Back in Capijuma the soil differs greatly between the different areas of the property. And so after we had planted already in a few locations Richard’s curiosity was sparked to investigate a little about which soil is better for planting. We didn’t have any special tools or soil testing kits available to us but luckily, while I was in Switzerland working with my brother (Thomas Rippel), I have seen a simple jar compost testing experiment that will give us an overall idea about the relative difference between our soils.

Compost & Soil Sprouting Experiment

our three samples, the left jar has the compost sample, the middle jar has the African Keyhole sample, & the right has the old kitchen garden sample (the same order applies to the other photos)

The idea is to take two samples of soil that one knows to be good as the control and two samples of each of the soils / composts you would like to be testing. In our case we compared the compost from one of our compost piles that Antonio had made in October/November of last year (2013), the soils of the African Keyhole which is a mixture of soils and composts, and the soil of our older kitchen garden.

We got six jars, washed them well, and sterilized them with hot water before we put in our soil samples. Then in each we placed a spoonful of conventional (commercial) lentil seeds. We used those because we had many of them. We watered each a little and then closed the lid of one of each of the samples and the other we covered with a net to protect it from bugs. The open containers were watered with 3 spoons full of water semi daily.

(top left) our older kitchen garden; (top middle) last year's compost pile; (top right) our African Keyhole; (left middle) the closed jars of our experiment samples; (left bottom) the open jars of our samples; (right middle) the mold that has grown in the closed jars by the end of the three weeks of our experiment; (right bottom) the three open jars at the end of the three weeks

(top left) our older kitchen garden; (top middle) last year’s compost pile; (top right) our African Keyhole; (left middle) the 3 closed jars of our experiment samples; (left bottom) the open jars of our samples; (right middle) the mold that has grown in the closed jars by the end of the 3 weeks of our experiment; (right bottom) the 3 open jars at the end of the three weeks

The closed containers sprouted first, possibly due to the higher humidity. In terms of quantity, most seeds sprouted in the containers with the soil from the African Keyhole. Those that sprouted grew well in both the soil from the vegetable garden and African Keyhole. After 12 days the samples in the closed containers grew a lot of mold and the seedlings were dying. This was especially true for the compost sample, possible due to the gases it has generated. On the other hand more balanced compost mixtures, as I have seen in Switzerland, generate very low levels of adverse gases. After three weeks we concluded the experiment.

Our compost piles definitely have a lot of room for improvement. For example, for the African Keyhole we didn’t used our own compost. We used our soil, humus from the forest, and the compost we got from a local governmental research institute (Incaper). You can see below that our carrots have been thriving in this mixture. This is our first step on our soil/compost pile journey, with many more to follow soon!

our carrots from the African Keyhole

Richard is holding our carrots from the African Keyhole

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