Wednesday, 16 March 2011

3 mistakes of my composting

When I moved from vermi composting to Daily Dump - I thought I had found the perfect solution without having to do anything.. almost. Daily Dump is a cool product, comes with a neat manual and troubleshooting tips, but I must admit that initially, I did not follow all the instructions by the word either because I was lazy or because I did not attempt to understand the science behind the whole thing or both.

First mistake - Not enough dry leaves:
I initially thought this was for containing moisture in order to restrict the population of maggots (maggots actually aid the composting), yet I was careless and failed. When I started adding dry leaves/saw dust, I saw better results. I later got to know that the carbon in the dry leaves is required to offset the Nitrogen rich kitchen waste by providing fuel for the composting process. On cold winter mornings, one can actually see the vapour rising as one stirs the pile.

Second mistake - Not enough water:
I was so scared of maggots that I deliberately kept the pile a little on the drier side and was happy to not see many maggots. And the result - a very high soluble salt content (measured in terms of electrical conductivity) in the compost. The normal levels are less than 1 m mhos/cm but my compost had a value of 12!!

Third mistake - excluding citrus peels completely:
I somehow thought citrus was bad as it would make the compost acidic because I read that we need to balance it by adding baking soda. Actually, a slightly acidic compost and hence a slightly acidic soil is actually good. I did use the peels in our dishwashing powder along with soap nuts and shikakai. However, the compost turned alkaline with a pH of 8.47.
So, these days, I put the odd lemon peel into the pile.

More mistakes and remedies can be found at DailyDump..

The NPK values were satisfactory with Nitrogen being higher than normal but I am happy since our soil lacks N.
I have started using earthworms on semi decomposed waste, so this time, the compost should be of much better quality.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Connecting with the older generation

These days, I find myself doing quite a bit of domestic work at home. Not that I am complaining.. more on that in another post. One of my activities includes going to the local flour mill. Our visits to the flour mill have increased ever since we switched to natural and bio-degradable alternatives for washing hair - a mixture of soapy nuts(Reetha in Hindi/Antwaal in Kannada), Shikakai and various dals. I have also finally managed to convince my mom to switch to a similar mixture for dishwashing too. And that is what took me to the flour mill today - to get a mixture of soapy nuts, shikakai and dried orange/lemon peels done. As usual, the 83-old owner of the flour mill greeted me with his one-toothed smile :) I have always appreciated him for his hardwork, dedication and cheerfulness even at such a ripe age. Today, we spoke a lot more than usual. After the usual questions about the Reva, it was my turn to ask questions. Going by his nature and his age, I guessed that he should have been part of our freedom struggle, and I was right. I have always had a fascination for freedom fighters - my respect made stronger by a freedom fighter who was our neighbour who drove many community initiatives. So this old man had spent 20 days in a Bellary jail and one day in Bangalore Central jail. There was a sparkle in his eyes when he talked about being in jail.
There was more to come. When I enquired about his freedom fighter's pension, he said he had not opted for it saying the same money can be used for someone else who has probably lost a limb in the struggle for our freedom. His reasoning is that he is still capable of earning for himself and his share of the pension can be given to someone else who is in need. Before I left, I did tell him that we are also fighting a different kind of freedom struggle - a struggle to 'save the earth' for ourselves and our future. Even I said this, he threw away his plastic tea cup on the road. But, I told myself - this is a mess that we have created and it is our responsibility to solve it. They have already done their bit in the 1940s.

Back home, I happened to have one of the many heart-to-heart conversations with my grandmom. Today, she told me about how she (and many others in her generation) struggled to raise half a dozen or more kids, sometimes single handedly as the husband led a care-free life. Compare that to today's woman who has access to specialized hospitals to help deliver children and playhomes and grandparents to take care of the kids. She laughed when I told her that fathers get paternity leaves too.

At the end of the day, I felt that every generation has its saviours and strugglers who make it easier for the next generation.