Quite a few community composting methods have evolved over the last few years, but I thought of kicking off this series with my personal favourite: Platform composting. That’s because it’s the easiest, the simplest, the most cost-effective and a hassle-free aerobic solution to compost both your kitchen and garden waste.
For a case study, I didn’t have to look beyond Malleswaram where eco activist Dr Meenakshi Bharath has been using this method successfully for the last 4.5 years. This method works both at individual and community levels quite effectively. In short, it’s easily scalable at a minute cost.
First things first: A shredder
Ideally, to speed up decomposition, a shredder is a must for all types of composting. It takes care of the physical breakdown of the raw material and reduces the turnaround time significantly. That also means saving space, labour, energy and of course, cost. Otherwise, large watermelon, pumpkin pieces and even citrus peels take a lot of time to decompose, thereby slowing down the entire process.
As the name suggests, you have to put together a platform using cement blocks, wooden logs and coconut branches to provide a one-foot-high gap between the platform and the ground so that the leachate that trickles down is quickly absorbed by the ground beneath and air travels up the pile from the bottom. The only accelerator needed here is cow dung. You could also use sour curd to introduce beneficial bacteria into the pile.
A shredder (please Google for various types of shredders) comes at various sizes and costs. Pick the one keeping in mind the quantity of the waste to be composted. For the platform, you will not need more than a couple of thousands of rupees. The only operational cost here is cow dung and of course, power expenditure if you are using a shredder.
Once you shred the waste, spread it on the platform after you dip the waste into cow dung slurry. No need to rack your brains over extra moisture as it drips down without any hassle. Go on piling it up till it reaches around a four-foot height (a little higher if the waste is not shredded). You could use a jute cloth or a shade net to cover the pile to reduce moisture evaporation. It takes about two months for the entire pile to turn into wonderful compost. If you have not used a shredder, then it may take longer and you will have to sieve the compost, take out the semi-done compost and put it into a new pile.
Odour was not an issue at all at Dr Meenakshi’s backyard. But she insists that if you mix both kitchen and garden waste, then adding sufficient cow dung is a must. Otherwise, food waste can certainly create odour issues. I saw no cockroaches or flies over the pile which was left uncovered. If anything, it was that sweet, earthy smell emanating from two piles.
Earthworms in the pile
As you can see in the pictures, earthworms, attracted to the cow dung, enter the pile on their own and multiply at their own pace. If you have ensured proper moisture and sufficient cow dung, you will see ceaseless earthworm movement—a sign that all your efforts have been simply worth it.
Aesthetics is a subjective issue and each one of us has our own idea of it. In fact, how we look at composting—a natural process that goes on silently in the world around us—actually lays bare how evolved our mindsets are. For someone like Dr Meenakshi, the sight is not a problem at all as she looks at this silent process where precious resource gets transformed into nutrient-rich organic manure as a beautiful activity that helps one move closer to nature.
But things can get tricky if you want to execute it in a gated community or an apartment complex. In that case, moving this activity into a well-ventilated room can be a good idea. Else, carving out some space where the piles can be hidden using a shade net or even plastic sheets takes away all your worries.
‘Nature is the best judge’
If you are planning to compost both food and garden (both fresh and dry) waste, then your compost will have a proper carbon-nitrogen ratio (C:N). But this ratio isn’t something that Dr Meenakshi gives a hoot about. “We are using all kinds of leaves and nutritious food waste here. Earthworms enter the pile and actually turn into vermi-compost. Why worry so much about the C:N ratio?”
All the papaya, avocado and coconut trees; tomato, cabbage and cauliflower, and various creepers like basale, bitter gourd and ridged gourd growing so nicely in her garden further bolster her firm belief: “Nature is the best judge”.
“Look at my avocado tree. I used to get much smaller avocados earlier. Now they are much bigger. All the composting has been going on right under this tree. If there was anything lacking in this compost, then that would have affected my trees and plants. But that’s simply not the case!”
So, if you have some space, a shredder and supply of enough cow dung, just get going. Shred it, spread it and forget it.