The scientific processing of solid waste is one of the key focus areas of the Swacch Bharat program of the Government of India. The Ministry of Urban Development has recently launched a TV ad campaign featuring actor Ambitabh Bacchan that urges people to convert food waste into compost. Composting is an excellent way of managing solid biodegradable waste. In India we produce 300 to 400 gms. of solid waste per person per day in town of normal size. The figure is 500 to 800 gms. per capita per day in cities like Delhi and Bombay of which about 23% is vegetable waste.
In rural areas, generally, many farmers dump all their farm wastes and manure into a large pit in the farm called, ‘ Eru Kuzhi’ and leave it there untreated for a whole year. Even after a year, the decomposition process may not be complete and may only be partially decomposed. Instead of dumping wastes in a pit and leaving it to natural decomposition, the wastes and manure could be made to undergo a process of active and faster decomposition, through the science of composting, and turned into rich compost. Composting is a technology in itself! The fully decomposed, finished compost is rich in Carbon, Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium and most importantly, microorganisms. Composting with household waste has the following benefits:
- Increases the moisture absorption and retention capacity of the soil
- Adds diverse nutrients to the soil
- Enhances soil health keeping it free from pests
For the uninitiated, composting may seem like a daunting task. As an initial enthusiast, one does not find the time to segregate the waste meticulously, empty the organic contents into the compost box/pit, tirelessly gather all the grass clippings, shred them into fine pieces and get the right mixture of brown (carbon) materials and green (nitrogenous) materials. We often forget that composting is a continuous process and it has to be maintained well. For all the lazy folks out there who don’t want to invest too much time, but still produce good quality soil and find a more ecologically appealing way to get rid of your organic waste, this method is for you:
- Place an old wide bowl beside your kitchen sink.
- While washing vessels, put it in the sink, so as to collect all the waste water.
- Add the food waste and leftovers to this bowl.
- Be sure to add the fruit peels, vegetable peels, and all other organic waste into this bowl. (Keep in mind that the bowl has to have water)
- As the bowl of water and waste becomes full, empty it into your compost pit.
They key advantage of this method is that, since the food waste and peels are in water, it will neither attract any flies nor will it produce even the least bit of bad smell.
Making the compost pit:
- Just outside your house, find a place (2m*2m) or even (1m*1m) and be sure that it is as close to the kitchen as possible. (For the days when you start philosophising about the whole point of composting and having to pour the bowl of water into the pit everyday!)
- Demarcate the place with bricks (that is what we have done), or any other ingenious ways are also welcome.
- Fill the pit with all the weeds that you can find around your house. This will add to the green materials and will increase the fibre content and hence the water retention capacity of the soil. Also add all the dried leaves that you can find. (We have added predominantly Indian beech tree leaves (Ponga maram in tamil), and Neem leaves. You will be surprised as to how quickly the matter will reduce in volume.
- To this, pour the bowl as it gets filled.
- Turn over the contents once in a month or so. By the end of two months, you will have rich brown soil which you can use for your kitchen garden.
It is okay if the compost pit is exposed to the sun, but make sure the pit is 60% moist, This is crucial, as if it gets too dry or wet, the essential microbes and worms find it hard to survive. Remember, it is not you who is composting, but these little worms and insects. Do make sure you keep their home cozy, comfortable and moist! :’)
Also, whenever possible, dilute Panchagavyam or even cow dung in water (3% solution) and pour it into the pit.
We have been following this method for over three years and not once has there been any bad smell. The pit does attract a whole lot of insects, some even 10cms long, so be sure to slightly disturb it a little before turning over. This will give them enough time to find a safe corner somewhere nearby. You are very lucky if you are able to attract earthworms into your pit. If you do happen to find plenty of them, then there is no need to turn the matter as it will hurt and kill these little worms. Earthworms are very sensitive and, it is not a good idea to disturb them too much. Also, the quality of soil in a pit with earthworms present are unparalleled.