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Coffee Smart: A 5-Step Guide to DIY Composting

The typical smallholder coffee grower in Ethiopia cares for some 700 coffee trees, each one dotted with beautiful red cherries. Beautiful as they are, the sad fact is 700 trees are not enough to feed a smallholder and his family. We created our Call the Farmer program to help approximately 100 farmers farmer better, earn more and live better. Perfecting the art of self-made compost is one of the easiest ways smallholders can increase their productivity – and fast.

During our Call the Farmer training program we taught 102 farmeIMG_8541 LOWrs and their families how to create the perfect compost. What’s so perfect about it? It’s a mixture of 100% organic materials that provide coffee trees all the necessary ‘vitamins’ they need to grow strong and healthy – namely, nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus. It’s not hard. In fact, the recipe received such a warm welcome that we decided to post it right here, for you. Here’s our DIY guide to composting for all you wanna-be coffee farmers.


Step 1: Gather organic stuffIMG_8428 LOW

Take a short stroll on your plot of land, which is probably half a hectare small. So it’s going to be a short walk, make the most of it by collecting the following materials on your way.

-Maize straw, leftover from the last harvest

-Leaves from your banana palm (or IMG_8402 LOWone of your other fruit trees)

-Ash from your wooden stove or last night’s fire

-Animal dung from the cow or two you own

-A bit of top soil, but don’t scoop deeper than the top 10cm





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Step 2: Fence out an area

Fence in a small piece of land with some wood. An area of 3 meters x 2 meters x 1.5 meters high should do the trick. Easy, right? Uh, not really. But you’ll figure it out.

-Strips a few branches from a tree and place one every 30cm or so

-Use lianes (100% organic rope) to hold the branches together

-When you’re done, line the sides with banana leaves and maize straw to keep the compost from sneaking out between the branches

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Step 3: Layer your compost pile

From here on out it’s pretty easy. Filling your compost pile is a question of creating layers. Important to note is that you should water to each layer before adding the next.

-Create a floor of branches to keep your compost from touching the groundIMG_8459 LOW

-Add a 10c of green cut leaves. That’s your nitrogen.

-Create a layer of animal dung (two buckets is suffice). The bacteria in the dung will kick start the decomposition

-The next layer is last night’s fire ash. This is good for your potassium.

-Finally, add 2cm of topsoil for phosphorus.


Step 4: Add even more layers

Haha, you thought you were done, didn’t you? Hardly. This is just the start. You should repeat the process at least four times, creating a compost thick enough to cover your half-hectare of land.


Step 5: Wait three months

Three months is a long time to be patient, but what choice do you have? None. Mother Nature needs time to do her IMG_8477 LOWwork. After three months you’ll have a beautiful pile of compost big enough to fertilize your 700 trees. Their effect will be immediate in agricultural terms. Within a year and a half your branches will be crowded with lush queen coffee beans, bigger and healthier than you could have imagined. And because your beans are awesome, they’ll command a higher price. And this all because you spent a morning making your own DIY compost. Congrats, man. Enjoy!