"A nation that destroys its soils destroys itself"
-- Franklin D. Roosevelt




Follow SHARAN on Twitter

Follow SHARAN on Pinterest

Follow SHARAN on Twitter

Our method of Nursery Soil Preparation

Making compost soil heaps:> While preparing compost heaps we have to remember the definition of nursery soil which says:

Good nursery soil = 50% biomass (parts of plants) + 50% mineral soil (topsoil) by volume. The two are combined in proper proportion by alternating layers of biomass and mineral soil in the form of heaps. These heaps on their own take a long time to decompose therefore a catalyst called Amrutpani (Nectar Water) is introduced to accelerate decomposition.

Amrutpani preparation:

Ingredients:

One litre of fresh cow dung

One litre cow urine – this contains many nutrients

10 litres of water

50 grams of black jaggery (aids in the fermentation process)

*(jaggery may be replaced by 6 over ripe bananas or 2 glasses of plain sugar cane juice or 6 pieces of over ripe jackfruit or any other over ripe sweet fruits that are locally available).

Method:

Mix all the above ingredients together in a pit or tank in a shaded area. Stir the mixture twelve times clock-wise and anti-clock wise three times a day for 3 days. On the 4th day, take one liter of this concentrated mixture and mix it with 10 liters of water – this is Amrutpani! In colder climates it may be better to wait an extra day or two.

*For maximum benefit Amrutpani must be used on the 4th day as it will have the maximum number of microbes (microbe concentration then slowly decreases). The solution contains approximately 170-330 million microbes/cc and gives off a sweet odor!

**1 gm of cow dung contains approximately 330 million non-aerobic microbes of about 300 different varieties. This number is multiplied many times over through the preparation of Amrutpani. Any decomposition process requires aerobic and non-aerobic microbes simultaneously. Aerobic microbes are readily available and Amrutpani provides anerobic microbes.

Nursery soil preparation (masala mitti):

*Depending on the quality of biomass, this will take either 30 days or 90 days. If dry biomass is available, as is common in India, this process will take 90 days. If green biomass is available, this will take 30 days.*

A. 90-day procedure using dry biomass

Ingredients:

Dry biomass

Amrutpani

Topsoil and sandy or clay soil to balance if required

Seeds of many varieties

1. Dry biomass: Collect different varieties of dry biomass from the farm or local surroundings. The leaves, which are dry and crumble easily upon crushing are suitable as these readily absorb the Amrutpani, and help in decomposition. These should be crushed as much as possible to maximize the surface area and should be soaked in Amrutpani for 24 hours. * By soaking it for 24 hours all the veins in the leaves’ branches will get saturated with Amrutpani. Amrutpani provides the microbes which help to accelerate the recomposing process.

2. Top soil: What we call topsoil can be found below big trees or under bushes, anywhere where larger trees or bushes are growing. The top soil should be collected by scrapping (only 1cm) the layers of any unturned soil and never by digging. This topsoil is a necessary ingredient, because it contains essential minerals along with dormant forms of microbes. The microbes will become active when we mix the topsoil with the biomass. If this soil is very sandy, add some clay (obtained from a river or water source) and if this soil is too clayey add some sandy soil.

3. Local seeds: Collect easily available local seeds of various varieties, for example:

Grains – Rice, Jowhar, Bajra, Maize, Wheat, etc

Legumes – Mung, Chickpeas (chana), Muth, Udid, etc

Oil seeds – Groundnut, Sesame, Castor, Mustard, Cardi, etc

Spices – Fenugreek (methi), Cumin (jeera), Chilly, Mustard, etc

Vegetables – Tomato, Eggplant (brinjal), Beans, Bitter Gourd etc

Creepers – Cucumber, Red & Green Gourd, Turi, Galka, Snake Gourd or other gourds.

Root plants – Turmeric, Ginger, Sweet potato, Tapioca, etc

Fibrous plants – Cotton, Ladyfinger, Ambadi, etc

Flowering plants – Marigold, Mogra, Jhui, Chameli, etc

Herbal Plants – Basil (tulsi), Satavari, Ardusi, Kadukadiatu, etc

Long-life trees – Subabul, Neem, Drumstick, Karanj, Mohua, Gliricedia etc

and of all tastes…

The sweet taste is provided through Fennel, Sweet sorghum (sweet jowhar).

The sour taste through Ambadi, Tamarind and Tomato.

The pungent taste through Chilli.

The astringent taste through Cluster beans.

The salty taste through Spinach, Rajagara.

The bitter taste through Fenugreek, Bitter Gourd.

(In short the more variety, the better).

Mix these seeds and soak them in Amrutpani for 24 hours.

4. Making the beds or heaps

On the ground put one extremely thin layer of this soaked biomass and then one extremely thin layer of topsoil in the ratio of 3:1 in thickness, i.e. the thickness of the leaves layer should be 3 times the thickness of the soil layer.

                               

Sprinkle Amrut water to moisten the topsoil. Keep on alternating the layers, until a height of one foot is reached, i.e., about 10 to 15 layers. Alternating the layers helps to increase the surface area. This accelerates the recomposing process. Heaps should be 3 feet wide, 1 foot high and of any desired length.

* After decomposition, the quantity of organic material will decrease to 1/3 the quantity and will form 50% of the nursery soil while the mineral soil will form the other 50%.

5. Mulch the sides of the heap, and place 2 inches of topsoil on the top of the heap.

6. Greening the heap:

Take the mixture of seeds gathered from local sources and soaked in Amrutpani for 24 hours and broadcast them on the created heaps.

The ratio of seeds to be sown is 10 grams per square foot. The seeds are then covered by a light layer of soil of approximately double the diameter of the seed.

7. Mulching the heap:

Cover the heap with 2 to 4 inches of mulch i.e. dry grass or dry leaves. In case there is soya waste available or any other such small pieces for mulching, this is ideal to use immediately over the heap, after which other leaves and materials may be used.

Sprinkle Amrutpani twice in a week or more over the heaps, making sure that the moisture is maintained at all times. This is an essential component of all soil maintenance since the drying of the soil will lead to the destruction of the micro-organisms that are essential in the growth of crops (plants in general). Sprinkling should be done with the help of a garden pipe or watering can and not with drip irrigation systems for reasons mentioned below.

Once the seeds germinate most of the mulch must be removed, leaving only the soya mulch, which covers the heap preventing exposure to sunlight, yet giving space for the germinated seeds to grow.

After the first 21-day interval

After 21 days, the seeds will have sprouted and grown to some height. Pluck off 25% of the new shoots at random leaving an inch of their stems above the soil to regenerate. Place these cut greens back on top of the heap. Through this process, we are harvesting tender leaves of the plant, which provide the compost heap with zinc, phosphate, boron, and molybdenum. (Plants are rich in different minerals at different stages in their lives)

                                                                                                                            

 After the second 21-day interval (42 days)

On the 42nd day of germination, pluck off 25% of the shoots at random, leaving 2 – 3 inches of their stems to regenerate and strengthen the fibrous content. Place these greens back on the heap. Through this process, we are harvesting green matured leaves, which provide the soil the elements, nitrogen, magnesium, and potassium as well as carbon, hydrogen and oxygen, which forms 98% of the dry weight of the plant. This has been procured from the atmosphere.

After the third 21-day interval (63 days)

After another 21 days (i.e. on the 63rd day) some of the plants will have started flowering. Uproot everything that remains and chop it into 2 – 3 inch pieces. Place all this material on the heap. After 3 – 5 days when these leaves are dry, turn over the heap and mix everything properly. These dry mature plants provide calcium, silica, boron, iron, and manganese besides carbon, nitrogen, hydrogen and oxygen from the atmosphere. It also contains fibre, which provides the structure. Mulch it and keep it for 30 days for proper decomposition.

If possible, turn over the heap every 7 days for faster decomposition removing the mulch before and reapplying it after the procedure.

B. 30-day procedure using green biomass

To provide a balanced package of nutrients collect different kinds of weeds from all age groups including tender and mature leaves and stems and flowering plants from the surrounding areas, uprooting it with the roots and the soil they are holding. This soil contains microorganisms and bacteria, which help in fixing nitrogen from the soil as well as in the decomposition process. This can especially be done in the monsoon or at any other time if green biomass is readily available. This will contain all the nutrients needed, so the germination of seeds as in the previous method is not required. The reason for this is that dry leaves, used in the earlier procedure, contain only 30% of the nutritional elements, but green plants of different age groups will contain all that is needed. Chop these and let them dry. When dry, chop and soak them in Amrutpani for 24 hours to saturate all the veins in the leaves and branches with this solution. Prepare foot-high compost heaps as in the previous method (see 90-day procedure above) using these leaves instead of collected dry leaves. Here there is no need to broadcast germinated seeds on top or the heap.

Turn over the heap every seven days, keeping the heap always moist and mulching as in the previous method. Nursery soil is ready in 30 days.

Requirements for a compost heap

From experience a compost heap of 10 feet X 3 feet X 1 foot requires:

1. 55 kg of dry leaves ( approx)

2. 6 kg of top soil ( mineral soil)

3. 300 gm of seeds of different verieties for greening

4. 77 liters of Amrut Water – which will contain:

a. 750 gm cow dung

b. 750 ml cow urine

c. 50 gm jaggery

So ten gunthas or one quarter of an acre will require 188 such heaps which are to be prepared only once in a lifetime! (with proper maintenance).

Maintaining nursery soil nutrition

• Every year the soil in a given bed will reduce its volume by approximately 30%.

• The 30% loss is due to the conversion of carbon into carbon dioxide because of the heat and also through the absorption of soil particles by the crops.

• Mulching can minimize this; i.e., covering the heap with grass cuttings and dry leaves and also by adding ash (which directly improves soil nutrition).

• We can also maintain the volume of the beds by returning roots, leaves and branches from the plant material previously harvested from this bed.

• We can minimize erosion of beds by growing “live mulch” such as Chick peas (chana), Sesame (till), Mustard, Maize, and Ragi etc., on them.

Adding ash to the compost heap:

• By drying the wood from the trees that are pruned on the farm and then burning them we can obtain this ash.

• This will replace all elements in the heap, which the plants have extracted from the soil.

• Every three months, ash is to be provided to the compost heap, this will help overcome any deficiency of minerals and also help in maintaining the pH of the soil.

• 25 grams of ash can be given per square foot at intervals of 100 days.

Advantages of this method of soil preparation:

1. No tilling is needed, saving on labor, reducing water losses and top soil losses through erosion. The loss of useful microbes and bacteria including small insects and worms is also greatly reduced. This is especially useful when the soil is extremely degraded and hard or rocky.

2. Since there is no tilling there are no tractors, which are dependant on fossil fuels.

3. It is non – violent – it does not destroy soil life or use animal energy (bullocks).

4. The nutrient value and the structure of this soil is one of the best in the world. (Click here to see our soil reports.)

5. Not only does the soil need to be produced only once in the life of the farm, but over the years it increases in volume, nutritional value and most importantly, in microbial diversity. These microbes help provide the best nutrition for the plants, as occurs in natural forests. Plants grown on this soil have higher vitality and nutritional content than conventional plants or even other organic plants.

6. As the volume of the soil increases this soil can spread to the surrounding areas.

7. With this process, irrespective of the condition of the soil, a farmer can start organic farming on a farm from the fourth month.

8. In this way, even if chemicals have been used earlier on this land, the crops are not affected as they are now planted on heaps without touching the soil below.

Common mistakes committed while using this method:

1. A common shortcut is to mulch and sprinkle with Amrutpani rather than making the nursery soil. This helps to some extent by nourishing the white feeder roots. However as the soil in contact with the roots is of poor quality, it does not provide all the nutrients to the growing plants resulting in a poor canopy and thus low production.

2. Using EM (Effective Micro-organisms) instead of Amrutpani, which must be purchased or at least its ingredients. This creates dependency on outside sources. The microbes in EM are not local microbes. Local microbes are more sustainable. Microbes in EM may not be of optimum quantity depending on the age of the purchased solution.

3. Drip irrigation to keep the soil moist instead of watering with a garden pipe. This results in over-watering in one place causing water logging and rotting of the roots and leaching of the nutrients out of the topsoil. At the same time the surrounding areas have too little water, which leads to microbial death. Thus this soil will not flourish. There is no control of the water supply. Using a garden pipe demands of the waterer awareness as to the amount of water he is supplying.

4. Using chemicals along with this soil. This technique is in fact retrogressive as both the fertilizers and pesticides kill the microbes, and thus reduce the quality of the soil.

5. Keeping the nursery soil unmulched and open to sunlight. When the microbes are exposed to the sun even for a short period, they die, resulting in a loss of all the efforts taken to build them up.

6. Using cow dung or vermicompost instead of preparing nursery soil. Cows generally eat dry grass, which does not have the nutritive value of a variety of biomass. As the cow takes the energy from the grass, the cow dung is devoid of energy. Also usually the cow dung is stored in a pile, which results in anaerobic decomposition. When this is placed on the field, it absorbs oxygen from the soil resulting in less oxygen supply to the plant. If it rains before complete decomposition takes place, nutrients are leached out. Often cow dung is used before it is properly decomposed. This does not provide proper nutrition to the plant. In the case of vermicompost, if this is done only with dry leaves, it will provide only 30% of the nutrients compared to nursery soil. Also by composting away from the fields, the enzymes released during decomposition, which are essential for the formation of the white feeder roots, are lost. When the compost is put on the fields the worms are unable to survive because of the higher temperatures. On the contrary, the microbes are acclimatized to higher temperatures. Finally, the use of earthworms results in the loss of energy as the earthworm uses up a certain amount of energy for its own purposes.

7. Tilling. Tilling the soil results in loss of moisture and microbes, and increases the erosion leading to a loss of 10 – 80 tonnes per hectare per annum, depending on the slope, wind and rainfall. It also results in a loss of organic carbon resulting in a loss of water holding capacity. These losses are observed all over India.

8. Green mulching on the heap. During the decomposition of green biomass, methane is produced which retards the growth of the white roots. For this reason green biomass can only be placed on top of dry biomass in a heap, by which it will dry before the decomposition begins.

9. Providing too much water. This results in the rotting of the root system. It also leaches nutrients out of the soil.

10. The biomass used is of one or a few varieties only. This will not provide all the nutrients needed. The soil will be deficient.

Regeneration of soil in temperate climates

In temperate countries the temperatures are lower, so decomposition takes place at a slower rate. Therefore it will take more than 3 days to get an optimum microbial count in Amrut water. In these countries due to lower temperatures the reduction of organic carbon is less, while the water holding capacity of the soil is higher. As the soil does not dry out, the microbial count is easier to maintain but due to colder temperatures the microbes become dormant. In order to maintain a higher temperature of the soil, a mulch of 6 – 9 inches is recommended (instead of the 3 – 4 inches in tropical climes). This allows the microbes to be more active.

In these areas, green biomass is more readily available, so the 30-day procedure may be used. However since decomposition takes longer at lower temperatures, this will take more time to complete. Because of the green biomass, the nitrogen content of the soil is more, so in order to keep an optimum carbon – nitrogen ratio, mulching with dry wood chips of 3 – 4 inches is suggested.

Frequently asked questions:

Q.1. How do we know we have made good Masala Mitti or soil?

One way of knowing is by weighing it. A liter measure of good nursery soil should weigh about 400 grams. A greater weight implies that the mineral content is high.

Q.2. Is there a good time to water the plants? Can’t we just water, whenever we want to?

As the roots grow after sunset, the best time to water the plants is at sunset. Plants take in nutrition during moonlight. Moisture is required for the absorption of these nutrients. By watering in the evening we can also reduce water loss due to evaporation.

Q 3. How much Masala Mitti is needed to grow a plant initially? Is more needed thereafter?

Six to nine inches of Masala Mitti is needed to plant a grafting/seedling. Thereafter 4 liters of Masala Mitti for every square foot canopy of the tree is required.

Q.4. What happens in rainy season? Is there a nutrition loss due to leaching of nutrients?

During monsoon the leaching of nutrients can occur. To minimize this, seeds of different varieties should be sown surrounding the plant. When the saplings grow their roots prevent the leaching of nutrients. The bio mass of these saplings should later be cut, dried and added to the soil to maintain the nutrition.

Back to Top