From table to soil

Recycling kitchen waste is one of the best ways to create a nourishing environment for your little garden

Published - April 20, 2017 05:22 pm IST

Green thumb  Composting the right way is essential for your kitchen garden

Green thumb Composting the right way is essential for your kitchen garden

As most areas in India experience long, dry summers, gardening activity is at the minimum. This is the ideal time to set up a composting unit that will be a long-term asset in your kitchen garden. ‘Compost’ is essentially any organic matter that is recycled to produce a rich fertiliser that also improves soil structure.

If you are growing your own vegetables, it also follows that they be naturally grown. Having immediate access to pesticide-free vegetables is one of the greatest joys of kitchen gardening, and the best medium to produce them is soil rich in compost. This adds natural nutrients to the soil, that helps the plant to grow strong and productive, without the aid of artificial additives. Though there are a range of quality organic products available in the market, making your own compost comes with many bonuses. First, you will be turning the waste from your kitchen and garden into a useful product; second, by separating your waste, you will be participating in one of the planet’s vital issues — garbage disposal and recycling. It also reduces health risks to garbage collectors who have to sort through decaying vegetable matter to access recyclable materials.

Start with separating your waste, keeping all recyclable materials (plastic, glass, metal) aside for collection. As most bio-degradable products come from your kitchen, place your collection bins within easy access, labelling each if necessary.

Getting started

Your composting unit could be a large plastic bin with holes drilled into the sides, a wire-mesh enclosure or even a shallow pit in the corner of your garden. Ready-to-use compost buckets are available in garden centres — this works best for apartments and small spaces.

Compostable materials

Kitchen waste: Vegetable trimmings, fruit peels, crushed eggshells, tea leaves, coffee grounds, eggshells. Keep cooked food to the minimum.

From your garden: Grass cuttings, twigs, leaves, dried flowers and stalks.

Other: Paper products can be added in moderation, except for plastic-coated paper. Cow dung, chicken droppings, goat dung, which can be sourced from your milkman or nearest farm, will improve the quality of the compost. Wood ash and straw, which comes with packing material, is also a valuable addition.

The basic requirements for composting are natural decomposable matter, air and water. The process needs nitrogen and carbon, which are present in different organic materials. Nitrogen produces enzymes for growth and carbon gives heat and energy to the compost. Ideally recommended — a ratio of 1 part of nitrogen-based green matter (fruit and vegetable waste, grass, coffee grounds, tea leaves) to 30 of brown carbon matter (leaves, straw, wood ash, paper). But, this is just a guideline — a balance of green and brown materials in moderation works equally well. Importantly, keep all material about the same size; this will speed up the process.

If animal products like meat, bones or fish are added, cover with a layer of soil immediately to avoid flies and odour.

  • Cooked food, meat and dairy products decompose at a variable rate and can exude foul odours. Bokashi is a Japanese method of composting which uses inoculated bran granules to produce clean odourless compost in a closed environment. It is ideal for households and institutions who want to turn food waste into compost. Small bokashi buckets are available for apartments and small spaces.

Basic Steps

1. Start with a thin layer of garden soil at the bottom, which will introduce the tiny organisms and earthworms that help aerate the compost.

2. Add some straw or dried twigs to drain off excess moisture. Then start adding the waste material in layers — alternating wet and dry materials. Spread it evenly, do not press down or pack tight.

3. Lightly sprinkle with water. Cover with a damp gunny sack in dry weather, or plastic sheet in rainy weather; cover with a lid if using a plastic bin. Over the days, add periodically — a thin layer of soil, grass cuttings, hay, wood ash and any natural waste material, remembering to balance the additions. A sprinkling of powdered lime (monthly) will speed up the process.

Turn the mass around every two weeks. Decomposition starts immediately; periodic care and a few precautionary measures will produce better results. Water and oxygen are required for the process, but too much of either will be detrimental. If kept outdoors, remember to protect it from extreme elements.

The compost will take three to six months to mature to a rich crumbly consistency, ready for use in your garden. The time it takes depends on the contents, weather and aeration. Start your next unit when the first fills up, repeating the same process. Most gardeners have their own secret recipes and experimental methods of improving and producing superior compost, and in time you will find your own.

Perfect balance
  • Composting is often poetically referred to as the Yin and Yang of gardening — Nitrogen-based Yin is moist, green, nourishing; Yang is carbon — dry, brown and substantial. Both combine to complete the cycle of life.

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