DIY composting in Kashmir: CRPF HC Krishna Murthy follows heart, dirties hands & churns out humus

CRPF Head Constable Krishna Murthy (left) and his colleagues succeed in their first kitchen waste composting experiment in J&K.

I have had the privilege of guiding scores of volunteers from across India in kitchen and garden waste composting over the decade. Never once did I witness the enthusiasm and the spirited follow-ups that CRPF Head Constable Krishna Murthy exhibited from start to finish. He belongs to the 82nd battalion, Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and is posted in Bishamber Nagar, Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir.

It was my friend SOIL Vasu who patched me through to Mr Murthy over a phone call. Although Mr Murthy hails from Doddaballapura, Bangalore, and has been an organic farmer well-versed in preparing jeevamrutha, panchagavya and similar traditional soil recipes, he had no experience in processing kitchen waste. Moreover, in the absence of standardised composting kits that come along with beneficial microbes needed to speed up the breakdown process, the challenge was to make do with whatever he could lay his hands on within the compound walls.

So, it began. An old plastic barrel was drilled with holes all around and also at the bottom to let excess moisture seep down. Mr Murthy found a long PVC pipe, drilled it with holes and figured out a way to stick it right at the centre of the barrel to allow aeration in the core. He went to the carpentry section within his unit, fetched sawdust and wood scrapings. He sought help from his colleagues in the nearby battalions and sourced dry leaves as his own unit did not have it in sufficient quantity. Lastly, he sought help from the gardener to fetch him cow dung.

Check out the ingredients sourced and the particle size!

Since all the kitchen waste came from the canteen, it was easy to get the rejects cut into smaller pieces. Once all the ingredients and the infrastructure were in place, Mr Murthy waited for June 7, World Food Safety Day, to kick off his experiment.

To start with, he placed about a six-inch-thick layer of crushed dry leaves at the bottom and sprinkled sawdust/scrapings on top of it. This is to absorb any extra moisture that drips down. Since there was no accelerator (cow dung was sourced only at the end of the experiment), we decided to let the bacterial activity, present naturally in the contents, build up at its own pace. Mr Murthy mixed the crushed dry leaves, the kitchen waste and some sawdust and scrapings, and spread it evenly in the barrel. He topped it off with one more layer of brown content and closed the lid. This process continued until the barrel almost filled up. When the gardener working on his campus fetched him cow dung, Mr Murthy made a slurry and mixed it with the decomposing waste. (Please note: this step could have been avoided as it resulted in extra moisture build-up. From the next batch onwards, he will use dry cow dung powder).

Mr Murthy kept an eye on the pile and checked the temperature with his palm every now and then. “It was high initially and kept coming down gradually as the pile got reduced in size.”

About five weeks later, the pile almost cooled down. Harvesting time!

Even as the experiment was half way through, five high-ranking CRPF officials visited Mr Murthy’s unit and observed the composting process. They got curious and kept questioning Mr Murthy. Once they were convinced about the efficacy and simplicity of the whole exercise, they told him to extend the DIY operation to seven more units located nearby.

Mr Krishna is currently busy setting up more composters in his own unit and wants to use the cured compost for the existing kitchen garden and work towards cultivating the soil.

Then comes the expansion.

“That all the nutrients needed by our garden are there right in the kitchen waste which everyone likes to throw away is an eyeopener for me.”

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