All this new stuff goes on top
turn it over, turn it over
wait and water down
from the dark bottom
turn it inside out
let it spread through
Sift down even.
Watch it sprout.
A mind like compost.
― Gary Snyder
Left to itself, Nature accomplishes everything at its own pace. All we need to do is create an atmosphere that does not harm its processes in any manner. These leaf composters sitting pretty in a community garden are doing just that: hold the substrate together and help the mesophilic bacteria make way for the thermophilic ones. As the latter travel towards the core, they churn out a bacterial bonfire and turn this otherwise unwanted load of leaf litter and garden clippings into lovely humus.
For composting to happen, the first important step is to heap it up. Heaping up means heating up. When sufficient moisture goes in, the all-powerful-yet-invisible microbes begin to coax life out of that beautiful leaf litter. In a while, it’s time to scoop out black aromatic humus ready to enrich the soil in your garden.
Simple, cost-effective and efficient, these leaf composters designed by Soil and Health borrow a lot from the traditional method of composting in rural areas. But unlike composting in a farm where rejects pasted with soil with troughs of animal dung thrown in and laden with moisture that the ground absorbs, composting solutions in urban areas demand a lot more attention-to-detail when it comes to design and durability.
In the hinterland, constructing a barricade with bamboo poles or sticks around the heap itself serves as a solution. But not so in a cosmopolitan city like Bengaluru (or any Indian metro for that matter) where heaps of garbage merge themselves into the background effortlessly, but a solution such as this takes years for our civic authorities to think through.
It’s especially disheartening in our Garden City. You can’t picturise or describe it without its trees! Nor can you separate a tree from its leaf litter and vice versa. But these days, it’s almost impossible to leave the stench of burning dry leaves out of any conversation associated with trees or leaf litter. But if you are someone who transforms leaf litter into humus, you know how to see a tree in its totality. And a composting tool such as this is all you need to bring yourself closer to that.
The composters designed and sold by Soil and Health come in two sizes: 5ft diameter x 5 ft height and 3ft diameter x 4.5 ft height, with or without legs. However, Proprietor Vasuki Iyengar is not averse to customising. All composters are made using one-inch MS iron square mesh painted by green epoxy paint to delay rusting. An 8mm rough-cut sand mesh of up to four feet height runs from bottom-up to prevent rodents from digging in. There’s a hatch at the bottom to scoop out the compost as and when it’s ready. The larger ones have two hatches. The one without legs and base must be placed on cement blocks mainly to prevent rodents from finding their way in from the ground.
For 5ftx5 ft composter, you will need 6ft L x 6ft B space. No roof required. In case of 3ftx4.5ft composter—known as Swacha Beedhi composter—you will need 3ftx4ft space. Preferably, these composters must be placed under a tree to prevent moisture evaporation, especially during summer. Five jute sacks should be spread on top to preserve moisture.
Please click the link below to see the set-up process. For the subsequent batches, you can use the same compost as accelerator. Using cow dung slurry speeds up the process. Says Vasuki, “A leaf composter installed at Sahney Farm, Bengaluru, which has eight horses, adds horse, cow and sheep dung to the composter.”
Durability depends on how regularly the composters get repainted. To keep them rust-free, repainting is required once in two years. Says Vasuki: “The rusting will show up on the composter, but it can withstand as long as it is repainted. The lifespan is usually six years after repainting every two years.”
- 5ft dia x 5ft height, no legs: Rs 14,000 + transportation + 12% GST. Six Bioclean (a cocopeat-based accelerator) blocks of 5kg each, 1-litre EM (effective micro-organisms) solution, 1kg neem powder. To be setup on 50 cement blocks not included in the package.
- 5ft dia x 5ft height, seven legs and a base: Rs 18,000 + transportation + 12% GST. Includes six Bioclean blocks of 5kg each, 1-litre EM solution, 1kg neem powder.
- Swacha Beedhi composter, 3ft dia x 4ft 9 inch height, four legs and a base: Rs 10,000 + transportation + 12% GST. Includes three Bioclean blocks of 5kg each, 1-litre EM solution, 1kg neem powder.
- Swacha Beedhi composter, 3ft dia x 4ft height,no legs: Rs 9,000 + transportation + 12% GST. Includes three Bioclean blocks of 5kg each, 1-litre EM solution, 1kg neem powder. To be setup on 12 cement blocks. Not included in the package.
It can be your home composter, too
When managed well, these leaf composters can double up as your kitchen waste composters as well. Do make sure that you put the kitchen waste right in the centre at 1:10 ratio (kitchen waste : garden clippings/dry leaves) so that it doesn’t attract rodents. But if you add regular or microbial cocopeat, then it can be 1:5 ratio. Says Vasuki, “We have more than 25 homes which are processing their kitchen waste in leaf composters. In fact, they even borrow waste from their neighbours and process it.”
“We have some customers who process their Bokashi pickle in our leaf composters. Bokashi pickle accelerates the process,” he adds.
A word of caution
According to Vasuki, the biggest advantage is the ample air circulation all around. When you are processing only garden waste, rainwater passes through the composter and feeds the soil below and nearby trees and plants. The air dries up fast. But the dynamics change when kitchen waste comes in. “When in excess, it can cause odour. So care needs to be taken to maintain the ratio.”
Reviving the soil around
When leachate comes in contact with the ground, magical things begin to happen. The cow dung residue or the decomposing mass attracts grubs and earthworms which make their way through the gaps between the cement blocks and participate in the process as Nature dictates.
Vasuki has observed another positive feature. “Leaf composters are kept in the open and when it rains, rainwater enters and helps dry leaves compost well. Rainwater has magic. After passing through the leaf composter, a large quantity of it comes out diluted. It’s highly nutritious and leaves the surrounding area more fertile than before. The vegetation including the trees under which they are installed also get nourished by the power-packed liquid. As we maintain a healthy 1:10 ratio of (kitchen waste : dry leaves), it will have a balanced pH value.”
Fits in multiple locations
Of the 150+ composters sold so far, 25+ of them have found a home in temples. Another 25+ have been bought by Swacha Beedhi volunteers who adopt a street or a neighbourhood to compost whatever organic material they can lay their hands on. Similarly, several apartments and churches have also installed these composters. Above all, there are some dotting Lalbagh Botanical Garden and of course, Cubbon Park (see the slideshow above).
A free-for-all design
Considering the simplicity of its design and potential, Vasuki decided to let people get the composters made themselves with the help of local fabricators. “We provide the design and additional consumables like EM solution, Bioclean and even guidance on using cow dung slurry.”
The slideshow below shows a major harvesting session at Sri Shakthi Kalyana Mahaganapathi Temple located at Kalyana Nagar, Banaswadi.
Soil and Health Solutions,
No.11, Greenfields 2, Gubbalala Cross,
Kanakapura Road, Bangalore 560062,
Phone: 94813 52125 / 98456 90778.