den Berg. Share-Net, PO Box 394, Howick, KwaZulu-Natal, 3290. Tel: 0860 240 240
Soil Is Life: A Handbook For Teachers. M. Roos (ed). Share-Net, PO Box 394, Howick, Kwazulu-Natal, 3290. Tel: 0860 240 240.
- Phillips L. 2019, December 27. “Large-scale composting turns waste into healthy soil”. Farmer’s Weekly, pp. 52 – 55.
- Genis, A. 2018, December 3. “Delgewasse kan vir wins bestuur word, se landbou-ekonome”. Landbouweekblad. Available at www.netwerk24.com/landbou/Bedrywe/Bewaringsboerdery/dekgewasse-kan-vir-wins-bestuur-word-se-landbou-ekonome-20181203 [an article in Afrikaans about cover crops]
- Kerr, B. 2018, November 2. “The benefits of organic matter”. Farmer’s Weekly. Available at www.farmersweekly.co.za/crops/vegetables/benefits-organic-matter/
- Uys, G. 2018, June 21. “Pursuing soil health precisely”. Farmer’s Weekly. Available at www.farmersweekly.co.za/crops/field-crops/pursuing-soil-health-precisely/
- Taking crops off the land without returning nutrients to the soil is called “mining” the soil. If you do this for some years, your crops may grow slowly, have a stunted appearance (small plants with thin stems and small leaves), have pale green or yellowish leaves, and produce a poor yield. Find the Farmer’s Weekly article “How to cure your soil after years of nutrient depletion” at www.farmersweekly.co.za/farm-basics/how-to-crop/cure-soil-years-nutrient-depletion/.
- Reporter. 2018, April 9. “The Importance of Composting in SA”. Country Life. Available at www.countrylife.co.za/diy/38951
- Hodgson S. 2017, March 17. “The benefits of cover crops for CA smallholder farmers”. Farmer’s Weekly. Available at www.farmersweekly.co.za/farm-basics/how-to-crop/benefits-cover-crops-ca-smallholder-farmers/
- Moolman, K. 2014, November 17. “5 ways to make your own fertiliser”. Garden & Home. Available at www.gardenandhome.co.za/gardening/how-tos/5-ways-to-make-your-own-fertiliser/
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