This is the motto of “Shimamoto Microbial Farming Method”. Soil is the final product from the breaking down of rock due to weathering. It was presumed to be static and stable. In fact it is a very active medium and continues to be active due to the biological activities of numerous living organisms. This is especially true in the case of cultivated soil where continuous chemical reactions are taking place due to the roots of the cultivated crops. There are also tremendous changes due to the application of organic matters and chemical fertilizers. The soil has many characteristics if one cares to have a close look at it. However, the progress of our materialistic civilization and high pace of economical development has done much harm to the soil. Heavy metals and plastic products are dumped into the soil, polluting it for years time to come. The rampant use of chemical fertilizers and synthetic agro-chemicals have also shared in this damage.

To restore soil fertility, large amounts of organic matter, in the form of good quality compost, must be introduced into the soil. Good quality compost is matured compost, fermented through a continuous aerobic fermentation. Aerobic fermentative microbes from the “BYM ENZYME” produce hydrolytic decomposing enzymes such as diastolic enzymes (Diastase), protein decomposing enzymes (Protease) and fiber decomposing enzymes (Cellulase) which ferment and decompose organic matter into compost through a hydrolytic decomposing process.  

Major differences between aerobic and anaerobic
There are two different processes when organic matter is decomposed. One is called aerobic decomposition which involves aerobic microbes that propagate by utilizing free oxygen from the air or in the water. In aerobic fermentation, a fermentation heat of 50°C to 60°C is generated and it may go up to over 70° C depending upon the types and conditions of the raw materials. In the process of aerobic fermentation, glucose, high-grade alcohol (ethyl), amino acids and many other compounds are produced. Compost brewed by aerobic fermentation is of good quality.

Anaerobic microbes are active in anaerobic decomposition. These microbes are not active in the soil and water where free oxygen exists, but they are very active in an environment where there is a lack in free oxygen. These bacteria hold a unique physiology. They respire by taking up oxygen from oxidized matters. In anaerobic decomposition, the fermentative heat does not exceed 45º C. In the process of anaerobic fermentation, organic acids such as marsh gas, lactic acid, and butyric acid are produced. These are harmful to crops because they weaken and hinder root growth.

There are some beneficial bacteria among the anaerobic bacteria, but generally, most of them are harmful in nature and in the agriculture field. There are two types of humus formed by compost in the soil, neutral and acidic. The humus formed by compost produced through aerobic decomposition is neutral and it is very effective in building up the fertility of the soil by bonding various mineral ions with the lignin-protein complex. On the other hand, the humus formed by compost produced through anaerobic decomposition is acidic in nature because it bonds hydrogen ions with the lignin-protein complex and this will increase the acidity of the soil.

Good quality compost through aerobic fermentation
Initial fermentation right after piling is usually aerobic due to the ample supply of oxygen. But as fermentation continues, the aerobic microbes use up the free oxygen in the heap. This situation is worsened if the heap is tightly compressed or the moisture content is too high. If left unattended, anaerobic bacteria will actively propagate and the compost heap will be deoxidized. As a result, marsh gas is produced, and carbohydrates in the heap are turned into butyric acid through butyric fermentation.

Protein also begins an anaerobic ammonia-indole decomposition instead of the aerobic amino-acid decomposition , discharging a bad odor. Nitric acid, which was partially produced by the aerobic microbes, begins to denitrify and this worsens the quality of the compost. In producing good quality compost, the compost heap should not be left in the state of anaerobic fermentation. Fresh air should be introduced into the heap to maintain continuous aerobic fermentation. Aerobic fermentation should always take the active role!

In the early stages of compost making, saccharifying–turning starch into sugars–by aerobic microbes and fungi, and the production of high-grade alcohol by the yeast should be promoted. Using these substances as nutrient source, actinomyces, which actively decompose hemicellulose, are propagated. This, in turn, propagates the aerobic microbes and fungi that help in the decomposition of cellulose. Through this relay of various aerobic microbes, the brewing of compost advances rapidly and smoothly. It is important to note that the use of fermentative enzymes such as BYM ENZYMES will greatly help to initiate and maintain a proper fermentation process. Maintaining the continuous aerobic condition is the key in maximizing the functions of the various microbes.

Basic procedures in producing good quality compost
There are many kinds of raw materials that can be used as composting materials. The methods of producing vary depending on the types of materials but the fundamental condition is similar.

Moisture content
Moisture content is one of the most important factors in compost making. The ideal content is around 60%. At this moisture level, the water is fully absorbed by the raw material and when you squeeze the material hard, water just manages to ooze out from between your fingers. It is too wet when water oozes out and starts to drip. Under this high moisture condition, there is not enough air from the very beginning and the excessive moisture prevents ventilation within the heap. As a result, aerobic fermentation cannot last and there will be a shortage of oxygen in a very short time. The heap gives off an unpleasant sour smell after a few days of piling. In cases like this, turning of the compost heap should be done in a short interval to introduce oxygen into the compost heap.

On the other hand, where there is too little moisture, aerobic fermentation at the initial stage is ideal. But as the temperature builds up and moisture is evaporated from the top of the heap, the central part of the heap becomes dehydrated due to the excessive high temperature of 70-80°C. This high temperature kills most of the effective aerobic microbes. Only some actynomyces and other bacteria that can withstand high temperature survive. The compost heap becomes burnt into ash and most of the nutrients are lost giving little value to soil improvement. This situation usually occurs when light airy materials such as padi husk are used. In cases like this, it is advisable to mix padi husk with materials such as vegetable wastes and oil palm empty bunches which can hold moisture well. Water should also be added if the shortage of moisture is acute.

Combinations of raw materials for compost

1)  Saw dust or wood chips                1000kg
Chicken dung (dry)                    300kg
Rice bran                            30kg
BYM ENZYMES                     3kg
Maturity time required                 100 days @ 5-6 turnings

2)  Oil palm empty bunches                1000kg
Chicken dung (dry)                    300kg
Rice bran                            30kg
BYM ENZYMES                     3kg
Maturity time required                 100 days @ 5-6 turnings

3)  Rice straw                           1000kg
Chicken dung (dry)                    200kg
Rice bran                            30kg
BYM ENZYMES                     3 kg
Maturity time required                 50 days @ 3 turnings

4)  Rice husk                           1000kg
Chicken dung (dry)                    300kg
Rice bran                            30kg
BYM ENZYMES                     3kg
Maturity time required                 60 days @3-4 turnings

5)  Vegetables wastes (dry weight)           1000kg
Chicken dung (dry)                    150kg
Rice bran                            30kg
BYM ENZYMES                     3kg
Maturity time required                 30 days @ 3-4 turnings

How to heap compost
There are many ways of heaping compost: heaping in the shape of a mountain cone, heaping in a box, heaping in a silo etc. The key point is to have a proper amount of air flowing into the heap while accumulating enough fermentative heat. The height of the compost heap should be 1.5 to 2 meters. If the heap is higher than 2 meters, accumulation of fermentative heat is ideal but the weight of the materials might weigh heavily on the lower portion, making it compacted and anaerobic. On the other hand, if the heap is too low, the accumulation of heat is poor and the speed of decomposition will be slower.

When heaping less than 10 tons of compost, the ideal width of the heap is 2 meters and the heap should be rectangular. Heaping in a square shape is not recommended because air does not flow into the center of the heap sufficiently. When heaping over 20 tons, it is recommended that the width should be 3-4 meters and rectangular with the height of 1.5 meters.

Large amounts of compost can also be heaped outdoor into a mountain shape cone 2 meters high and 3-4 meters wide. The top of the heap should be covered to keep in the heat and prevent rainwater from entering. Measures should also be taken to allow good ventilation. Special attention must be taken when piling fine particles like saw dust and sticky materials such as vegetable wastes and barnyard manure. It is important to aerate the heap.

When fermentation begins after heaping, the oxygen in the heap is rapidly used up and carbon dioxide accumulates. Decomposition of the organic matter is accelerated by the accumulation of heat. But after a certain time, the shortage of oxygen occurs and fermentation changes from aerobic to anaerobic. The heap should be turned to release the carbon dioxide trapped inside the heap as well as to introduce fresh oxygen. A good balance of moisture can also be maintained through turning the heap and thus fermentation is uniform. Turning the compost heap is important in producing good quality compost and it is necessary to do this in accordance to the characteristics of the raw materials.

There is a considerable difference between the fermentation of vegetable wastes with a softer fiber nature and sawdust that has harder fibers. Generally, fermentative heat begins to build up within 24 hours of heaping. The fermentation temperature is also different depending on the raw materials and the size of the heap. It reaches 55°C-65°C in 2 to 3 days and continues for 1-2 weeks. The rise in fermentative heat is more intense at the early stage. Higher heat indicates the active respiratory activities of the microbes. The dropping of the fermentative heat indicates the lack of oxygen. Turning should be done immediately.

Vegetable wastes and rice straw, which have softer fibers and are less toxic, can be used as a quick brewed compost fifteen days after the first turning. To produce a complete matured compost, a month is needed after the 2nd turning. But materials with hard fibers and high toxicity such as sawdust, it is necessary to turn the heap at least 5-6 times and heap for at least another 2 months after the last turning.
There is still a misconception of compost being a fertilizer. Basically, compost is used to increase the humus content of the soil and its fertility, and this will improve its productivity. Under our tropical climatical condition, annual digestion rate of humus in 1 acre of vegetable field is about 500-800kg. This requires the input of 20 tons of good quality high humus compost per acre per year in-order to sustain the soil fertility. Compost made from sawdust, tree bark and palm oil empty bunches produce 20-30% in humus content, whereas compost made from vegetable wastes and weeds produce only 1-2%. Rice straw compost produces about 10%. Farmers should make the effort to produce their own compost, from raw materials available on their farm or nearby. When purchasing compost from outside sources, make sure that they are well matured and of good quality.

Essay by: Steven Leong