Adventures in Manure Composting

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My name is Joanne and I'm a volunteer here at Tenerife Horse Rescue. I'm sort of from the UK, sort of from France but I consider myself a citizen of the world. I spent over a year in Asia, mostly Goa, and that's where I first learned about the benefits of being a part of a community. That's what attracted me to the finca, doing something good with like-minded people and the opportunity to learn. There's an abundance of that here. I was warned about the living conditions but I love my cave, the people here are all interesting and every day I'm learning something new. What I found was more than a horse and animal rescue sanctuary; it's a sustainable community, eco-project with permaculture principles and homesteading.

When I got asked to help with manure composting for a new planting area, I got stuck in straight away. We affectionately call it "the shit wall" but the science behind it is pretty solid. We are off the coast of North Africa on a rockland, but we grow vegetables, which impressed me when I arrived but I soon discovered that it's thanks to utilising our most valuable resource as a horse sanctuary; manure. Our food is either home grown here on the finca, or donated in collaboration with local businesses. Whatever we don't eat goes to the animals and our horses give us enough manure to go back into soil to grow more. It's the circle of life.

It's been so cool watching it take shape, working outside in the morning sun and learning about how valuable natural available resources are. I was never much for science at school but watching it in action has been amazing. Speaking of which, here comes the science part...keep reading, I promise it's not so complicated!

Composting manure is a fairly long process, the first steps are filling cardboard boxes with manure to build a wall (hence sh*t wall) and building an enclosed space. Fresh manure is then layered against the wall until it's over the pallets and wet. Every layer needs to be soaked because moisture keeps microbes alive and let's air into the pile. After the initial build, it takes 2-6 months depending on climate and nutrient quality in the manure. Fortunately, our horses have a healthy diet, so it's filled with hay and nutrient rich veggies!

The wall should reduce by half before planting. This allows for the chemical reaction to take its course, which is the basis for manure composting. The bacteria consumes organic material, releasing heat that kills harmful bacteria leaving nutrient rich natural fertilizer to grow crops on.

Sure, I'm covered head to toe in manure every day and the windy conditions on the island mean that a healthy amount gets in my hair but I genuinely enjoy building. I can't wait to watch it reduce and keep taking care of it, hopefully I'll be here long enough to see some vegetables grow on it. Either way, it's pushed me to learn more about permaculture, gardening and get involved in more projects that require me to ruin pairs of shoes - I don't like wearing them, so there's a definite satisfaction that comes from destroying them for a good cause!

I've learned that building is empowering, especially as a woman...even if it's just a wall of manure. There's something about being out in nature, contributing to it in a ciclycal way, getting dirty and really getting involved in the finca lifestyle. It's oddly exciting, watching everyone have their own building projects and having my own too. It's got to the point that my friends ask me about "the shit wall" before asking how I am. It's gone global and I'm very okay with that!

It's also shown me a new way of living. How to work as part of nature, which is something I think a lot of humanity doesn't see value in. Everything you need is around you and you can get the essentials without contributing to waste creation. It's symbiotic and maybe we wouldn't have the issues we have on the planet if we just committed to living sympathetically with our environment. Being self-sufficient is really important to me and I think I can definitely set the groundwork for doing that myself here at the finca. Living around animals, with a myriad of crazy but incredibly talented and curious folk is a humbling experience. We work hard, we have fun and an atmosphere of contentment runs through the whole community.

I hope manure composting is the starting point for me and that I learn lots more to take with me on my travels. This is my first official workaway and I'm so happy I landed somewhere that lives their vision instead of talking about it. Very little was explained to me, it was all immersive but I like to think I've risen to the occasion. I've not been here long, but it feels like I've been here for ages. I will keep annoying and amusing my friends in equal measure with fun finca facts. Something they probably need to get used to sharpish!

I can't wait for the next project and more learning, contributing and chaos (the positive kind!) - for me it started in Goa, which was the foundations of a whole new lifestyle outside of the normal system, now I'm here and it feels like the perfect place to absorb knowledge. There's no way that I can imagine living in an apartment/house and being in what others call "the real world" - this is the real world for me and it's full of excitement.

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Manure composting as part of sustainable living
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