Black gold

The desire for gold is not for gold. It is for the means of freedom and benefit. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Being a woman, as I am expected to go ga-ga over gold, I chose a different colored one instead. Black gold. No, I don’t have any slick oil deals, but I stick to good old home-made compost. Rana and I were introduced into the world of solid waste

3 tier Kambha (small)

management when we worked with the dedicated teams of Citizen Matters and 2bin1bag. We haven’t stopped talking trash since then. One of the many things we learned in this journey was to keep our wet waste with us. Since we were planning to move homes, I thought of using a guinea pig – my father. He went in for a  home composter, the smallest earthen Kambha set from Daily Dump.

It has been fairly smooth sailing for him. He proudly says that not even a single curry leaf has left his home. The initial bag of remix powder (cocopeat) lasted him for nearly 12 months. In terms of investment, it has been quite minimal, even if you consider INR 140 for a remix bag! This is a system of aerobic composting, where the

Curry leaves and lemons harvested from my father's garden

Curry leaves and lemons harvested from my father’s garden

pots have holes in them, allowing for movement of air. Once you “prepare” a pot – that is, add a layer of newspaper, dry leaves and a few handfuls of remix powder or mature compost- all you need to do is add the wet waste and layer it with remix powder. No stirring required. You can do this ritual every day, or whenever you gather about a few handfuls of wet waste. He keeps his composting unit indoors, so that he doesn’t have to take extra precaution during rains. There is decent ventilation at home, and hence, there is no smell near the Kambha.

While he was midway into this journey, we shifted homes. We were looking for a unit for a four-member household and I thought of going in for

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Notice the holes on the sides

two 55 ltr drums from Shudh Labh. This comes with a bottom tray, and the process is similar to Daily Dump’s Kambha, as this is also aerobic. One layer of “greens” (the wet waste) needs to be topped up with a layer of “browns” (microbial cocopeat, in this case). You might ask me, “Hey, but these drums are plastic!” Yes, of course, but this isn’t a single-use disposable. Just imagine, after every use, if I begin to throw these drums!

 

IMG_20161105_130727This was our first harvest of black gold, the mature compost – its fragrance reminding us of the wet earth after the first rains. We sieved it, because we thenIMG_20161105_133413 began to gift our compost. My mum-in-law says that in her days, she would prepare sweets, or sambar powder, or a special dish to gift her loved ones. Times

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Half-done compost tells tales, of who sneaked in groundnuts while nobody was watching

are a-changing, and she now collects idli batter covers to gift compost 😀 The usual practice in any Indian home is to take guests around and show off our place. In our family, we show off our garbage. I mean, we show them all the wet waste that has been sitting around for months.

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Mature compost, sieved

But this wasn’t without hiccups. My dad was layering wet waste with compost and saving

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My mum-in-law cutting peels, to hasten the composting process.

on money. “Oh, you think I can’t do the same?” said the thought bubble in my head. So, at home, I advised everyone to use a mix of microbial cocopeat and mature compost for the layer of browns. They say, “penny wise pound foolish”, and for a good reason. After one of the drums filled up and we parked it aside for it to

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White fungus on top, a sign of healthy compost

mature, it began giving out leachate in the tray below. The tray is there for that reason, but that didn’t necessarily mean we had to ensure it was used! What followed next was an exercise of drying out the half-done compost, adding a lot of extra microbial cocopeat to hold the moisture, and splitting this into two drums. In the process of trying to beat my father’s low spending, I ended up spending more money and time in fixing problems. Of course, we were rich with experience. I now gift free advice, tips and tricks along with home-made compost.

The time had come, again. Do we try a different method? I was still hell bent on cutting

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No holes. What are friends for, if you don’t exchange composting bins? 😉

down on cost, you see. I was discussing these with my friends, gathering tips. Just then, my friend, Anjana, said she had moved to leave-it pots by Daily Dump. She offered to let me borrow her Trustbin bins. Now, this is a system of anaerobic composting, where the container doesn’t have any holes. You prepare the bin by adding a handful of jaggery, and place a tray on top of it. Add your wet waste, press it down to remove any extra air, and layer with two tablespoons of bran for every inch of wet waste. After a bin is full, keep it aside for a minimum of two weeks, where the wet waste ferments and gets “pickled”. This, is the first stage of the bokashi method. If you open the bin, you will get a strong, vinegar-like smell. You might take a bit of time getting used to it, but this is probably a point to be wary of, in this method.

 

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Palak in our kitchen garden

In the second stage, you go back to aerobic method. Take out a layer of fermented pickle and add it to the aerobic container. Layer it with an equal quantity of already mature compost. I had a lot of the latter, anyway. So right now, I am using a combination of Trustbin containers for the first stage, with Shudh Labh drums for the second stage. Yup, I layer with mature compost and even then, the

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Mum-in-laws green thumb, aided by home-made gobbara

pickle turned to black gold in just about two weeks! That was real quick 😀 I tried the second stage in a Daily Dump leave-it pot as well – the earthen pot absorbed not just the moisture, but also the rather strong smell of the fermented pickle.  Don’t try this combination, though, of using Daily Dump along with Bokashi.

Oh, you must be wondering about the jaggery. It has a role to play.  The anaerobic bin begins to give out a leachate – a liquid which gets generated from the wet waste, in combination with the bran. This liquid is highly nutritious and concentrated. You can harvest this “brew” once every few days. Mix it in a proportion of 1:30 and water your plants with it. Or, use it undiluted to de-clog your drains. I am testing out the brew in our kitchen garden and my father’s garden. Oh yes, our tomato plant is growing way out of control, and I don’t know if we should blame the brew 😉

Our composting journey has been fulfilling, and I must say I am addicted to it. I am proud to say that we keep all our wet waste with us. I prefer the daily dump earthen pots to the plastic drums, because by nature, the earthen pots absorb more moisture. In fact, sometimes they absorb so much moisture that your compost could be dry! In terms of

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Lovely, beautiful white fungus in the bokashi unit.

cost and the fact that I am not always around to do firefighting of drum leakages, I would recommend either the Kambha or smaller drums (if you prefer plastic). The khamba is prone to breakage if you walk clumsily and knock it down. At the moment, I am enjoying making the brew and seeing the compost maturing so quickly. I must also add that after we shifted to bokashi, we have not seen any maggots in our compost. Note that maggots are absolutely harmless to humans, and are great for your compost.

If you are planning to get started on your composting journey, don’t think twice. Start right away – check SwachaGraha for more info 🙂 Please feel to ask questions, or share your tips and tricks in the comments section.

Sugandhi

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Painting the town red, green, yellow and every other colour

It is habba (festival) time in Bengaluru, with our city celebrating Neralu, the festival of trees. I got this opportunity to write about my experiences at Neralu for Citizen Matters. Thank you CM! Here is the link:

http://bangalore.citizenmatters.in/articles/painting-the-town-red-green-yellow-and-every-other-colour-neralu-bengaluru

I am posting the contents of the article here.

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It is that time of the year when some fellow Bengalureans will together paint the town red. Or yellow, purple, orange, pink, violet; name it and you’ll see the colour. Those Bengalureans are our beloved trees, getting into bloom, making namma Bengaluru look vibrant and pretty.

It was a nippy and chirpy Saturday morning, with the White-cheeked Barbets calling tirelessly. Being a ‘true South Indian’, I had to complete my ritual of one cup of strong filter coffee, even at the risk of getting late. I still managed to reach in time for Neralu’s opening activity, Katte Parichaya by Kiran Keswani and team at Doddamavalli Katte. If you thought this city doesn’t wake up early on weekends, you should have been there to see the crowd gathered in front of the Ashwath Katte, intently listening.

_46A2651Kiran and team spoke about Katte and the trees (that sounds a bit like ‘Swami and friends’, doesn’t it?), sharing interesting stories and facts, such as the Hindu divine trinity, paganism, the innumerable uses of the Peepal tree, community space, and even the ‘marriage’ between Peepal and Neem! Tree lovers gushed with pride, pointing to the crowd to crane their necks and have a look at the Mahua tree standing tall next to the Bisilu Maramma shrine. I smiled at the canopy, at the green leaves fluttering against the pleasant blue background.

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Business was as usual at the santhe, but this time, with a difference, because the vendors and customers had lent one of their ears to Neralu. The Parichaya was an interactive session, with many experiences exchanged, from Kattes in different parts of the country and ‘somari (lazy) Kattes’ to college Kattes.  It took me back to my school days, when we, siblings, had to gather the fallen twigs of the Arali mara (Peepal) once a year, for one of the rituals at home. For the twig-gathering, we would visit three Kattes nearby, the ones near Dodda Ganesha temple, Bull Temple and Mallikarjuna Swamy temple.

The Neralu team had made these colourful Katte postcards to be posted to friends and family, inviting them to Neralu. What a lovely concept! Kids rushed to write on their cards and post them in the cute little Neralu letter box.
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This old lady, frail and beautiful, picked up a card and examined it for a long while. Could she send it to someone? Did she keep it for herself? I’ll probably never know, but I’ll cherish the memory; that she had a Neralu card with her.

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I grabbed a quick breakfast and headed out to National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA). It was so open, so inviting, and so green. It was indeed festival time! There were maps to guide us to different ‘in-tree-esting’ activities, and friendly volunteers were running around, just like busy ants on trees. I even got my wrist stamped with Neralu.

The first floor had me soaked with information and titbits, as I walked in awe, looking at the selections from a larger exhibition on the lesser-known flora and fauna of the Western Ghats. Sigh, I wish I had at least nine lives to see all of those in person. My family and I walked over to the photo project. Over 40 photographs were on display, each telling a different, lovely, picturesque story about trees. One of the photographs was mine and Rana’s. I quietly danced a little jig! 🙂

My next morning was again a Neralu morning at MN Krishna Rao Park. The Kaleido group ran around the park, announcing “Banniri banniri, natakava nODiri”, inviting everyone to watch their play. The artists clad in red and black entertained the crowd, with witty dialogues and thought-provoking concepts. We didn’t need a laughter club that day to laugh out loud! I felt my eyes going moist when the artist said he moved out of Bendaluru to Neraluru. With my garden city boiling and baking, the name Bendaluru hurt.
pic_article_Neralu_Sugandhi__3_
pic_article_Neralu_Sugandhi__4_The crowd split into two groups for the tree walks. I joined the one led by Narayan. He made it very interesting, sharing stories from his grandparents, and asking us to name the trees based on what we felt, telling us how to differentiate between the Teak and Kanaka Champa. He took us to the Mast tree and asked, “Which tree is this?” Pat came the answer, “Asoka”. He asked, “Do you think Sita would’ve had any shade under this tree?” Now, that question made sure that nobody from his audience will ever mistake the Mast tree for the Asoka!

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I had to excuse myself at this point, for I had to run to one of my favourite Neralu activities – Yoga under trees. The instructor, Namrata Sudhindra, was brilliant. She taught us asana after asana, without a break, and I didn’t realize how time flew. It was peaceful under the shade of the trees, and as she promised, I can still feel the energy flowing through me. [Image courtesy: Sudarshan Gadadhar]

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One of the vendors at the Katte Santhe

Unless we know about trees, we will never learn to respect or treasure them. We need to celebrate trees and our natural heritage. Neralu is becoming addictive, a habba that we all look forward to. This is the second year in succession that Bengaluru is celebrating trees. Here’s kudos to the team bringing this festival to us. Do catch the rest of the Neralu activities on February 14th.

Sugandhi

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