Making and Using Compost

Organic materials, such as food scraps or plant matter will eventually decompose and create humus that makes nutrients available for plants. When this decomposition process is accelerated or assisted the final product is called compost. Making and using compost is an easy and eco-friendly way to manage the organic waste that is produced inside the home. Organic waste does not need to be hauled to the dump; instead it can be converted into a nutrient-rich soil amendment right in your own back yard.

The benefits of compost

  1. It saves money.
  2. Compost can be made from materials found around your farm or house and it does not require the purchase of expensive inputs.
  3. It is a simple alternative to costly chemical fertilizers.
  4. It reduced the need for chemical fertilizers.
  5. It promotes gardening and the eating of healthy, locally grown food.

The basics of compost: just do it

Level 1: The most important thing to know about composting is that eventually all organic matter will decompose, so the best thing to do is to just do it. Find a suitable place in the yard and make a pile of all the natural products found around the house, including food waste from the kitchen and plant clippings around the house. The pile will eventually decompose and make compost. Simply avoid the following items:

  • Meat products
  • Dairy products
  • Fish and fish products
  • Manure from animals that eat meat (feline, canine, etc.)
  • Baby diapers
  • Anything treated with pesticides
  • Grass or weeds that have begun to seed

Level 2: For those interested in accelerating the compost process follow these guidelines, keeping in mind that the key for good compost is to turn it frequently, to keep it moist, and to protect it from heavy rainfall. Follow these instructions:

  1. Create an area to contain compost, preferably two. Refer to the picture.

    Compost pile at AEP office. c. Leo Mena
  2. Place the compost container under or under a tarp to protect it from heavy rainfall.
  3. Layer the compost with green materials first, followed by dried brown materials, then green, then brown, and so on. 
  4. Using a shovel, pitchfork or even a long stick, turn the compost pile frequently. The more the compost is turned, the faster the degradation of the organic matter.   
  5. You can continually add fruit and vegetable waste to the compost pile throughout the decomposition process. Place dried leaves over the food waste or put the food waste underneath the compost pile to avoid insects.
  6. Add a little bit of wood-ash to your compost pile to improve the quality of the compost. Ash contains calcium and carbon and will help to increase the pH helping to neutralize the acidic soils found throughout the tropics.
  7. A really good compost will be hot but do not be alarmed if your compost never gets hot.
  8. The compost will be ready when it no longer has large clumps and instead has a fine consistency. Use the compost in gardens or around trees.  

Level 3: If you would like to make an even better compost, consider the ingredients being used. Plants require many nutrients to grow and stay healthy. The primary macronutrients vital for healthy plant growth are Nitrogen, Potassium, and Phosphorous, or NPK for short. Some common farm or household products rich in NPK are:

Nutrient, Natural products rich in the corresponding nutrients
Nitrogen, "Dried manure (cow, chicken, horse, and rabbit), green leaves, grass clippings,~~ coffee grounds, used tea bags, crushed eggshells. Balo leaves work great and~~ are abundant in Panama!"
Potassium (K), "Fruit and vegetable waste such as; banana peels, citrus, beets, spinach, tomatoes,~~ ash, and manure. Chopped up stalks of banana and plantain trees are excellent~~ natural sources of both P and K!"
Phosphorous (P), "Dried manure (bird, cow, chicken, horse, and rabbit), crab shells and shrimp ~~peelings, fish bones, and most grains and nuts."

Jairo Batista (AEP gardener)
Ashley Stonecipher (Pedasí school gardens consultant, Peace Corps)
Mark Gormley (RPCV Panama, 2006-2009)


  • Compost Materials.
  • Jairo Restrepo Rivera, Elaboración de abonos orgánicos fermentados y biofertilizantes foliares)
  • Compost Ingredients
  • Soil Requirements For A Successful Garden http:/
  • Organic Source of Potassium for your lawn or Garden