Kids watched wide-eyed as eco-conscious householders shared tips on recycling waste and growing vegetables

The VOC Park buzzes with excited children drowning out the noisy birds. Around 100 students, from different schools in Coimbatore are gathered here to participate in the six day-long “Nurture Nature Summer Camp 2013” organised by Siruthuli. Today, the kids will visit two households in the city that use garbage in an innovative way.

Before the excursion, R. R. Balasundaram and P. Vincent brief the children about importance of energy conservation and waste re-use. Balasundaram who has installed solar panels in his house tells them how solar energy is a cheap source of electricity. “The initial cost is high. However, this should not be seen as a waste of money, but an investment. Their benefits are life-long.” Vincent, who cultivates vegetables in his garden, informs them how every time we waste food, we waste water. “It is called virtual water, as you cannot see it. But when you waste a banana, you waste litres of water that were used to grow it.”

And, then the journey begins. The first halt is at J. Leelavathi’s, where she has installed a bio-gas plant. The children walk around the huge cylinder-shaped plant. Gathering the children around him, Suresh from Siruthuli explains how it works. “Initially, you need to put some cow dung as the process needs bacteria. Feed in the waste mixed with water through an opening. It then takes just a couple of hours to break the waste down and the gas to be produced. This semi-liquid residue that comes out of another opening, when diluted with water, is excellent manure for plants.”

“Will the gas leak?” asks a parent. “No, bio-gas is light. It will only rise up and escape into the air.” The gas tube connected to the plant runs through the window into the kitchen, and is connected to a separate stove. Leelavathi calls the children into her kitchen and shows them the stove. “The left over food, water with which we wash rice, egg shells and vegetable peels can be used. But do not use bones and plastic waste,” she warns them.

The bus then takes the children to Chitra Krishnaswamy’s house. Chitra has a terrace garden and makes manure out of her kitchen wastes. She shows her audience huge terracotta jars in which she prepares her manure. “I mix vegetable waste, red soil and dry leaves. Dry leaves are compulsory as they do not let worms and maggots thrive on the wet kitchen waste,” she explains.

Her terrace is a mini farm with pine-apples, sapotas, lady’s fingers, brinjals, varieties of tomatoes, carrots, chillies, keerais and even giant white pumpkins!

“I began cultivating the terrace garden, just six months ago. For the past two months, we have not bought any vegetable from the market. These are much tastier,” she says. Chitra then allows the children to plant radishes, chillies and tomatoes in plastic tubs. She promises them that she will update them on their progress and gift them the veggies, once they are ready.

One of the students Bharath is inspired enough to declare, “Making a kitchen garden is not complicated at all. You can plant vegetables in plastic buckets. I will definitely try my hand at kitchen gardening, when I get back home.”