Once you begin composting, it becomes a passion to convert kitchen waste into fertile manure that not only reduces the amount of waste being sent to landfills but also helps in the creation of a robust kitchen garden, says Raji Menon Prakash
It's been 15 years since I started composting, and I have often been asked: “Why?” Why do I have a fascination for getting my hands dirty, for saving scraps from the table and carefully binning them? Why bother?
Because I like being an independent waste manager, and of all the recycling practices that I follow, composting is the most satisfying one. I hope that, soon, each one of us will see waste as useful and not send bagged-in-plastic garbage to landfills or incinerators. So, what is composting and how can you do it at home?
What is composting?
Composting is the process of creating compost, which is decayed organic matter that can be used as manure in the garden and on farms. When you compost, you not only recycle kitchen and garden waste, you also reduce the volume of waste going to landfills. Compost also is a natural soil conditioner, pesticide, and fertilizer and improves the structure of the soil, ensuring healthier plants.
My own journey with composting kicked off during a trip to Indore, where I discovered that Sir Albert Howard (considered the father of organic agriculture) had developed and tested his compost pit methods. I didn’t have the space for his methods, but some research and talking to various experts like my gardener’s father, helped me achieve my goal.
Things you need
If you are new to composting, you could get a ready compost container (like Orbin or Eco Bin which you can purchase online). This will help ease the process. Or you can begin with an old flower pot with holes at the bottom for aeration, soil (from your garden or from the nursery), some coconut husk or wood peels to prevent the moisture from leaving, something to cover the pot with (I use lids that fit well because my dogs love kitchen scraps), a container to keep below the pot to collect the moisture and, of course, kitchen waste. The best places to begin composting are either terraces, balconies, or gardens, where there is some sunlight and natural moisture.
Once the tools are in place you can begin composting by following the method mentioned below:
Place the coconut husk (coco peat) or even organic dry waste, such as dry leaves, at the bottom.
Spread a layer of soil on top of it. (I generally make this layer about five cm thick.)
Put your kitchen waste for the day.
Cover this with another layer of soil.
Repeat this process till the pot is full, covering it with a final layer of soil. Always remember to cover the pot with the lid.
While this layered method keeps the bugs and smells at bay, you do need to stir the contents at least once a week to ensure proper aeration. The waste from my kitchen fills up three pots a week, and I generally number them to keep track. In Gurgaon, where I live, it takes about seven weeks for the compost to be ready for use. Good compost smells good like soil and rain, is dark, earthy and crumbly, not too moist, and doesn’t have any moss or fungus.
The Bokashi bin
Recently I added a couple of Bokashi bins to my ‘compost farm’. This is mainly because I can add bones, dairy, rice, and wheat products, which can take longer to decompose and sometimes attract bugs to the compost bin. The unit takes less space, hardly emits any odour, and the process is quicker. If you are wondering about Bokashi, it is a Japanese term for fermented organic matter. The story of its evolution begins with Professor Dr. Teruo Higa, a professor of horticulture in Japan, and a vociferous proponent of conventional agriculture. When he became ill from his use of chemicals (and this happened before he turned 30) he set out to find answers to chemical-free farming. He eventually hit upon a magical mix of efficient micro-organisms (EMs) as he began experimenting with yeasts, phototrophic bacteria, and lactic acid bacteria, which led to Bokashi, a holistic technology for humankind.
How it works
The Bokashi bins have two containers, one kept tightly inside the other. The process is quite simple: The wet waste is composted in the airtight inner container for over three weeks. To start, you need the Bokashi pickling bin, Bokashi bran (which you need a regular supply of and is easy to get), and a layering bin. Learning the process is very easy, with the user manuals supplied with the bins. Every day, you put in the kitchen waste and spray microbes in powder form. By adding a bit of jaggery (gur), the fermentation process is accelerated. The tap on the lower container lets out the acidic residue collected through perforations of the inner container which is filled with wet waste. The residue, called ‘brue,’ can be mixed with water and used for plants. Bokashi is an anaerobic process, so the containers need to be kept as free from oxygen as possible. It’s important to compress each day’s waste flat into the container so as to eliminate any air pockets and to avoid stirring up the previous day’s waste when putting in new garbage.
After three weeks, the wet waste is ready to be mixed with soil or compost, where it further breaks down to minute particles, and the process is complete over a period of five weeks.
I definitely don’t consider myself an expert, nor can I say that I have found all the answers to a non-messy home-composting method. Many of my friends ask me why I use both the methods and whether I have a preference. Honestly, I don't have any preference, nor have I, in all my years of googling, found any research that I can concretely define as a clear winner. However, through years of use, I have found that the Bokashi method pickles much of our kitchen waste with ease. It also takes up very little space, and my citrus plants do great with Bokashi compost. Yes, I have faced challenges with both the methods (and sometimes still do), so the real reason I compost is that composting makes not only me happy but also my garden and the vegetables I grow.
The right ingredients are crucial to composting success! Here is a list of the waste that you can compost:
Wet waste: This is the wet, live matter that decomposes quickly and gives the required moisture to the compost.
Fruit and vegetable peels (corn on the cob must be cut small when present)
Rotting vegetable and fruit scraps (uncooked)
Plant cuttings, flowers, and other garden clippings (without the seed heads/roots)
Tea leaves and teabags
Dry waste: This is generally called ‘browns’ and provides the carbon required for the microbes to multiply. The composting pot needs to have both the green and the brown waste in equal measure, to ensure a healthy compost.
Dried leaves, chopped straw, and small twigs
Non-glossy paper, shredded
Filter paper from coffee machines
Cardboard and shredded cardboard food-container boxes, with the food residue removed as much as possible
Used kitchen paper, and kitchen and toilet paper cardboard rolls
Add the following with caution:
Cotton wool (non-contaminated), sawdust that is not chemically treated, and hair.
Use coconut shells as nursery plants carriers rather than plastic bags. These can be directly sown into the soil.
Put holes in the bottom of an empty tender coconut.
Fill it with mud and plant the seeds in the coconut.
Plant the coconut in the ground. The holes in the coconut help the roots to grow without any obstruction.
This eliminates the usage of plastic bags in the nursery and also, when the coconut degrades in the soil, it provides nutrients as well as retains water for the plant to grow.
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