Farming and Gardening for Health or Disease
(The Soil and Health)
by Sir Albert Howard C.I.E., M.A.
The Indore Process and its Reception by the Farming and Gardening Worlds
The system of composting which I adopted, known as the Indore Process, has already been fully set forth in 1931 and 1940 in two previous books: the detailed description will, therefore, not be repeated here. (The Waste Products of Agriculture; Their Utilization as Humus, Oxford University Press, 1931; An Agricultural Testament, Oxford University Press, 1940.) For those who are not familiar with these accounts it may be briefly stated that the process amounts to the collection and admixture of vegetable and animal wastes off the area farmed into heaps or pits, kept at a degree of moisture resembling that of a squeezed-out sponge, turned, and emerging finally at the end of a period of three months as a rich, crumbling compost, containing a wealth of plant nutrients and organisms essential for growth.
Sufficient time has now elapsed since the publications referred to above to permit of a summary of the history and reception of the process. The review is of interest. Time has sorted out essentials. It has brought no fundamental modification of any kind, but has shown the way to some simplifications which make the process easier both for the large plantation and for the small cultivator, it has indicated where further research and experiment could very advantageously be directed, and it has, above all, provided an interesting example of the way in which a new presentation of a very old and well-tried idea has been warmly accepted by the practical man and given a most unfortunate cold shouldering by the leaders of agricultural education and research.
Compost is the old English word for decayed organic wastes prepared by the farmer or gardener. There are many ways of making compost and it is a fact that, even when very imperfectly prepared, a heap of decaying organic material will, in course of time, turn into compost of a sort. There must be in existence dozens of indigenous methods of reducing the waste materials of Nature to nourishment for the plant: almost any traveller from primitive countries could describe some example. These empiric methods vary a good deal, mostly by reason of the different types of material available for composting. Actually the basis is always the same, namely, to allow or induce microbial action by means of air and of moisture. It must never be forgotten that living organisms and not human beings are the agents which make compost. These organisms exist everywhere. They prepare the ideal humus on the floor of the forest and they equally govern what goes on in the compost heap from start to finish. The art of preparing compost amounts only to providing such conditions as will allow these agents to work with the greatest intensity, efficiency, and rapidity.
The compost prepared by the Indore Process is like any other first-class compost. The method involves no patents, no special materials have to be sent for, and there is nothing secret about it. It is as well to make these points clear at the outset, as of recent years, owing to the immense success which has attended my compost campaign, numerous innovations and copies have been placed on the market, mostly patented and frequently involving the purchase of inoculating cultures or plant extracts of secret manufacture, some even claiming to be based on esoteric knowledge of an advanced kind and so benefiting the health and happiness of the recipient. Some of these have been described as a mixture of muck and magic. The Indore Process makes no claim of this sort whatever. It merely copies what goes on on the floor of every wood and forest. It has not been patented and will not be patented, because it would not be in accordance with my principles to make monetary profits out of work paid for from governmental and trust funds. Such results should always be public property and at the disposal of all. The Indore Process is now used and known in England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland; Eire; the United States of America; Mexico; Canada; Australia; New Zealand; South Africa; Rhodesia; Nyasaland; Kenya; Tanganyika; West Africa; India; Ceylon; Malaya; Palestine; the West Indies; Costa Rica; Guatemala; Chile; and by some of our armed forces. This list is constituted exclusively of countries from which I have directly received correspondence or official information.
It is because the Indore Process accords with natural law that it is equally successful in whatever type of farming or gardening it is applied. This is bound to be so. Nature has not different laws for her tropic, semitropic, temperate, or other zones, nor different principles for this soil or that. Her adaptations vary, but her basis is one and universal. It is a substantial proof of the soundness of the Indore method that it has shown itself to be, successful in so many different climates and for all types of farming and gardening, and that nothing essential has had to be altered or added in the carrying on of the process.
The secret of this success lies in the quality of the product. We must always secure high quality in compost before we can hope for quality and resistance to disease in crops, livestock, and mankind. There is all the difference in the world between Indore compost and organic matter. This distinction is constantly forgotten by the apologists and supporters of the artificial manure industry when criticizing organic farming and gardening, due, I believe, to want of first-hand experience of the subject.
Some Practical Points
The objection is still occasionally brought forward that there is not enough material to compost. As was previously pointed out (An Agricultural Testament, p. 42.), the true answer to this is a more effective use of the land. The proper utilization of the nitrogen cycle in Nature will provide much additional vegetable matter. There is also very considerable scope in the composting of catch crops and in sheet-composting generally. Sheet-composting has the added advantage that it saves labour, because the stubble or turf to be sheet-composted is not collected: it is left in situ. A parallel advantage is secured in respect of animal wastes when methods of open-air dairying like the Hosier system are adopted: obviously again the animal disperses its own wastes which mingle naturally with the vegetable wastes. All such methods need to be carefully studied as part of the fertility cycle; there is here an ample field for the intensive study of the nitrogen cycle and its full utilization in composting, and above all for pioneer adventures.
In any case, it may be insisted on once again that there is often a curious inability to recognize the abundance of existing wastes. The would-be complainant simply does not observe the many wastes lying about, the verdure of odd grass-borders for instance, the clippings of hedges; sometimes does not even see the weeds which encumber his beds and crops. One potential source of waste in this country is criminally neglected -- the rich mixed growth along the sides of every country road in England. Quite frequently heaps of this growth are already well on the way to compost and need only to be removed. Systematic clippings twice a year (June and September) of the grass and weeds growing alongside the roadside hedges, ditches, streams, and canals would produce millions of tons of compostable material. To save local authorities the labour and cost of clearance -- for purposes of keeping the roads free the normal practice is to heap it up at the sides, a process which in itself must cost the country thousands of pounds per annum -- is there any conceivable reason why the inhabitants of the localities should not be free to remove it for their own purposes? The riches of the roadsides and waste places would thus be brought back and add their wealth to our gardens and fields. This is not yet done, because this nation has not yet been taught to look for and seize upon all available supplies of organic waste. Such training, nevertheless, is a national duty.
In towns the abundant autumn fall of leaves which the authorities so carefully remove so as not to impede pedestrian and vehicular traffic and often destroy should be promptly returned to the gardens bordering on the roads so cleared; not to do so is year by year to rob these gardens of irreplaceable organic matter.
The condition of the soil receiving the compost is a factor fundamentally affecting results. This is only another facet of the problem with which we have just been dealing -- the state of the soil which is to produce the compostable material. Run-down land produces little waste material, but it eats up compost at an inordinate rate. The first dressings seem to be sucked in at once: they disappear miraculously in a very short time. The soil is so hungry that it positively devours compost. But as the applications are repeated, the response of the crop is evident by a marked improvement in vigour, growth, colour, stance, foliage, flowering and seeding capacity. The cumulative effect is truly astonishing. The results of compost are soon written on the crop. Again and again in this country correspondents report that the mere appearance of a composted garden invariably attracts the attention of passers-by and secures new converts to organic gardening.
How can the new convert to organic gardening begin to obtain results? One method is to concentrate on building up the fertility of the nursery where seedlings are grown. The principles which have been so successfully applied to human infancy by the medical authorities of this country are true for plants also -- at all costs give the seedling a good start. As soon as possible save the seed for future sowing from compost-fed plants. Provided the soil is fertile, the seed contains a whole battery of reserves. The next step is to sow such seed in soil rich in humus. The transplanted seedlings are then sure to prosper. This is the secret by which the rice cultivation of the East has been maintained for centuries year after year on the same land: the seed is carefully selected: the seedlings are always raised in heavily manured nurseries, and in this way survive the transplanting process on what they have accumulated. Or another simple method is to fill seed drills with two inches of compost and cover the sown seed with another inch: spectacular results, particularly with salad crops, can be obtained in this way. Or, again, in flower cultivation, when compost supplies are at the moment limited, a little compost may be poured into the site for the young plant or just round the roots of a growing one. All these devices are simple means of putting the compost where the crop in being can best use it. The ideal, of course, is to have the whole soil in such a state that any plant or seed can be set to grow anywhere without the need of special feeding. This, however, will take time.
The finished compost can be fed to the crop at any moment. In the more refined gardening operations it is a distinct advantage to possess a manure which can be spread on the surface to a depth of anything from one to two inches without the slightest disturbance of roots or seedlings. This is much nearer to Nature's own mechanism of distribution than is our common process of digging in at intervals raw fertilizing material which must necessarily be allowed to rot between the growing of crops, for which purpose ample time has to be allowed. In all intensive gardening operations compost is a necessity. A rapid succession of crops is thereby induced far surpassing what is permitted by other systems of manuring. Crops overtake each other, a second and third being interpolated while the first is ripening: the soil easily bears the double or triple burden. Here the Chinese peasant has led the way. No other agriculture is known which gets so much off the ground and has maintained unimpaired the fertility of the soil for four thousand years. Chinese agriculture, based on composting, is indeed the adaptation of genius, a marvellous achievement of a marvellous people, and would be well worth studying for its own sake even if it did not offer us such immense practical benefits.
How do we know when an area of land is really fertile? By the reaction of the crops to a complete artificial manure. When composting has been carried on for a sufficient period, soil which is in perfect heart does not respond appreciably to artificial manures -- just as a body which is in perfect health ceases to show any marked reaction to stimulating drugs. When the soil is almost worn out, we can write our name on it with artificials, but as it becomes fertile the response to chemicals become less and less until finally no appreciable result can be observed. The negative reaction of a treated area to a complete artificial manure will show that a condition of real soil fertility has been reached. Here we must admit a useful, but somewhat restricted, opening for artificials. Once the land is in good heart the maintenance of fertility needs only moderate dressings of compost.
The New Zealand Compost Box
The rapid spread of the Indore Process in temperate countries with a well distributed rainfall has drawn attention to the advantage of providing adequate shelter for the small compost heap. The large heap will always protect itself, because the ratio of the amount of surface to the total volume is low and the mere size of the heap prevents any fall in temperature by the cooling effects of wind and rain. But a small heap is all outsides, so to speak, and is easily cooled. The fermenting mass, therefore, needs some protection. A simple method of providing this comes from New Zealand, where a compost box is now in use which is finding favour among the urban gardeners and allotment holders of this country. The best results are obtained with a pair of these New Zealand boxes side by side, the purpose of the second box being for ripening the compost.
Two suitable boxes can be made as follows. Both are exactly the same size, so the following description applies to both.
Materials required. Six 3 ft. 3 in. lengths of 2 in. by 2 in. for uprights. Twenty-four 4 ft. lengths of 6 in. by 1 in. board for the four sides of the box. The unplaned timber should be oiled with old motor oil to preserve it, but tar or creosote should not be used.
Fig. 5. The New Zealand compost box
A, B, and C are the sides, each consisting of six boards, each 4 ft. by 6 in. by I in., nailed to the uprights half an inch apart to allow ventilation. D is the loose front (six boards). E, F, G, H, I, and J are the uprights (each 3 ft. 3 in. long). K is the bar, provided with a block at each end, to sit on top of the sides A and C to stop them spreading.
The box, which has no bottom, stands on the ground. First nail the side A to the uprights E and F. Next nail the back B to the uprights G and H. Next nail the side C to the uprights I and J. When nailing the boards on to the uprights leave a half-inch gap between all boards to provide ventilation. The three sides of the box are now complete. The sides and end are bolted together by means of four bolts -- each fitted with two washers and a nut which unscrews on the outside -- which join the back B to the uprights F and I. The front D is made up of loose boards, 6 in. by 1 in., slipped behind the uprights E and J as the heap rises. To prevent the sides A and C from spreading outwards use a wooden bar, 2 in. by 1- 1/2 in., with two wooden blocks, 3 in. by 2 in. by 1-1/2 in., as indicated in the ground plan below of the box and the elevation of the bar K.
If the box has to be moved to a new site, remove the loose boards and the four bolts and re-erect the box in a fresh place.
Making the heap. Having made the box, throw your mixed vegetable material (broken or cut up if necessary into lengths a few inches long) into it as it comes to hand, together with one-third the volume of manure, mixing the wastes and manure as the box is filled. The proportion by volume of mixed vegetable wastes to manure should be three or four to one. All garden or unused kitchen waste may be used including weeds, lawn mowings, crop residues, leaves, hedge clippings, and seaweed when available. Where animal manure or soiled animal bedding is not available, activators such as dried blood, hoof and horn meal, or fish manure should be used, but in these cases only a very thin film is needed for every six- inch layer of vegetable waste. The exact quantity of these activators is 1 per cent of the dry weight of the vegetable wastes. If none of these substitutes for farmyard manure can be obtained, the heap can be kept moist -- not wet and sodden -- by means of bedroom slops. (If the bedroom slops are emptied each morning into a heap of good soil, all smell ceases in a moment and day by day the heap comes more and more to deserve the name of "urine earth" and is to be used in the box.) Animal wastes in some form are essential. When urine earth is not used, sprinkle every six inches of the mixed vegetable and animal matter with a layer, about one-eighth of an inch thick, of earth (mixed with wood ashes, powdered limestone or chalk or slaked lime if available). A thin film to neutralize excessive acidity is all that is needed; too much earth hinders the ventilation of the mass. Then lightly fork over the layers of vegetable and animal wastes so that they get well mixed. This will help the fermentation and save the labour of turning.
If the wastes are very dry they must be watered with a rose tin till a condition like that of a pressed-out sponge is reached. If, however, about half of the vegetable wastes consist of fairly fresh green material, no extra watering will be needed. If a larger proportion still be green succulent stuff, it should be withered first and then wetted before use, otherwise silage and not compost will result. A little experience will soon show how the moisture factor in composting should be managed.
Continue the building process until the total height is reached. After the box is half full make and maintain a vertical ventilation hole by thrusting a light crowbar or stout garden stake into the heap and working it from side to side. The hole should go as far as the earth underneath the box. The purpose of this ventilation vent is to improve the air supply.
The box should be protected from rain and sun by means of two pieces of old corrugated sheeting, each 58 in. by 26 in. These are kept in position by means of bricks or stones.
Two things must be watched: (1) an unpleasant smell or flies attempting to breed in the heap. This ought not to happen and is generally caused by over-watering or want of attention to the details of making the heap. If it occurs, the box should be emptied and refilled at once. (2) Fermentation may slow down for want of moisture, when the heap should be watered. Experience will teach how much water should be added when making the heap.
Ripening the compost. Provided due care is taken in filling the box, after six weeks or so the contents will be ready to be moved into the second box alongside (care being taken to place any undecomposed portions in the centre), the material should be watered if needed to keep damp, and allowed to ripen for a month or six weeks. No ventilation vent is needed for the ripening process. The compost which weighs about three quarters of a ton is then ready for use and should be applied to the garden as soon as possible. If it must be stored, it should be kept in an open shed and turned from time to time.
During war-time it may not be possible to find the wood or other materials -- sheet iron or bricks -- needed for the two bins. In this case two heaps side by side will serve, the method of assembly and turning being exactly as that described above where bins are available.
How much compost can be made in a year in a pair of these compost bins? At least three tons. We need never weigh compost. It can more easily be measured. As a general rule 2 cubic yards (54 cubic feet) of compost weigh 1 ton.
For medium-sized gardens a pair of two-ton bins can be made out of old railway sleepers. These measure 6 ft. by 6 ft. and are 3 ft. 3 in. high.
This simple device has been outstandingly successful. The speed with which material crumbles when protected by the New Zealand box from the outside cold is remarkable: a bare six weeks in the first box will often complete the active fermentation, after which the mass can be transferred to the second box for another six weeks for ripening. For those who have only small quantities of waste a pair of these boxes is just the adaptation required: they are extremely neat and tidy and take very little space. Proceeding in this way there is never any waste material left lying about. Household wastes can immediately be got rid of, and the composter may rest assured that neither flies nor smell will develop.
Local authorities might consider whether they could not provide such compost bins made of open brickwork as permanent garden fixtures in any post-war scheme for improved housing. The cost would be small and the advantage immediate and considerable, not least by definitely reducing the bulk and weight of the dustbin refuse to be collected: it is probable that the economy thus effected would soon repay the cost of this simple installation. The immediate and cleanly disposal of household rubbish is likely to make a strong appeal to every housewife and is a point worth study. Local authorities are spending large sums on the construction and upkeep of new houses. Why should not the maintenance of the fertility of the gardens round these houses be made a plank in our future housing schemes?
The labour involved in making a small amount of compost is quite moderate: it is part of the routine of allotment holders and gardeners to keep their places tidy, and it is their usual habit to wheel their weeds and wastes to some special spot. To assemble this waste properly, add a little animal activator and soil, and when necessary do an occasional turn to the whole takes anything from a matter of a few minutes to an odd half- hour. It is fortunate that compost, by its nature, is not heavy, not nearly so heavy as ordinary manure; it can easily be handled by a woman. My wife turned a heap of about four tons in the course of two days without undue exertion.
But the work which the ordinary householder can take in his stride has to be differently considered by the farmer and the grower who pay for each hour of work expended on the farm or market garden. On this head many inquiries and some objections have been brought to my notice in the course of the last ten years. The original investigations made by myself and Mr. Wad were designed to assist the Indian cultivator. We did not concern ourselves very much about the factor of labour, for labour in countries like India is superabundant. In The Waste Products of Agriculture we stated (p. 13):
"Labour... in India is so abundant that if the time wasted by the cultivators and their cattle for a single year could be calculated as money at the local rates of labour a perfectly colossal figure would be obtained. One of the problems underlying the development of agriculture in India is the discovery of the best means of utilizing this constant drain, in the shape of wasted hours, for increasing crop production."
In Western agriculture, however, there is no such surplus of labour. In so far as I originally contemplated the use of the Indore Process in Western agriculture, I always looked forward to some form of mechanization as the best way of solving this problem. The recent advances which have been made in this direction and which will be described immediately below should not, however, cloak the fact that half the labour battle can be won by good management. It has frequently been noted by my numerous correspondents that the work involved in compost making can very largely be done not by the engagement of additional workers, but by a judicious disposition of the time of those already on the payroll. In any large-scale farming enterprise there are off hours which can be advantageously used for compost manufacture. For instance, the collection of material, which is a big item on a large estate, can be made a matter of arrangement of carts and men on their return journeys. Obviously the site for the compost heaps or pits needs to be carefully determined with a view to the shortest journeys both for bringing in the raw material and for carrying out the finished product. At the Indore Experimental Station the composting pits were placed next to the cattle-shed in the centre of the whole area. In any case, as some of my correspondents early pointed out, the labour expenditure may prove well worth while for an operation that so notably adds to the capital value of the estate, as well as contributing to the profit and loss account.
Giving due value to all these considerations, nevertheless the question of labour remains of obvious importance. In two directions the situation has turned out very promising. In the first place, experience has proved that my original estimate of the need for turning the compost heap three times was excessive: one turn, or in very disadvantageous conditions (e.g. excessive rainfall) two, is all that is necessary. The experience of my correspondents, and my own further personal experience in making small compost heaps, places this fact now beyond doubt and it is a very great gain in economizing both time and labour.
The secret of correct compost making has proved to be mixing the ingredients at the outset and attention to the aeration of the fermenting mass. Provided this is done, a single turn is sufficient. Even without a turn well mixed and well aerated material will decay fairly well. The methods used in aerating large heaps since the original experiments at Indore have been described in An Agricultural Testament(p. 235 et seq.). Mr. Dymond in Natal has devised another simple method of supplying air from below the fermenting mass which is certain to be widely adopted (see "South Africa", below).
Better mixing and improved aeration thus eliminate repeated turnings. Assuming, however, one turn is necessary, how is this to be done with a minimum of labour? There is also the question of loading and spreading the finished compost. The problem applies particularly to large-scale work in Great Britain. As already indicated, the solution is bound to be by means of some machine so devised as to be capable of performing the three operations of assembling, aerating, and loading. A great deal of progress has been made in this direction. Mr. Friend Sykes of Chute Farms Limited, Chute, near Andover, has invented a muck-shifting crane driven by a caterpillar tractor. This is described in Appendix D. He has also invented a simple manure distributor. A number of other machines for compost making have been devised, so an interesting contest between the rival machines will soon be taking place. That machine which will stand up to the work and also produce high quality compost will win the battle. That so much attention is now being paid by inventors and manufacturers to the mechanization of compost making speaks volumes for the progress organic farming is making.
Mr. Sykes' muck-shifting crane, which has been made by Messrs. Ransomes & Rapier Limited of lpswich, will turn and aerate a compost heap and also load the finished compost into a manure distributor. I understand that this machine will load 200 tons of muck in a day at a cost, including spreading, of 1s. 8d. a ton. These operations cannot be done by hand labour under 12s. 6d. a ton. If such savings can be realized in general farming practice, organic farming by means of the reformed muck heap is certain to prove much more economical than present-day farming with the help of the manure bag.
The proof of the pudding is always in the eating thereof. An interesting and even exciting contest between the disciples of Rothamsted and the humus school is certain to develop. In such a struggle the verdict must inevitably be given by the crop and by the livestock and not by the lawyers on either side.
The Spread of the Indore Process in the Farming and Plantation Worlds
The Indore Process was first taken up by a number of pioneers in the farming and plantation worlds like Colonel Grogan in East Africa, Captain Moubray in Rhodesia, Colonel Sir Edward Hearle Cole in the Punjab, the late Sir Bernard Greenwell and Mr. James Insch in this country, who, undeterred by the criticisms of the experts, started out to test the process and then to initiate a large-scale composting programme on their properties: their success was immediate: the spread of the composting principle was inevitable the moment my ideas began to be written on the land. Their efforts have also attracted the attention of some of the public authorities in their respective countries who have been quick to avail themselves of those developments in the Indore Process which lead towards new advances in crop production, in sanitation, and in public health. In Costa Rica, Señor Montealegre, first in his capacity as Director of the Institute for encouraging coffee growing and second as Minister of Agriculture and Lands, has spared no pains in making my work known throughout Latin America. Another stage was soon reached when a number of allotment holders in this country began to approach me for advice and help: the spread of composting in the smallholding, allotment, and private garden is not the least useful of the developments in the compost campaign. I have naturally done all in my power to encourage and help these pioneers and to discover still more pioneers. It is to the work of these men and women, especially to the early advocates of composting, that the spread of the humus idea is due.
Full details of the progress made up to 1940 will be found in Chapters V to VIII of An Agricultural Testament. In the short period which has elapsed since, a number of facts confirmatory of the principles which I have advanced have been brought to my notice from many countries: much of this information will be found in the twelve issues of the News-Letter on Compost from October 1941 to June 1945. (Published by the County Palatine of Chester Local Medical and Panel Committees at Holmes Chapel in Cheshire at an annual subscription of 5s.)
The most recent advances in the application of the composting idea can best be described country by country rather than crop by crop: much of the new work has been on the general composting of wastes and urban refuse or has taken the form of the setting up of organizations to further the principles involved. The attention of the press has been awakened, the compost heap has even crept into the cartoon. The medical and educational professions are becoming increasingly interested, and there is every sign that an avalanche of converts is rapidly threatening to sweep away such opposition as is based on ignorance, apathy, or vested interests. In the succeeding sections of this chapter a few of the more outstanding developments of the last four years are summarized.
Reference was made in An Agricultural Testament (pp. 69-70) to the assistance given to my theories by the work of Mr. Dymond, Chief Chemist to the South African Sugar Company in Natal. Mr. Dymond supplied me with abundant material in the form of roots of the sugar-cane, grown with artificials only, with humus only, and with both. From these samples Dr. Levisohn established the fact that the sugar-cane is a mycorrhiza former and that artificials were injurious by preventing the roots from digesting the invading mycelium: where humus was used, there was abundant mycorrhiza formation and rapid digestion of the fungus.
These results suggested that the change over from pen manure (a rough form of farmyard manure) to artificials lies at the root of the diseases of the cane and is the cause of the running out of the variety. We seem to be dealing with the consequences of incipient malnutrition -- a condition now becoming very general all over the world in many other crops besides sugar-cane. Interesting confirmation of this view has now been obtained by Mr. Dymond. In 1938 an experiment was commenced to study the effect of compost on streak disease (a virus trouble) in Uba cane. A few plants of moderately virus-infected cane were planted in a short row with a normal dressing of compost. During the following two years there was no increase in the disease which was estimated at 60 per cent. In the meantime the original plants developed a 100 per cent infection. After the second cutting the ratoons were surface dressed with fresh compost. At the end of the third year the disease had diminished to approximately 25 per cent and during the fourth year the new growth was examined and passed as entirely free from streak.
Since then cuttings from the canes which have recovered from streak have been planted out in a composted seed bed, where they have so far maintained their immunity. A row of 100 per cent streak cane has been planted adjacent to this plot. No infection of the virus-free cane has so far developed after six months' contact.
Samples of the roots of the streak-diseased and streak-free (after four years' treatment with compost) canes were examined by Dr. Levisohn who reported no mycorrhizal infection in the former, but sporadic infection of the endotrophic type of fungus in the fibrous roots of the latter.
Dymond (Proceedings of the South African Sugar Technologists' Association, 1944) concludes his account of this valuable piece of work in the following words:
"The mycorrhizal association, after compost treatment of the virus- diseased cane, is significant and important, as it confirms the mycorrhizal theory and association in respect to sugar-cane.
"The streak-free Uba is growing vigorously and compares well with the deteriorated Uba fields common in the last ten years.
"The point to be emphasized as the result of this experiment is not so much that streak-free Uba cane may stage a come-back and provide a standby variety, but that the fundamental principle of soil fertility and the practice of the fertile seed bed may be applied to any suitable variety of sugar-cane. In this way only can the industry be assured of healthy seed and healthy crops in perpetuity."
It follows from the above that the direction in which the sugar industry of Natal can be placed on firm foundations is to manufacture as much compost as possible and to use this for growing the plant material.
Steps have been taken to devise a simple means of doing this. Following up the preliminary experiments on composting the wastes of the cane, (An Agricultural Testament, pp. 68-71.) Dymond has just published a detailed account of a simple scheme for converting the night-soil of the labour force and the various sugar- plantation and factory wastes into humus (Proceedings of the South African Sugar Technologists' Association, 1944). The scheme is now in successful operation at Springfield Estate, Darnall, Natal. The results are so important and so far-reaching that a detailed account is essential.
At this estate a set of compost bins has been designed to promote the easy filling of the pits and the removal of the fermented product for ripening. Each bin is provided with adequate drainage and abundant aeration. The capital cost of the lay-out is low, so that it can easily be adapted to the smallest farm or the largest factory or township. The plan and photographs (Plates V and VI) show the essential details of construction and the method of working.
Plate V. Bins for composting cane trash at Springfield Estate, Natal.
Plate VI. Plan and elevation of composting bins at Springfield Estate, Natal.
The bins are built on sloping ground by means of hollow cement blocks and cement mortar. The concrete floor has sufficient slope for drainage and is provided with three longitudinal tiers of bricks to support a loose platform of bamboos or light poles, so arranged as to leave about an inch space between each pole for aeration. In this way the fermenting mass obtains abundance of air from below. The lower end of the bin is closed by a loose gate of poles held in place by two vertical pipes embedded in concrete.
For an annual output of 1,000 tons of finished compost, six of these bins, each 20 feet long and 9 feet wide by 4 feet 6 inches deep (810 cubic feet), are necessary. Such an installation will deal with the wastes of 250 people, 45 animals, 100 tons of filter press cake, together with the necessary amount of megasse, cane trash, and cane tops.
The method of operation is first to cover the poles with a light foundation of weathered cane trash and then with an eight-inch layer of cane trash or megasse which has been used for the bedding of livestock and which is impregnated with urine and dung. The next day the contents of the night-soil buckets are distributed over the absorbing mat. These are immediately covered with stable litter and the whole enclosed in a thin layer of filter press cake. The process is repeated every day. Light dustings of finely ground agricultural lime and applications of diluted molasses (50:50) improve the intense fermentation which sets in. Sufficient water must be applied while filling the bins to keep the material wet and to prevent drying out owing to the high temperatures reached which often touch 78 deg. C.
The night-soil buckets are layered with megasse as an absorbing medium and covered with the same material on removal. Two long planks over the top of the bins facilitate charging and also avoid trampling and consolidation. The bins are filled about one foot above the surface as after a month the mass contracts to about two-thirds.
The pits should be filled in ten days and allowed to remain for six weeks. The partially rotted material is then turned out through the open end of the bin and allowed to ripen in heaps for another six to eight weeks, when it is ready to apply to the soil.
While the best method of using this installation to produce the most satisfactory compost has not yet been settled, the following analyses are interesting and tell their own story.
Analyses of Compost, Springfield Estate, Natal
Karoo manure sample
Moisture per cent
Loss on ignition
Phosphoric oxide, P2O5 total
Phosphoric oxide, P2O5 available
Potash, K2O total
Potash, K2O available
1. Represents stable litter with cane tops, filter press cake, megasse, and old manure.
2. Represents the same with the cleaning-up of the premises.
3 and 4. Normal practice as described above, together with diluted molasses.
5 and 6. Normal practice with dustings of agricultural lime: no molasses.
The high percentage of nitrogen in 5 and 6 suggests that dustings of agricultural lime may favour nitrogen fixation. When the best method of procedure at Springfield has been devised, a nitrogen balance-sheet of the whole heap would make interesting reading. If matters can be so arranged that nitrogen fixation does take place, a new chapter in the manuring of the sugar-cane will have been opened.
As regards the sanitary aspects of this method of activating the wastes of the cane with animal manure and night-soil, the local Medical Officer of Health reported that he found no flies, no smell, and no nuisance. Pathogens could not possibly survive the conditions of high temperature and high humidity which obtain for many days in these bins. The method, therefore, combines two things: (1) the systematic removal and sanitary disposal of all the wastes of a sugar estate, and (2) the production of a valuable organic manure at a low cost.
In concluding his paper Dymond deals with future possibilities and the best method of utilizing the surplus vegetable wastes of sugar estates for the manufacture of compost in towns and cities. The average sugar estate produces an abundance of vegetable wastes over and above those that can be activated by the animal and human wastes now available. Thus from an annual crop of 6,000,000 tons of cane the following quantities of vegetable wastes are produced:
Filter press cake
If these wastes were baled and transported to the towns and cities, a portion of the large quantity of vegetable matter needed for municipal composting would be provided.
As regards the sugar industry this Springfield experiment solves the humus problem. It will provide the large quantities of compost needed for producing the plant material for the succeeding cane crops. As the livestock population on these estates increases more and more humus will become available for the current crop.
It is a particularly happy circumstance that this great advance should have been made by a chemist. It makes the fullest reparation for the harm done by some of the chemists of the past through slavish devotion to chemical analyses and will also go a long way in emancipating future investigators of sugar-cane problems from the thraldom imposed by the NPK mentality. By regarding the manuring of the cane as a biological, as well as a chemical, problem Dymond has achieved a notable advance and one that is certain to be taken up far and wide. It is another milestone on the road to organic farming.
Just as this book was going to press, Dr. Martin Leake drew my attention to a note in the South African Sugar Journal of September 1944 on composting practice on the Tongaat Sugar Company's estates in Natal where noteworthy progress has already been made in converting the wastes of a sugar estate into compost.
This group of estates cultivates 16,000 acres of cane and manufactures 70,000 tons of sugar annually with a useful by-product in the shape of 18,000 tons of filter press cake.
The problem of maintaining the organic matter content of the soil is being solved by composting the cane trash and filter press cake together in heaps eighteen feet wide and five feet high. The aeration of the fermenting mass takes place naturally, as the mixture is sufficiently porous: moisture is supplied by rain. Two turnings are given and the finished material is used at the rate of thirty tons to the acre in the furrows for the new plantings on light land, the cuttings being laid on top of the compost. No animal activator appears to be used in these heaps, an omission which is sure to be rectified when more livestock is kept on these estates.
Green-manuring with san hemp is the rule on all the newly planted areas so that by this means and the compost placed in the furrows the supply of organic matter should be sufficient.
The animal residues of the estate oxen, horses, and mules are used to activate large quantities of cane trash in pens, the soiled bedding being afterwards converted into humus in the ordinary way, the yield working out at twelve tons per head of stock. This material is used mostly on the heavy lands.
In these two ways from 40,000 to 50,000 tons of compost are made annually by this enterprising company.
Last season the average yield of cane per acre on these estates was 45 88 tons, which is 60 per cent more than that of Natal as a whole. It is expected that when the full effect of the composting programme outlined above is obtained, considerably greater yields will be reached during the next few years.
The cane-sugar industry all over the world will naturally follow the pioneering work in progress in Natal both on the Springfield and the Tongaat Estates. This work on the conversion of the wastes of the cane into humus, coupled with the results the late Mr. George Clarke obtained on green-manuring and trench cultivation at Shahjahanpur in the United Provinces, is certain to place the cultivation of the cane in a truly impregnable position for many years to come.
The story of the composting of human wastes is continued in the notable pioneering work of Mr. J. P. J. van Vuren, which began at Ficksburg in the Orange Free State with two compost pits in 1939. Mr. van Vuren at once showed how the various wastes of a small township could be converted into humus by the Indore Process and the product sold to the farmers and gardeners near the town.
The population of Ficksburg is 2,750 Europeans and some 3,000 Natives. Soon eight compost pits were in operation, which at first produced about twenty tons of compost a month from such wastes as straw, leaves, waste paper, old bags, sawdust, shavings, wood-wool, weeds, hedge and lawn cuttings, stable manure, kitchen waste, wood ashes, abbatoir wastes, and night-soil. These town wastes are collected by the municipal dust and night-soil carts and taken to the compost pits, which are a little way out of the town.
The pits, which are now four feet deep, have brick walls with a floor slightly sloping towards the centre, where there is an aeration channel covered with bricks laid open jointed, and carried up at the ends into chimneys open to the wind. By this means air permeates the fermenting mass from below.
In filling the pits care is taken not to lose any liquid by providing a thick layer of absorptive refuse in the bottom of the pit, when the first load of night-soil is turned in and evenly spread; the method of charging carefully follows those set out in Appendix C to An Agricultural Testament. The fermenting mass is turned twice, the entire process taking from eight to ten weeks, depending on the type of material used. There is no odour from a pit properly filled, because the copious aeration effectively suppresses all nuisance.
In Ficksburg the compost is sold to farmers of the district for use on their lands or orchards and in town to local gardeners and private individuals for use on their lawns and gardens. The farmers send their waggons and take delivery at the compost pits, but in the case of smaller orders these are delivered by cart, either loose or in bags. Repeat orders are numerous because the crops in the district, as well as many gardens and lawns, have proved excellent advertisements.
The result of this one successful example of municipal composting was immediate One practical example worked wonders. Other municipalities -- Volksrust, Heidelburg, Bethlehem, Hercules, Walmer, and others -- copied it; still more became interested. Soon a scheme covering the whole of the Union of South Africa was under way. The Union Government appointed Mr. van Vuren as Co-ordinating Officer for Municipal Composting and divided the area under their jurisdiction into six regions, each in charge of a composting officer. Progress has been rapid and now the urban wastes of many of the large towns are being converted into humus for the benefit of the neighbouring farmers and gardeners. A detailed account of the progress of this nation-wide municipal composting scheme will be found in Appendix C to this book. From the municipalities the work of humus production has spread to the countryside and Mr. van Vuren now has a colleague for dealing with humus production on the farms.
It is to Mr. van Vuren also that I owe confirmation of my statement about the possibilities of improved wine production from fertile soil, the only road of escape from the threatened dangers of disease, loss of quality, and the running out of the variety (An Agricultural Testament, pp. 85-6). In a letter dated 5th May 1944 he informs me that he has found an example of wine production from fertile soil near Capetown. At the Nederburg Farm, Northern Paarl, Western Province, Mr. J. G. Graue raises his grapes with organic matter only without any help from artificials. His wine, known locally as Nederburg Riesling, enjoys a high reputation for quality in South Africa. More such examples are urgently needed both from South Africa and Australia before our Empire-grown wines can come into their own.
It is not too much to say that the whole of South Africa has become compost-minded. All the preliminary work needed in blazing the trail has been done and local examples abound showing how the soils of this vast area can be restored to fertility. A great impetus has been given to this work by the recent formation of the National Veld Trust, who have made humus an important platform in their programme. The following article, which appeared in the issue of the South African Farmer's Weekly of 19th April 1944 (p. 235), explains itself:
Compost Claims Officially Endorsed A Fundamental Necessity for the Maintenance of Production
"In the course of its report to the Government the Reconstruction Committee of the Department of Agriculture says that in addition to sound methods of rotation, it is equally essential that all available plant and animal wastes be constantly returned to the soil in order to replenish its humus supplies and at the same time restore to it a substantial proportion of the plant nutrients taken up by the crops harvested.
"This is a fundamental necessity for the permanent maintenance of a high level of production and is all the more necessary in building up the fertility of old, depleted lands. It is the logical and natural method of fertility maintenance that has been followed through the ages in older countries, although it has suffered considerable neglect during the last few decades since commercial fertilizers have come into wide use.
"Happily there is a growing realization all over the world to-day that the use of fertilizers in no way compensates for lack of soil humus and that the full utilization of farm wastes as sources of humus must form an integral feature of the system of land use as a whole, a fact that applies equally to dry land as well as to land under irrigation.
Most Effective Method
"All experience goes to show that by far the most effective method of returning farm wastes to the soil is in the form of well-prepared compost. Alternative methods are by the direct ploughing in of untreated crop residues, by green-manuring, and the accumulation of animal manure in kraals or manure heaps for ultimate return to the land; but certain disadvantages attach to each of these alternatives as compared with the use of compost.
"Under farm conditions the limit to the amount of compost that can be made is often set by the supply of plant wastes available. Crop residues alone will hardly furnish enough material and, as a general rule, main reliance has to be placed on old veldt grass, mown for this special purpose.
"Where the supply of veldt grass is also strictly limited, the only remaining alternative is to grow bulk-producing grasses (on such spare area as may be available and also along fences and on contours between lands) as a source of compost material.
"On the basis of a meticulous costing of every operation involved doubt is sometimes expressed as to whether compost making pays. It is overlooked that the making of compost can hardly be regarded as an optional matter in cropping areas and that the normal farm routine can frequently be adjusted to include this activity with the employment of little additional labour.
"In practice, the actual cost of compost to the farmer is not only small, but should be amply recovered in the form of improved soil fertility.
"The time is rapidly drawing near when fruit and vegetable growers, who rely largely on supplies of kraal-manure imported from other parts of the country, will have to become self-sufficient in this respect and to produce their own requirements in the form of compost. This is the ideal at which every farmer should aim, where crop production plays any significant role."
One further fact from South Africa is of interest. To the account on maize published in 1940 (An Agricultural Testament, p. 78 et seq. and p. 166.) can now be added the evidence that maize, like sugar-cane, is, as was expected, a mycorrhiza former and is therefore provided with the means by which protein can circulate between soil and crop. Regular supplies of freshly prepared humus are, therefore, vital for this crop. Besides maintaining the crumb structure and the life of the soil', it assists the maize plant to resist all kinds of pests.
Starting from the farms of the pioneers, composting soon spread in Rhodesia and now the Agricultural Department publishes every year a return of the number of cubic yards of compost made on the farms. In 1940 there were 674 farmers making compost; in 1943 the number had increased to 1,217. In the same years the amounts of compost made were 148,959 and 328,591 cubic yards. It will be seen that compost-making is going up by leaps and bounds, but the figures do not tell the whole story, as numberless small composting centres and private gardens are not included in the return.
The position is well summed up in the following extract from a letter from Captain Moubray to the Editor of the South African Farmer's Weekly (26th April 1944, p. 270):
"If we had realized the all-important role of humus years ago, and had acted on that knowledge, much of to-day's damage could have been averted.
"Even to-day there are those who are not satisfied that there is sufficient scientific proof that the basic principle involved in Sir Albert Howard's Indore Process of converting animal and vegetable wastes into compost or humus is a cure for many of our soil ills. Farmers in increasing numbers are, however, finding out for themselves, and when they see the results of compost on their lands they are not inclined to pay much attention to anything else.
"When Sir Daniel Hall visited Mashonaland some years ago, he quite refused to take Sir Albert Howard's claims seriously; but the small snowball of those days has, at least in these parts, become an avalanche sweeping everything before it."
This quotation, together with that given on p. 216 above, leave no doubt about the general results of the humus campaign, which began in 1932 when the Farmer's Weekly reviewed at length The Waste Products of Agriculture and afterwards opened its columns to a discussion, often very lively, between the local representatives of the artificial manure industry and the champions of organic farming. One result of this publicity was to stimulate the pioneers to convert the waste products of their farms into compost and to observe the results. From that moment artificials began to lose the battle. Then the advocates of artificials changed their ground and took up the position that the soils of South Africa would best secure the restitution of their manurial rights by humus supplemented by sufficient artificials to produce a balanced manure In this way they hope to stem the onward march of humus and to postpone the evil day when both the farmers and the urban dwellers in South Africa, as well as the purchasers of their exported agricultural produce, realize that the slow poisoning of the life of the soil is one of the greatest calamities that has befallen agriculture and mankind.
The onward march of progress in the Rhodesias owes much to Captian Moubray who for many years has written the results of humus on his farm and so provided the country with a successful example. I have done everything in my power to persuade the artificial manure interests how valuable it would be in their advertisement campaign to take up a piece of land next to Captain Moubray's estate and to show that by means of artificials, or artificials and humus, they could do even better. But they have preferred to lose face by declining the challenge rather than to risk a disastrous defeat. Discretion has proved to be the better part of artificial manures.
In the early days of 1933 I paid a brief visit to Natal and South Africa and saw for myself how dire was the need for more humus. Just over twelve years have passed, but what a change has taken place in that brief period! I could, in 1933, discover but faint interest in humus and soil fertility among the people I met. To-day the virtues of humus are being preached everywhere: the purpose of the Indore Process is being widely understood: the flow of ridicule and abuse from the artificial manure industry is coming to an end. I have enjoyed this battle with the protagonists of the NPK mentality: I have enjoyed still more a long and detailed correspondence with the pioneers, without whose labours nothing could have been accomplished in Rhodesia and in South Africa.
For some years before the fall of Singapore Malaya was one of the most active composting centres in the Empire, thanks to the enthusiasm of Dr. J. W. Scharff, the Chief Health Officer at Singapore, and of a number of men engaged in the plantation industries.
Composting began in Malaya on a number of coconut and rubber estates. An example of the kind of results obtained is given in the following letter dated 17th October 1941 from Mr. R. Paton, Permatang Estate, Banting, Selangor:
"We started to keep livestock on a fairly big scale in 1930 for the purpose of manuring our coconuts, and this was done in conjunction with composting of husks, fronds, etc., in trenches two feet deep along the centre of each row. These trenches were originally cut as surface drains, and as such they still function, while at the same time absorbing rainfall and providing moisture for the palms during periods of dry weather. Our average yield per acre was below nine piculs of copra, and the palms were then beyond the age at which one would expect any appreciable response in yield. Nevertheless, they have yielded over fourteen piculs per acre average for each of the past five years, and look like doing even better. Fine results have been obtained also in our rubber trees, particularly in young replantings, where the growth is all that could be desired, and not one ounce of artificial fertilizer has been used."
The great principle that the plantation industries can never succeed without livestock and properly made compost is well illustrated by the above experience. I observed the same thing in 1938 with coconuts in the low country of Ceylon -- far healthier trees and much better yields where animals were kept in the groves. The outstanding weakness of the rubber estates I visited in South India and Ceylon was the total absence of livestock among the mature trees and no provision for making compost for the nurseries. It was little wonder that so much disease occurred.
But the most spectacular advances in composting in Malaya are due to the interest and enthusiasm of a number of medical men who were quick to grasp the possibilities of composting. Dr. Reid of Sungkai did much to make the ideas in An Agricultural Testament known to the planting community. Dr. Scharff, who first came in contact with humus at a lecture I gave in 1937 at the London School of Tropical Medicine, immediately after returning to Malaya took up the process, systematized it, and established it at Trengganu, and by means of his staff and his medical colleagues got it under way in Penang, Kelantan, Sarawak, and the State of Johore. Municipal composting was well established in Malaya before the Japanese invaded the country.
Full details of Dr. Scharff's composting campaign in Malaya were published, as the work developed, in the News-Letter on Compost, No. 2, February 1942, pp. 2-9, and No. 4, October 1942, pp. 46-9. At an early stage it was found necessary to systematize composting and this took the form of the Trengganu Household Composting plan. The work was done within a fenced enclosure made of bamboo or jungle saplings four feet high. Four compartments were arranged for at one end of the enclosure and each of these compartments was filled with material during four successive weeks. Turning was done almost automatically and with the correct time spacing. Plate VII illustrates the lay-out and shows the position of affairs at the end of each month. The Trengganu plan was soon adopted all over Malaya. This was the position when Malaya was invaded by the Japanese. But before Singapore fell Dr. Scharff managed to complete a large-scale trial of compost-grown food on the Tamil labour force employed by the Health Department, already described in full in Chapter X of this book.
Plate VII. Diagram of layout for the Trengganu Household Composting Plan
A very promising development in compost making is now taking place in India. Although an account of the Indore Process was published in 1931, nevertheless twelve years have elapsed before any official notice was taken of the possibilities of the compost idea. The direction this is now taking will be clear from the following letter addressed to me and dated 24th August 1943 from Dr. C. N. Acharaya, Chief Biochemist, Imperial Council of Agricultural Research, India:
"You will be interested to know that the Government of India have recently launched an all-India scheme for the preparation of compost-manure from urban refuse and have sanctioned an allotment of about 2-1/2 lakhs of rupees for the purpose. The scheme is to be operated by the Imperial Council of Agricultural Research, and the above grant would be apportioned among the different Provinces and States in India for the purpose of training special officiers (Provincial or State Compost Biochemists) in the technique of compost-making from urban wastes, and for organizing the preparation of compost-manure at selected municipal centres in the respective Provinces and States. I have the honour of being selected for the office of Chief Biochemist to the Imperial Council of Agricultural Research, who would be in charge of training the Provincial and State biochemists and, later, in supervising their work. The headquarters of the new scheme have been established at Nagpur, being geographically a central place, from which easy access could be had to all parts of India.
"As I am getting together all available literature relating to compost and organic manures for passing on the information to the Provincial and State Biochemists working under me in all parts of India, I should very much value it if you would kindly let me have available copies of all your papers and lectures on the subject, in addition to the publications issued by the County Palatine of Chester Local Medical and Panel Committees."
Although the Indore Process was primarily devised for the benefit of the cotton growers of India, whose interests are being looked after by the Indian Central Cotton Committee, little can be added to the section on cotton in An Agricultural Testament which carried on the story to the middle of 1940. No change appears to have been made in the research programme of this body. The obsolete idea that the problems underlying cotton production in India can be solved by plant breeding and the control of pests still holds the field.
One promising piece of pioneering work on cotton in the Punjab has, however, continued to develop on Colonel Sir Edward Hearle Cole's estate at Coleyana in the Montgomery District. Sir Edward is more than ever convinced of the value of freshly prepared humus for this crop. He finds that compost not only increases the yield, but improves the quality of the fibre as well. More large-scale examples like this are needed to confirm the view that the restoration and maintenance of the fertility of the soils producing cotton lie at the foundation of all progress in this crop.
In this Dominion the creation of pastures by deforestation followed by the excessive use of chemical fertilizers, superphosphates in particular, soon led to the rapid exhaustion of the land. Soil erosion is increasing; vegetables have lost their taste; the health of livestock is deteriorating. The more far-seeing of the population have been alarmed by the growing signs of malnutrition and the increase in the number of patients in hospitals and asylums, hence the formation of the New Zealand Humic Compost Club, the object of which is to encourage the fertilization of the soil by means of humus made from vegetable and animal wastes and so foster plant, animal, and human health.
The progress of this novel undertaking has from its inception been remarkable. Starting from small beginnings in 1941, by 31st March 1942 the membership was 440; a year later it was 2,007, and on 31st March of the present year (1944) it had reached 4,396, truly an amazing achievement, and one which reflects, on the one hand, the tremendous local interest in the vital principles of soil fertility advocated, and on the other, the successful manner in which the President, Dr. Chapman, and the Honorary Secretary, Mr. T. W. M. Ashby, have guided the new movement. The Compost Club has recently been incorporated as a nonprofit-making company. It publishes a magazine -- Compost -- every two months and during the year ending March 31st last no less than 48,878 copies were printed and distributed. Besides the magazine a number of pamphlets have been issued, two of which have already passed the 20,000 mark. The Club also maintains a reference and lending library, and acts as a distributing agency for books printed overseas. There are ten local branches which arrange meetings, demonstrations, and field days. The Club finances itself from a small annual subscription of 5s. and is beginning to build up a substantial credit balance. Full details of this interesting development can be obtained from the Hon. Secretary, New Zealand Humic Compost Club Inc., P.O. Box 1303, Auckland, New Zealand.
The activities of this Club have not escaped the usual opposition, criticism, and even abuse on the part of the artificial manure interests and their supporters, but this young organization is well served by a very able executive who have deftly used these attacks to advertise the new movement and to make clear to the population of New Zealand the immediate and the future issues involved in the restoration of soil fertility. When the time comes for the prodigal to return and to confess, the Compost Club will have ready to hand example after example showing the road out of the abyss into which New Zealand has fallen, by the simple expedient of the restitution of the manurial rights of the soils of the country. To-day the members of this Club are being described as a set of cranks: to-morrow they will be recognized as the saviours of their world.
The United States of America
A notable recruit to the band of pioneers engaged all over the world in the humus campaign is Mr. J. I. Rodale of the Rodale Press, Emmaus, Pennsylvania, who, some years ago, took up organic farming so that he could take his own advice before offering it to other people. He afterwards, in May 1942, started a new monthly journal -- Organic Gardening -- the purpose of which is to make the United States compost-minded. This journal has gone from strength to strength and is doing much to establish the principle that the health of mankind begins in the soil and depends on the faithful adoption of Nature's great law of return.
Mr. Rodale has also been the prime mover in securing the publication of an American edition of An Agricultural Testament, which is now being widely read throughout the United States. He has undertaken an American edition of the present book so that simultaneous publication in the United States and the British Empire will be possible.
He has asked me, moreover, to become one of the editors of Organic Gardening, a duty which I have gladly accepted as it enables me to secure publicity for a mass of interesting material that otherwise might, under war conditions in Great Britain, never see the light of day.
Even in this expert-ridden island of Great Britain and in spite of the additional restrictions imposed by the Defence Regulations new ground is constantly being broken by the pioneers -- in farming, in gardening, and in nutrition.
In farming the chief advances have been made in two directions -- in preparing the soil for additional humus by means of the subsoiler, and in the mechanization of the manure heap. These two important steps have already been described. A still more recent advance -- an improved muck spreader -- is referred to in the News-Letter on Compost, No. 10, October 1944.
These various labour-saving devices are leading to still further advances by which two important residues, now largely running to waste, can be used in compost manufacture. The first of these residues is straw, vast volumes of which now litter the countryside. These cannot be trodden down and converted into humus under the feet of live stock, be cause the supply of animals has not kept pace with the areas devoted to cereals. War farming has become sadly unbalanced. The second unused residue is of animal origin -- the washings of shippons and piggeries and crude sewage. These, if they could be brought into contact with the unused straw, could be used up in compost making.
Ground is being broken in two directions in the salvage of these unused animal wastes. When the washings of piggeries, shippons, and crude sewage from the mains are used to activate straw -- loose or baled -- excellent compost can be made in three months without any nuisance of any kind. At the moment this pioneering work is being done with hand labour, but when a supply of muck-making machines is available, it will be an easy matter to mechanize this conversion of unused straw into manure.
The second development is taking place in the salvage of sewage. In place of the present-day expensive sewage purification processes, which create wet sludge as an end product, work is in progress to filter off the sludge at the beginning and then to render the effluent harmless by chlorination. In this way a much richer sludge will be obtained. This is being dried and will be put up for sale in 14 and 28 lb. bags, so that the many private gardens and allotments in the urban areas can secure regular supplies of the essential animal wastes for their compost heaps.
Once supplies of dried sewage sludge are available -- to supply the essential activator of animal origin -- the remaining obstacle to a nationwide composting campaign in the gardens and allotments of this country will have been removed. Ample vegetable wastes are already available. The composting of small quantities of material is now possible by means of the New Zealand box (see above). The only remaining difficulty, soon to be removed, is the supply of animal manure now that the motor-car and the motor-lorry have so largely replaced the horse.
The necessary pioneering work in garden composting has already been done. In 1940 a beginning was made in the compost crusade by the County Palatine of Chester Local Medical and Panel Committees, who inaugurated an annual garden competition for the county in which the use of compost was obligatory and artificial manures prohibited. A large number of prizes were offered, as well as three championship cups -- one for the best garden or allotment in the county, one for the best rural garden, and the third for the best urban garden. The results are judged by a panel of professional gardeners. On several occasions I have been privileged to see the results, which I felt could not be bettered in any part of England.
Another gardening development has taken place in Westmorland largely in connection with the activities of Mr. F. C. King, the head gardener at Levens Hall, who has adopted the Indore Process, the merits of which he has explained at a series of evening lectures and in a number of articles published in the Gardeners' Chronicle and other journals. Two developments of this work are important. Levens Hall gardens have become a place of pilgrimage for visitors interested in compost gardening; Mr. King has also written two books -- The Compost Gardener (Titus Wilson & Son Ltd., Kendal, 1943) and Gardening with Compost (Faber and Faber Ltd., London, 1944), in which he has emphasized the place of humus in the gardening of to-morrow.
Two developments in nutrition, which have been in progress for some time are being copied at new centres. At a number of boarding schools the vegetables and fruit consumed by the boys and girls are grown on humus filled soil.
A second milestone in nutrition has been planted at the Co-operative Wholesale Society's factory at Winsford in Cheshire. Here the potatoes and vegetables used in the canteen meals are grown on fertile soil round the factory with results which have already been described (Chapter 10). A number of other similar projects are in the making, the results of which will be recorded in the forthcoming issues of the News-Letter on Compost.