Organic Farming :: Frequently Asked Questions


What is compost?

Compost is well decomposed organic wastes like plant residues, animal dung, and urine earth from cattle sheds, waste fodder etc.

How good compost are prepared?

Compost making is the process of decomposing organic wastes in a pit. Site for compost making is selected should be at a high level and water should not pond during monsoon season. Pit should be of 3’ depth and 6’ to 8’ width. Length may be of any convenient size. The process is as follows:

  • Make slurry of the cattle dung with water.
  • Prepare 6” layer of organic wastes – plant residues, sweepings from the cattle shed, waste fodder, dried plants stalks and leaves etc. and sprinkle water to just moisten it. (Over watering should be avoided).
  • Cover with the layer with urine earth and cattle dung slurry.
  • Add 5 to 10 kg of super phosphate for every 10 tons of organic wastes.
  • Repeat the process of putting such layers till the pit is full.
  • Close the pit with urine earth, waste fodder and then heap the soil till it gets convex shape (about 1 to 1.5’ above the ground) so that the rainwater rolls away.
  • After six months compost is ready to apply to the fields.

The pit can be filled up if sufficient organic wastes are available. Otherwise a temporary partition can be made in the pit with bamboos or stalks and the pit can be filled up over time filling each partitioned area as and when the material is available for composting.

Why super phosphate is added in the compost?

Due to quick heating and drying during the decomposition of organic wastes, nitrogen in the organic wastes will be lost due to volatilization. Addition of super phosphate decreases such nitrogen losses. It will also increase the phosphate content of compost.

What is cow pat pit and how is it prepared?

Cow pat pit is an organic preparation, which is prepared by mixing cow dung, egg shell powder, basalt rock and biodynamic preparations in a desired proportion in brick-lined pits.

Are there any leguminous plants, which could be used as green manures?

Number of crops such as peas, glyricidia and dhaincha can be used for green manuring. These plants have to be ploughed in the field when they are tender and before they start flowering.

Can drip system be used to supply liquid nutrients such as panchagavya as liquid fertilizer?

Yes, a number of farmers have already been using the technique of using organic liquid fertilizers through drip system.

Can we use coconut coir waste instead of cow dung in preparing  vermi compost?

Coconut coir can be separately added but cow dung is necessary for promoting population and also to meet the essential microbial energy requirements of earthworms.

How to manufacture turmeric formulation for spraying on my vegetable plants?

About 1 kg of turmeric tubers is soaked in about 10 litres of cow’s urine overnight. Next day the turmeric tubers are ground and mixed with 30 litres of water and sprayed.

What is fish gunabajalam and how is it manufactured?

Fish gunabajalam is an organic nutrient which is sprayed over the crops to increase the chlorophyll content. It is manufactured by adding about 1 kg of fish waste (rotten fish can also be added) and 1 kg of ghur (Pannai vellam in Tamil) in a plastic drum. It is then allowed to remain for about 25 days, after which it is used as a spray by diluting 100 ml of the solution in 10 litres of water. For details contact Dr. G. Nammalvar, No 17/9, 5th cross, Srinivas nagar, Thiruannaikoil, Tiruchi- 620005, mobile: 9442531699.

Are there any bio friendly methods to cure my curry leaf tree that has crinkled leaves with white patches?

The tree may be sprayed with a combination of neem oil, vermin wash and cow’s urine at weekly intervals especially during summer for effective results.

Is there any method for making organic hormones apart from vermiwash for inducing good crop growth?

Mix about 5ml of coconut milk and buttermilk each in a mud pot and bury the pot under the soil for a period of 10 days for fermentation. After the stipulated time the fermented concoction should be distilled and diluted in water in the ratio of 1:10 and sprayed over the crops.

Is there any place near Chennai where I can undergo training in growing spirulina?

Contact Oferr, Nallayan Research Centre for Sustainable Development, Navallor village, Kanchipuram district, Tamil Nadu, email:, phone: 044-28193063(office).

Where can I obtain information on effective utilisation of kitchen wastes?

Contact Mr. G. Vasudeo, Secretary, Vivekananda Kendra-National Resources Development Project (VK-NARDEP), Kanyakumari, Tamil Nadu 629-702, email:, phone: 04652-246296 for your query.

What is Varahagunabajalam? What is it used for and is there any place from where I can get training in its usage?

Varahagunabajalam is made from the flesh and bones of pigs. About 5kg of pigs flesh and bones, 1 kg of black gram and sesame each are fried in about 2 lts of gingelley oil. About 2 kg of jaggery is added to the mixture and soaked in cow’s urine or water and buried under soil for about 30 days. It helps in better flower formation and fruits. The recommended dosage is 100 ml diluted in 10 litres of water, which can be either sprayed on the leaves or mixed together with irrigated water. For training you can contact Raasi Organic Farms, mobile: 98655-82142, phone: 04565-284937.

How is compost from coconut-pith prepared?

Pithplus is an effective fungal culture which is added to the coirpith to compost it.

Where is spirulina produced in India?

Spirulina is produced by major and minor companies of India including Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh.

Do leguminous plants help in cultivation of other crops?

Leguminous plants in association with the bacteria in their root nodules, can fix atmospheric nitrogen in the soil. The increased nitrogen in the soil will help in the growth of succeeding crops.

When compost is ready?

The compost is ready when the material is moderately loose and crumbly and the colour of the compost is dark brown. It will be black, granular, lightweight and humus-rich. To facilitate separating the worms from the compost, stop watering two to three days before emptying the beds. This will force about 80 per cent of the worms to the bottom of the bed. The rest of the worms can be removed by hand, and are ready to be transferred into the next round of compost making. The vermicompost is then ready for application. The smell is earth-like. Any bad odour is a sign that fermentation has not reached its final goal and that the bacterial processes are still going on.

Are organic yields lower?

Based on 154 growing seasons' worth of data on various crops, organic crops yielded 95% of crops grown under conventional, high-input conditions. Growers who go through the 3-year transition period from conventional to organic management usually experience an initial decrease in yields, until soil microbes are re-established and nutrient cycling is in place, at which point yields return to previous levels.

How do organic farmers fertilize crops and control pests, diseases, and weeds?

Organic farmers build healthy soils by nourishing the living component of the soil, the microbial inhabitants that release, transform, and transfer nutrients. Soil organic matter contributes to good soil structure and water-holding capacity. Organic farmers feed soil biota and build soil structure and water-holding capacity. Organic farmers build soil organic matter with cover crops, compost, and biologically based soil amendments. These produce healthy plants that are better able to resist disease and insect predation. Organic farmers' primary strategy in controlling pests and diseases is prevention through good plant nutrition and management. Organic farmers use cover crops and sophisticated crop rotations to manage the field ecology, effectively disrupting habitat for weeds, insects, and disease organisms.

Weeds are controlled through crop rotation, mechanical tillage, and hand-weeding, as well as through cover crops, mulches, flame weeding, and other management methods. Organic farmers rely on a diverse population of soil organisms, beneficial insects, and birds to keep pests in check. When pest populations get out of balance, growers implement a variety of strategies such as the use of insect predators, mating disruption, traps and barriers. Under the National Organic Program Rule, growers are required to use sanitation and cultural practices first before they can resort to applying a material to control a weed, pest or disease problem. Use of these materials in organic production is regulated, strictly monitored, and documented. As a last resort, certain botanical or other non-synthetic pesticides may be applied.

How are organic livestock and poultry raised?

Organic meat, dairy products, and eggs are produced from animals that are fed organic feed and allowed access to the outdoors. They must be kept in living conditions that accommodate the natural behavior of the animals. Ruminants must have access to pasture. Organic livestock and poultry may not be give antibiotics, hormones, or medications in the absence of illness; however, they may be vaccinated against disease. Parasiticide use is strictly regulated. Livestock diseases and parasites are controlled primarily through preventative measures such as rotational grazing, balanced diet, sanitary housing, and stress reduction.

Is organic food safe?

Yes. Organic food is as safe to consume as any other kind of food. Just as with any kind of produce, consumers should wash before consuming to ensure maximum cleanliness. As cited above, organic produce contains significantly lower levels of pesticide residues than conventional produce. It is a common misconception that organic food could be at greater risk of E. coli contamination because of raw manure application although conventional farmers commonly apply tons of raw manure as well with no regulation whatsoever. Organic standards set strict guidelines on manure use in organic farming: either it must be first composted, or it must be applied at least 90 days before harvest, which allows ample time for microbial breakdown of pathogens.

Is organic food more nutritious than conventional food?

The definitive study has not been done, mainly because of the multitude of variables involved in making a fair comparison between organically grown and conventionally grown food. These include crop variety, time after harvest, post-harvest handling, and even soil type and climate, which can have significant effects on nutritional quality. However, a 2002 report indicates that organic food is far less likely to contain pesticide residues than conventional food (13% of organic produce samples vs. 71% of conventional produce samples contained a pesticide residue, when long-banned persistent pesticides were excluded).

What is composting?

Composting is a natural process, and when carried out under controlled conditions, converts organic material (like food scraps and garden waste) into a product called compost. During composting, various microorganisms, including bacteria and fungi, break down organic material.

Why should I compost?

Although organic waste may not seem harmful - it actually represents more than 30% of all the material sent to landfill sites. When organic material is held in a landfill, it produces harmful gases. In addition, as water runs through this decomposing waste, toxic liquid runs out the bottom.

What are the benefits of composting?

Composting can play an important role in solid waste management programs and greatly reduce the amount of waste going to landfill. In addition, composting conserves resources, reduces pollution, reduces landfill and waste disposal costs, and builds healthy soil.

What can and cannot be composted?

What's in - fruits and vegetables, baked goods, rice and other grains, dried corn stalks, pasta, peanut shells, coffee grounds and filters, tea leaves and bags, egg shells, paper towels, egg cartons, toilet paper rolls, cereal boxes, dry leaves, dried and untreated grass clippings, weeds, twigs, small branches, sawdust, plants (non-diseased), and grass clippings.

What's out - all meat and fish products, bones, fat and oils, all dairy products, weeds that have gone to seed, diseased plants, dog and cat waste, and plants previously sprayed with non-degradable pesticides.

What are brown and green materials?

Your compost pile requires both carbon and nitrogen to work properly. Brown materials supply carbon and they include things like dry leaves, woodchips, dry grass, and paper products. Green materials provide nitrogen and include things like fruits and vegetables, coffee grounds, tea bags, and fresh grass clippings.

Where should I put my backyard composter?

The composter should be placed in a partially sunny, well drained, and convenient area.

How do I start composting?

Step 1


Decide on a compost bin and location

Step 2


Build your compost pile. Start by layering brown and green materials. Begin with a layer of browns, then add a layer of greens, finish by covering with a layer of browns ensuring that the materials are fairly evenly balanced by weight, not volume. As you add to the pile throughout the season, continue alternating layers of browns and greens, always finishing with a layer of browns on top

Step 3


Sprinkle with water (if necessary)

Step 4


Add a couple of shovels of soil, and mix everything together

Step 5


As you add new compost material, turn the compost by moving material from the outside to the centre, and from the bottom to the top and vice-versa

How long does the composting process take?

The composting process can take from two months to two years, depending on the type of composter, the ingredients, and the amount of effort you put into turning the pile. Compost is ready to use when it looks dark and crumbly and none of the original ingredients are visible. A simple way to test if compost is finished is to seal a small sample in a plastic bag for 24 to 48 hours. If no strong odours are released when you open the bag, the compost is done.

Can I compost in the winter?

Composting doesn’t have to stop when the weather gets cold, in fact, you can compost successfully all year long.  
Although decomposition will slow down during the winter months – those hard-working microbes are dormant when the internal temperature is less than 10 °C – decomposition will speed up again in the spring.  Even if your compost pile freezes altogether, you can continue adding material throughout the winter that will break down when the temperature rises

What should I do if my compost starts to smell?

If your compost pile emits strong odours, it may not be getting enough air and/or is getting too much water. To fix smelly compost add some brown material, mix in some healthy garden soil, aerate the pile, then top it off with a layer of brown material.

How do I keep pests out of my compost?

To help keep pests out of an open pile, turn food scraps into the pile as you add them, covering them with yard trimmings. Make or buy a bin that is pest resistant: one that has a lid & has air holes small enough to keep out small pests.

Should I put my compost in the sun or shade?

It's best in the shade because the compost is less likely to dry out: dry compost does not decay.

How long does it take to compost?

Depending on how carefully you manage your pile for the correct conditions, composting takes from 1 month to 2 years. A pile turned every week or so and carefully managed for all the right conditions may compost in a month or two. A pile not turned or managed will take about six months to two years to fully compost.

It is not essential to compost quickly. It's really up to you if you want compost for your garden as soon as possible or if you'd rather wait for nature to run its course. Just be sure to compost responsibly and turn your pile if it starts to give off foul odors.

Do I need to shred or grind organic materials to compost them?

Shredding or grinding organic materials helps speed composting by increasing the surface areaof the compostables, making them accessible to decomposers. But shredding is not essential, except when adding woody materials such as sticks that will take years to decompose unless they areshredded.

Should I add inoculants and activators/accelerators?

Inoculants and activators are not recommended. Inoculants are microscopic decomposers, and they are naturally found in the source materials you add to your pile, such as leaves and grass. They are abundant in soil, finished compost, and manures. Just 1 teaspoon of fertile soil with compost regularly added to it has 100 million bacteria and 400-800 feet of fungal threads.

Accelerators are generally a quick fix of nitrogen that won't last long and are a potential source of water pollution as they are easily washed out of your pile into surface and ground water. If you need to add high nitrogen "greens" to your pile, organic sources like grass clippings, manure, foodscraps or even bone meal give a slow release of nitrogen and are better for composting.

Should I add lime to my pile?

1. Do not add lime to a pile because it may cause nitrogen to be released from the pile as ammonia gas. This gas smells bad and leaves your compost with less nitrogen, an important plant nutrient for your garden.
2. You don't need to worry about the pH of a compost pile. pH, being a measurement of alkalinity or acidity, will generally adjust itself and, when compost is mature, the pH is usually around neutral.
3. If you need to adjust the pH of compost, do this after it has completed its composting. First test the pH of your finished compost and adjust it as needed.

Is compost different from soil?

Compost is made up of organic matter, microbes and nutrients that can be used to condition and fertilize flowerbeds and vegetable gardens.
Compost is a valuable soil booster. It has a high organic matter content and helps return to the soil many properties that are lost over time and with use.
Compost contains micronutrients that improve plant growth. It acts as a "slow-release" fertilizer. Compost also improves the water-holding capacity of your soil.  So not only does compost help you conserve water, it helps keep your water bill down during the summer months.

What are the benefits of composting?

The City benefits
You benefit Benefits of using compost
  • encourages Calgarians to recycle their food and yard waste
  • reduces greenhouse gases
  • extends life of our landfills
  • provides another way to reach our 80/20 by 2020 goal.
  • easy and fun way to get the whole family to take part in an environmentally friendly solution
  • cuts your weekly garbage almost in half
  • recycles a valuable natural resource rather than burying it in a landfill
  • produces free compost for your gardens.
  • helps break up heavy clay soils
  • adds essential nutrients to the soil
  • helps soil hold water better
  • discourages weeds
  • helps gardens and lawns become less dependent on chemicals.

What can I compost?

Yard waste such as grass clippings, fallen leaves, weeds before they go to seed, tree fruit and berries and the remains of disease-free garden plants make excellent compost.  You can also compost kitchen scraps such as fruit and vegetable peels and trimmings, eggshells, teabags, coffee grounds and filters.  Woody yard waste like branches and brush can be used as well in limited amounts as long as they are cut into smaller pieces.

Do NOT compost meat, bones, grease, fat or fatty foods like cheese, salad dressing or leftover cooking oil, as they may attract pests or contribute to odour problems.

DO NOT Compost
Grass clippings and weeds Meat, bones or fish scraps
Leaves and garden waste Grease, fats and oils
Tree fruit, berries and evergreen needles  Dairy products
Branches, hedge clippings, bark chips, (smaller pieces) Cooked and prepared foods
Dryer/vacuum lint Baked goods, rice or grains
Topsoil and sod Pet manure or animal parts and remains
Fruit and vegetable waste Charcoal or coal ashes
Teabags, coffee grounds, coffee filters and paper towels Clay, gravel or rocks
Eggshells Materials treated with insecticides, herbicides or other chemicals

How do I compost?

Composting requires five basic things

  • Organic material
  • Moisture
  • Air
  • Soil microbes
  • Lime

Organic material is divided in to "Greens" (nitrogen rich) and "Browns" (carbon rich). Green materials are usually moist like your fruit and veggie scraps, fresh grass clippings or fresh fallen leaves. Brown materials are dried like dry brown leaves or dry grass clippings.

Follow these basic steps for more effective composting

Step 1

Choose an area with good drainage and some sun to set up or build your own composter. Depending on your lifestyle and needs, you may choose to use a store-bought or home-made composter. View our Backyard Composter area for information about the different kinds of bins available.  Ideally, your compost area should be at least one metre by one metre by one metre.  You do need a fairly large pile for the composting process to begin.  If your pile is too small, it will not compost properly.

Step 2

When you begin, you may choose to layer some branches or twigs about one foot long or larger on the bottom of your compost pile to allow for air flow and drainage. A thin layer of soil can be added first to provide the soil microbes that will do the work of breaking down your organic material. There is no need to use compost starter, which basically does the same thing by adding soil microbes. 
Then begin to add your materials as you have them. The smaller the pieces you put into your compost heap, the faster they will decompose. You will need to add one-part greens for every part of browns to build a balanced compost heap. It is recommended by some that you layer your greens and browns.  However, as long as the ratio is one-part green materials to one- part brown materials, it is not necessary to layer the material as you will be turning the pile mixing these two types of materials anyhow.
Fine materials such as grass clippings should be added in smaller amounts so that they do not compact. Compaction means that there won't be adequate air supply. You can also try "grasscycling." See our Grasscycling area for more information.

Step 3

Add water.  Effective composting requires moisture. Add water when you first start your compost pile and each time you turn your pile. The compost pile should be as moist as a wrung out sponge to be composting effectively.

Step 4

Turn your pile with a compost aerating tool, pitchfork or shovel every couple of weeks during the growing season to provide an adequate air supply.
If your compost pile has a foul odour, it is likely you need to turn the pile more often to circulate more air, reduce watering or reduce the amount of greens in your pile.
You will know that your compost pile is working when the material starts to heat up. The pile can get so hot at its centre that you couldn't stand to put your hand there.
In the winter, your compost pile may freeze solidly. Just keep adding your green and brown material as usual. In the spring, when it thaws, the pile will pick up the composting process just where it left off the previous winter. Only really large compost piles are insulated enough to continue composting year-round.

Step 5

Your composted material is ready to use when it has an "earthy" smell, is dark in colour, cold and most of the materials are unrecognizable. The composting process can take from two months to two years, depending on the materials used and the effort involved.

What are the signs that I'm not composting properly?

Composting is not difficult but sometimes the process requires a little extra attention. Here are some easy solutions to correct certain situations that might occur.

  • The composting process takes too long – If the pile does not decrease in size or generate heat, composting may need a boost. If the pile is dry, add water and mix thoroughly. If the pile is wet and muddy, spread it in the sun and add dry material. As well, the items in the pile may be too large. Chop them into smaller pieces. Remember to save "old" compost to mix with incoming material.
  • The centre of the compost pile is damp, but the rest dry – The compost pile may be too small. Try to keep your composter as full as possible. Mix new with old, dry with wet, breaking up mats and clumps.
  • The compost pile is damp and sweet smelling but not heating – The pile may need more greens (nitrogen). Add grass clippings, fruit or veggie scraps or a sprinkling of organic fertilizer from the garden centre.
  • The compost pile smells like ammonia – The pile may have too many greens, add more browns (carbon). This will likely happen if you have added too many fresh grass clippings.
  • The compost pile smells like sulphur (rotten eggs) – The pile may be too wet and not be getting enough air. Loosen up the pile, break up clumps, unblock vents and perhaps add some wood chips to help the pile "breathe." Turning the pile always helps aeration.
  • The compost pile is attracting pests – Compost in a container with a cover to prevent animals from getting into the composting materials. A wire mesh around the base can help to prevent pests from digging under the pile. Dig in or cover food waste immediately. If done properly, composting should not attract pests.

Why the production of spirulina, isn’t it too complicated?

Technically, production of spirulina is much easier than production of rice for example. The problem is not really complexity, but rather newness. Depending on the education level, a training between one week to one month is necessary (much shorter than the years of training for classical agricultural techniques).

Are the ingredients easy to find locally?

The culture of spirulina requires a single ingredient which is not a classical agricultural fertilizer: sodium bicarbonate. This product, however, is very common because it is used for animal nutrition and in other areas. In addition, it is possible to replace it by ashes of wood. Regarding to the other ingredients, they are sources of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, which are common in agriculture

What about the acceptability of spirulina by the populations, and more specifically by children?

In contrast to the usual apprehension, the experience is that spirulina (at the low doses recommended) is accepted without any problem by those who need it. In fact, the young children like it usually so much that they “devour” all spirulina left around.

Why not burn leaves and other yard wastes?

Burning leaves and other yard wastes pollutes the air and can lead to uncontrolled fires. Leaf smoke can make breathing difficult for people who suffer from asthma, emphysema, chronic bronchitis, or allergies. A number of states currently ban leaf burning, and some communities either ban leaf burning or restrict when and where it can take place.

Why not put yard wastes in landfills?

Since these materials are relatively clean and biodegradable, disposal in landfills may be unnecessary and wastes space. In addition, as yard wastes decompose in landfills, they generate methane gas and acidic leachate. Methane is a colorless, explosive greenhouse gas that is released as bacteria decompose organic materials in landfills. If methane is not controlled at a landfill, it can seep underground and into nearby buildings, where it has the potential to explode. Yard wastes also contribute acidity that can make other waste constituents more mobile and therefore more toxic.

How does compost improve the soil?

Compost does several things to benefit the soil that synthetic fertilizers cannot do. First, it adds organic matter, which improves the way water interacts with the soil. In sandy soils, compost acts as a sponge to help retain water in the soil that would otherwise drain down below the reach of plant roots (in this way, it protects plants against drought). In clay soils, compost helps to add porosity (tiny holes and passageways) to the soil, making it drain more quickly so that it doesn't stay waterlogged and doesn't dry out into a bricklike substance. Compost also inoculates the soil with vast numbers of beneficial microbes (bacteria, fungi, etc.) and the habitat that the microbes need to live. These microbes are able to extract nutrients from the mineral part of the soil and eventually pass the nutrients on to plants.



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