Growing your Soil

Bruno Borsari, visiting Fulbright scholar from Winona University offered a series of in the field lectures at the USMA farm in Las Minas, Panama. Azuero Earth Project has been fortunate to have an extended connection with the bright and vibrant Dr. Borsari. As part of continued education, our staff attended several of the lectures. Below, we’ll share a little of what we learned.

Creating your own Organic Fertilizer

We seem to have forgotten the wisdom of our grandparents. At one point, we recognized the ridiculousness of waste, and each item we possessed was used to the fullest. As prices have dropped, divorced from the environmental impact, it has become easier to throw things “away” and to forget the necessity of using all parts of what we have. Borsari emphasized the basic principle, “There is no waste in nature.”
The livelihood of human beings is based on the thin and skinny layers and the decomposers in the topsoil. Soil quality is being so rapidly depleted that many consider the soil a non-renewable resource. However, if we take care of the soil, it will repay us with abundance.

Producing BioChar from corncobs
Producing BioChar from corncobs

Dr. Borsari went into detail about three different types of soil amendments, including compost, worm compost, and Biochar. As with anything, each type has pros and cons, but the key to deciding which organic fertilizer is best for you depends on your materials, time, and how much labor you want to invest. Biochar, a pyrolized carbon amendment, takes less than an hour to make, but requires the effort of building the tank and fire to create BioChar. Compost piles can be made with little effort, taking care to get the mix of carbon and nitrogen correct. Turning the pile with more frequency speeds decomposition and produces usable compost more quickly. Worm compost is arguably the easiest, as once you establish your colony, you just have to feed the worms once a week, and they do all the work for you! For more details, see the presentation here.

Reused barrels, cut in half, serve as happy homes for the worms.
Reused barrels, cut in half, serve as happy homes for the worms.

In an important message, especially given traditional agricultural practices of Panama, Borsari explained the effects of burning land to clear weeds. By burning the land, not only do you liberate into the air all that essential carbon which had been stored in the soil, but burning creates an ashy layer that acts as if it were wax or grease, coating the ground and preventing water from penetrating the soil.
So remember, don’t just focus on the plants, Grow your soil!

This is our third post in the series, “Caring for the Soil”!  If you missed them, check out the posts on Simple Methods for Evaluating Soil Quality and on Soil Benefits of Raising Chickens in Mobile Cages. 

A huge thank you to Dr. Bruno Borsari and his wife Julie Chiasson!

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