Sunday, January 9, 2011

HONDURAS - Making Bocashi Fertilizer

by Andy
Me having lunch in front of the coffee nursery during Bocashi day.

Adalid's Family (Front to Back): Dariela, Cindy, Suyapa and Melvin
Yesterday we went to visit a piece of land owned by our friend and guide Hector Oviedo. Hector is a tireless thinker and worker for sustainable development in his country. He is a person of principals and purpose. He was my best friend while I was in the Peace Corps here. At the time Hector, who is trained as an Agricultural Engineer, had just lost his job with the state-run agricultural service because his political party had lost the recent elections. That meant he had plenty of time to hang out with me and hike around on the mountain and talk about protecting the forest and sustainable agriculture. Since then, his life has revolved around numerous projects, all aimed at improving his country.

Hector has done trial plots of organic agriculture, he has a business installing microhydro turbines for electricity, and he has a machine that make economical blocks for building houses out of packed earth and cement. Five years ago he bought a property close to Comayagua, with the intention of setting up a demonstration organic farm. It is in the hills, where pine and oak mix with other species. The land is hilly and some parts are degraded from over-use. But there are beautiful forests and a small creek that flows through, and Hector made a decision to do everything he could to rehabilitate it. He started by not cutting down any trees and allowing the forest to recover.

Now it is 5 years later and pine trees are sprouting everywhere and the creek area is lush and shady. After aborted attempts to grow lychee trees and some other crops, Hector is setting up a small plot of coffee. He wants to do it organic from the very start. The nursery was started using a soil mix that is part charcoal and part worm compost. He has thousands of plants lined up in a shady spot near the creek, all ready to plant. As we pulled up, he had 4 people digging holes to plant the coffee plants. Our job was to make bocashi fertilizer to feed these new plants after they go in the ground.

Bocashi is a type of compost that Hector learned to make in Costa Rica. It is a Japanese invention that involves fermentation, sort of like making yogurt or sauerkraut with soil amendments. When we arrived Hector had set up the piles of the ingredients and and had a flip folio of paper to teach us how to make the fertilizer. Adalid and his family were there and they had set up a sort of camp kitchen and were roasting meat and cooking beans. It was a fertilizer picnick. Hector started by talking about how a Japanese volunteer had come to vegetable growing region of Costa Rica, where they were using a lot of chemicals and still having problems with pests, disease, yields and weeds. After the introduction of bocashi and other organic methods, an organic movement started, which was rooted not so much in trying to get higher prices, but rather in the health of the plants and improved yield. We were all intrigued.

Hector gave us the recipe for bocashi, and then we got to make some, followed by a great lunch. The basic recipe is to take a source of dry manure (chicken and goat) and mix it with a source of carbon (coffee hulls) and some soil and then start adding the extras. There were three bags of ground charcoal, a bag of rice germ, a bag of agricultural lime, a gallon of molasses, and also a bag of finished bocashi as a starter. You mix it all together with enough water for 50% moisture and then you mix and monitor over then next 7 days. Essentially you have made a big pile of pickles for the earth. Not only does the bocashi add activated minerals, but the main function is to improve the microbial balance in the soil. It is sort of like an acidophillus pill for the soil. As an organic grower myself, I am certainly interested.

After the work and lunch, we toured the rest of the farm and learned about weeds and which ones are good or bad for the coffee.

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