Among almost all urban farmers, interest in composting seems to be a frequent corollary of their passionate love for organic gardening, or vice versa. Bengaluru, despite being the epicentre of garbage crisis, can be distinctly conscious of this silver lining and take obvious pride in it.
That said, in our pursuit to transform food and garden waste into small black particles, have we let the art of composting sidestep the science of composting? Is this a silly, juvenile romance with composting conveniently aided by the earthy aroma of moist humus? Worst of all, are we deluding ourselves into thinking that whatever we touch becomes “Black Gold”?
Busting these ‘myths’ was anything but a herculean task. All it needed was getting a few compost samples subjected to scientific scrutiny in a good material-testing laboratory. The samples came from composting expert and avid urban farmer Vani Murthy’s ‘factory’. They were Bokashi, vermicompost and Daily Dump—the methods which Vani has been using to transform all her food and garden waste into compost.
But no, it was not doubt that triggered this trip to the lab. It was curiosity. A deep-seated desire to know what exactly resides in the dark realms of a fistful of compost. No, it was not about promoting any particular vendor or method. These methods just happened to be the ones practised and perfected by Vani over five-plus years.
“Too numerous to count”
All the three tests revealed one fantastic feature on “microbial load”: “Too numerous to count”!
How does it feel to be surrounded by this invisible force of nature? Says Vani: “I can’t see them but I can feel them, smell them in my compost—my magical soil-enhancer that grows my healthy veggies. The richness of the compost tells me that I have a huge army on my terrace. All they need is to be fed with my kitchen leftovers to create their magic. The idea that I am able to make alliance with these unseen ‘micropals’ that work tirelessly, creating magic with my kitchen waste overwhelms me.”
All the headaches over C:N, pH, EC…
Sir Albert Howard, the father of organic farming, once said: “Compost is a creature of circumstances”. It is difficult to take out balanced compost with perfect pH, C:N or EC each time you harvest a potful of compost. What goes in decides what comes out. Put simply, you reap what you sow. Should one be so perturbed about a teeny-weeny spike in carbon-nitrogen ratio? Should you let this pip-squeak of a number overshadow your love for composting?
Let’s put our common sense to use: There is no way your plants will continue to glisten in the sun if every slight anomaly in the readings of these essential parameters were to cause irreparable damage. It’s as simple as that. Check out this gallery to see the glory of organic terrace gardening, Vani Murthy’s labour of love.
The tyranny of specialisation
There are times when we surrender ourselves to the tyranny of specialisation, we tend to consign common sense to a bottomless bin. We forget that our previous generations simply dug a pit, sprinkled a layer of soil and then let nature work its creative magic on it. In villages, farmers heaped it up (they still do) with generous amounts of cow and buffalo dung, chicken manure and other organic material and went on stacking straw on it layer by layer. They didn’t give two hoots to C:N ratio or pH level. Generations have not only survived but also thrived on this compost which went back to the soil and gave bumper crops. At least it’s been so with my family farms.
Missing the woods for the trees
When we get too involved in discussing these parameters, we forget that composting is a natural occurrence which keeps life flourishing all over the planet. Yes, when forced into a controlled environment like our balcony, utility area or apartment complex, we will not have the freedom that our rural counterparts have. Specialisation to prevent odour, rats, flies, etc., has to come in. Then comes the inevitability of discussing C:N ratio, pH value, EC and what not. But let’s not forget that it is also composting that very much mimics the natural process. The only difference here is that it’s been accelerated with specialised aids. That’s all.
At the same time, nobody is denying the importance of well-balanced compost. What is being stressed here is the futility of missing the woods for the trees.
As the above test results make it clear, your own compost can add “too-numerous-to-count” load of microbes to the soil. Even if you go wrong repeatedly, do not lose heart because each time you are close to cracking it. Let it begin as a science and achieve artistry as you move on. Your efforts are priceless because you are saving the soil from synthetic fertiliser and pesticide pollution.
“I feel so very privileged to be able to talk about microbes and help people understand the simplicity of their job to keep their soil alive and keep their waste away from landfills,” adds Vani.
Put simply, please go ahead and compost. It is too precious to be wished away over silly doubts and a terrible waste of resources to be dumped in landfills.
Happy New Year!