Tropical Composting

Composting in the tropics is hard? How can it possibly be hard? You throw your garbage out here, and it grows. But it is difficult to produce good compost here.

The climate is different, the bugs are different, the bacteria are different. So what works here is different as well. All the serious gardeners I know here in Panama have tried the methods they brought from the north with disappointing results. Most gardening books are written for northern countries.  England, the US, Canada.

I was recently privileged to attend an event where the Azuero Earth Project provided a live demonstration of how to make a composted fertilizer called Bocashi.  This recipe is provided by AEP, the translation and photos by me.  (If I got any of it wrong, I dearly hope someone will tell me so I can make the correction.)

A qq, by the way is the abbreviation for quintal, or 100 kilograms.

The Ingredients


Bocashi Recipe – por Jairo Batista de Azuero Earth Project

  • 200 kg of common earth
  • 100 kg of rice hulls (available at most ag  and garden supply stores)
  • 100 kg of charcoal and ash (from any fire – pulverize it)
  • 100 kg of rice ‘husk’ – actually rice germ
  • 100 kg of chicken droppings, DRIED – or FRESH cow manure
  • 1 liter of cane molasses
  • 10 lbs of agricultural lime
  • 100 grams of yeast
  • Water, as needed

These ingredients are first layered, on perhaps a sheet of plastic, then turned, wet down, mixed and re-mixed for six days, and finally, left to ferment for 15 days.

The Process

jsw_bocashi_1_molasses_&_yeastStep 1.   Into about 4 gallons of water, mix the liter of cane molasses and the yeast.  Mix well and allow to sit while the rest of the bocashi is prepared.



jsw_bocashi_2bStep 2 & 3.   The base of the mix will be the 100 kg of rice hulls. Place these in the center of your plastic sheet and spread them to a depth of 4 or 5 inches.

Add the 200 kg of dirt.


jsw_bocashi_3_spread_dirtStep 4.  Spread the dirt across the rice hulls. As you add each subsequent ingredient, you will do perform the same spreading action. You are creating layers of product in this part.



jsw_bocashi_4_chicken_shitStep 5. Add the dried chicken droppings or fresh cow manure. Spread it out across your previous layers.



jsw_bocashi_5_ashStep 6.  Add the pulverized charcoal.  This can be gotten from any fire – include the ashes.  Jairo simply scooped up the remains of a nearby burn, put it into a sack and beat it with the nearest log until it was as small as he deemed necessary.


jsw_bocashi_6_cascarillaStep 7.  Add the rice germ (cascarilla). Spread it out.




jsw_bocashi_7_calcium - CopyStep 8.  Add the lime. Be careful not to let it blow into your eyes. To prevent accidents and prevent clumping, stir the lime gently into the rice germ.



jsw_bocashi_8_begin_turningStep 9.  Turn the mixture once.




jsw_bocashi_9_molasses__slurryStep 10.  Make a well in the center of the pile to prevent liquid from running down the sides. Slosh the molasses/yeast/water mix onto the pile.



jsw_bocashi_12_turn_it_againStep 11.  Turn the pile, twice, to distribute the moisture as evenly as possible.



jsw_bocashi_10b_test_itStep 12.  Test it.  You want the mix to be damp enough to cling into a ball when you squeeze it together, but not so well that water runs out of it. This picture shows the mix too dry.



jsw_bocashi_11__add_waterStep 13.  Add more water, but not all at once.  How much to add will differ batch to batch, because of how much water might already be in the ingredients. In fact, it’s better to add some, turn the mix, test it, and add more if needed. This is a judgement call, and an important one.  Too much and the batch will not compost correctly.


jsw_bocashi_12_turn_it_againStep 14. Turn the mix some more.  Shovel it off to one side and then shovel it back.  Mix, mix, mix.



jsw_bocashi_14_test_it_againStep 15.  Test it again.  If it isn’t damp enough, add more water and mix it again and test it again.  But don’t add too much water!  Remember, damp and clingy, but not wet.



jsw_bocachi_15-_wrapStep 16.  Wrap it up.  Pile it into the center of your plastic, shake everything loose over to the pile, then fold the covering over it to make a nice, big tamale.



jsw_bocashi_12_turn_it_againStep 17.  Open and turn it twice a day, every day, for the next six days. Then let it rest for the next 15 days.  It will now be ready for use.

How to Use It


Photo of Slide by Jairo Batista of Azuero Earth Project – presentation on Abono Bocashi 8/29/2014



This is the recommended method for using it.