Guano

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Any excrement from birds, seals, or bats which is used as fertilizer, is called Guano. The word Guano means "the droppings of sea birds" in the Quichua language of the Incas, as distinct from the useless droppings of other birds. Today, the word refers to the mixture of remains and excrement of bats that collect on the floor of caves.Guano can be fresh, semi-fossilized or fossilized.

Contents

Why should I be aware of this?

  • Bat Guano can be safely used as an organic fertiliser, both indoors and outdoors and benefits vegetables, field crops, herbs, flowers, fruit and nut trees.
  • It contains all the macro and micronutrients that plants require in a natural form, whereas inorganic fertilisers are manufactured to have particular characteristics.
  • It works as a soil builder, by improving the texture of the soil.
  • Guano is a soil cleanser, containing microbes that help to clear any toxins in the soil.
  • It is a natural fungicide when it is fed to plants via their leaves.
  • Guano works as a nematocide, for it contains decomposing microbes help control nematodes (worms).
  • It also functions as an activator in Composting, as it contains microbes that hasten the process of decomposition.
  • Hydroponic growers find that Guano and water are a natural alternative to chemical solutions.

All about Guano

Bat Guano is a highly refined Organic fertilizer. Bats droppings in deep caves go through a process of natural decomposition aided by guano beetles and decomposing microbes. As a result, Guano contains powerful decomposing microbes, which help control soil-borne diseases.

Centuries ago, South American farmers harvested the white piles of Guano from shore-lines and islands to use as crop fertilizer. By the 1600s in Peru, the Incas valued Guano so highly that the punishment for harming the animals that produced it was death.

European colonizers soon realised the immense economic value of Guano, and it became a prized commodity during the 19th century. Heavy exports of Guano to Europe and America helped build countries like Peru, expanded empires such as the United States, made companies and individuals involved rich, and exploited the local populations and the environment.

Towards the close of the 19th century, the development of cheaper chemical fertilizers caused a decline in the market for Guano. Countries like Peru suffered from economic decline and acquired deep debt from years of mismanaging and misusing of Guano funds.

Guano trade and politics

Guano has been an international commodity for almost 200 years, and has played a deep role in world politics. In order to end the British monopoly of Peruvian Guano, the US passed the Guano Island Act of 1856. This bestowed upon American entrepreneurs, the power to discover and claim Guano islands in the Pacific and the Caribbean on behalf of the US government. Around 60 islands were acquired or claimed under this Act, including Pacific islands such as Howland, Baker and Jarvis islands, and Caribbean islands like Serranilla Keys, Navassa, and Petrel islands. This enabled American companies to compete in the Guano market and to supply cheap Guano prices to American farmers. Some of these were later released from US control when the need for Guano had diminished during the 20th century.

Guano from Peru

Guano experts agree that Peruvian Guano is the best in the world. The weather on Peru's coast is extremely dry. The Humboldt or Peruvian Current carries cold water from Antarctica to the equator along Peru's coast, and the combination of cold water and warm air prevents rainfall. The extreme dryness of climate, dry-bakes the bat Guano slowly. This preserves the nitrates present in Guano effectively, making it the richest Guano in the world.

The period 1840 to 1880 is considered to be the height of Peru's golden age of Guano. In this time, Peruvians excavated over 20,000,000 tons of Guano for export, creating around $2 billion in profits. This indiscriminate mining of Guano led to a severe depletion of Peru's Guano reserves by 1909-10, and annual yields dropped to merely 48,000 tons. Since that time, the Peruvian government has attempted to salvage its Guano reserves. It established the Guano Administration, which has a three-pronged agenda.

  1. It helps in preserving Guano birds and their environment by making Guano islands off limits six months in a year. This enables the re-accumulation of Guano reserves and the birds ate able to safely rear their young.
  2. It sets fishing quotas for the commercial fishing industry. This helps in maintaining food reserves for the Guano birds, which in turn maintains their populations at optimal levels.
  3. It has set up park preserves on the mainland where some birds migrate, to give them safe haven from predators. These measures have allowed Peru to continue to use Guano for its own agricultural use in recent decades.

Uses of Guano

Bat Guano is said to be the ultimate Organic Fertiliser containing all the essential elements necessary to grow healthy plants. The reason lies in Guano’s chemical make up. Because it is deposited deep inside caves where it is protected from sunlight and wind, it doesn't decompose as quickly as organic matter does, when it is exposed to sun, bacteria and air. Rich in nitrogen and phosphorous, Guano provides important chemicals for crops. It also has beneficial fungi and bacteria, and acts as a natural fungicide to protect plants from disease

Another factor that makes Guano an effective nitrogen-rich fertilizer is that its contents originate from fish-eating birds.

Because Guano is rich in microbes that clean up toxic substances, it functions as a purifier in areas which are changing over from chemical to organic practices.

Confederate soldiers even mined bat Guano for saltpeter to make gunpowder. The US Government at one time even offered free land to those who found Guano deposits and made it available to the public.

What can I do?

  • Pure Guano should be applied in smaller amounts as compared to ordinary barnyard or poultry manure. Guano may be used as a top dressing, or worked into the soil or mixed with water.
  • Use nitrogen Guano for growth, phosphorus Guano for budding.
  • Blend Guano with topsoil before laying sod or grass seed and while planting trees and shrubs.
  • Add Guano to container growing mixes for a supercharged potting soil.
  • Just a few applications of Guano in outdoor gardens will replace the weekly routine of dousing plants with chemical fertilizers.

References

  • Guano Trade
  • For an analysis of the microbial composition of the guano of Indian bats, go to Observations on guano and bolus of Indian flying fox, Pteropus giganteus