• Ashvini Menon

Small-scale Bio-Composting for Home or Office Spaces.

Updated: Sep 15, 2020

Hello reader! This blog is to help you start composting in your home/office space. A few points to remember before we get started :-

  1. Composting is the natural decomposition of organic materials.

  2. Unlike popular belief, composting at home does NOT emit a foul smell or attract mosquitoes.

  3. Organic waste is also known as bio-degradable waste or wet waste.

  4. Organic Waste includes all food items and garden wastes - meat and bones, fish and shellfish, grain and pasta, dairy products, eggs and shells, left over food from plates and lunch boxes, food-soiled paper (without any plastic films or plastic coating), coffee filter, ground and tea-bags (without stapler pins), fruits and veggies, garden trimmings, flowers and garlands.

  5. Around 70% of the daily waste that goes out in our dustbin to the landfills is organic waste/wet waste/biodegradable waste. Therefore, composting helps reduce our contribution to the landfill by around 70%.

  6. The 'compost' made out of the process of composting is an excellent natural fertilizer for plants. This fertilizer is also called as Bio-Compost.

  7. Compost also improves the soil quality.

  8. Composting is an easy process and can be done by anyone.

  9. Composting is very easy on the pocket and shouldn't cost you anything.

  10. Composting induces happiness in your own self and in the people who you do it with, as you connect with the nature and one of its fundamental processes.

What you would need:

  1. A big earthen pot to add your daily organic waste and let the composting process take place. (volume of a regular bucket for a household of 4 people.)

  2. A long handled spoon, ladle or stick to mix the compost daily.

  3. An area to keep the earthen pot which is well ventilated and receives sunlight (a balcony, garden, terrace or a window).

  4. Lid for the pot.

  5. 2 mins of your time (almost) daily.

  6. 2-3 hours of your time, once in 3 to 6 months (depending on what suits your schedule).

The compost pot in our studio is nothing but a regular terracotta planting-pot!

What waste can you compost:

  • All kinds of cooked or uncooked food waste - leftovers from cutting veggies, meat, eggs, bones, non-coated papers.

  • All kinds of garden waste - dried leaves, flowers, grass-cuttings etc.

  • Uncoated - Newspaper / paper / card-board shreds. Avoid papers which have too much ink.

Daily kitchen waste is collected in a small container.

The Aim:

For the composting process to be successful, we need to address the following 2 points at all times.

  • Enough Air: We need to make sure that the food waste is sufficiently exposed to air (to gain oxygen). We make sure this happens by means of daily churning all the food waste in the compost pot. Enough aeration also is the reason the compost never develops a foul smell.

  • Just Enough Water: The microbes in the compost pit require water to thrive and carry out the degradation process. Excess water should be avoided and the compost pit should be "just moist". (A good example would be to see the moisture content of an Indian meal - poha before it is put into the pan for cooking.)

This is how moist your compost should look. Not too wet, neither too dry.

The Daily 2 Minute Process:

  1. Keep adding your daily organic waste to the compost. TIP: If you chop your organic waste before adding it to the pot, the process of composting takes place faster. TIP: Try collecting seeds separately and plant them / throw them around when you go on your next vacation. (Be careful of planting only Indian trees in India or be mindful of its habitat!) FACT: Your pot will never overflow as the waste will keep breaking down into small particles with time.

  2. Mix the entire contents of the pot thoroughly. Mixing is extremely important as it makes sure oxygen passes inside the entire pot, thus making sure only the necessary microbes stay.

  3. Make sure you are adding a balanced mix of water-rich and dry organic contents. TIP: If you are adding water rich food to the pot (like many water melon left overs), it is best to let them dry for a day outside first OR add equal amount of dry leaves / any other dry organic matter.

Quarterly Harvesting the Compost:

  1. Bio-compost will take minimum 3 months to form as in its natural process. TIP: Adding crushed 'dry cow dung cake or any such microbe-rich matter' fastens the process. FACT: Some food matter are quick to break down like spinach leaves and banana peels, some take much longer like coconut shells.

  2. Before preparing to harvest, check if the compost is not too wet or damp. If it is, allow a weeks time for it to dry so that filtering the compost is easier.

  3. Use a strainer to filter out the contents of the pot. You will find fine sand like ready compost coming out from the strainer. The bigger pieces of organic matter should be added back into the pot. TIP: It is a time and energy consuming task so best done with 2 people over a leisure weekend. If you plan to do it on your own, you can do it over a period of 3 days to a week at ease. FACT: Fresh Compost smells like mud from the first rain and is pleasant.

  4. Clean your hands thoroughly after harvesting compost.

  5. The compost strained can be added as fertilizers to plants or could be a great gift if given to people. FACT: Many housing societies do this on a large scale and sell the bio-compost at nominal costs. This encourages the habit of waste-segregation & usage of natural fertilizers at a community level.

Harvesting our compost. Not using gloves in this process is absolutely fine too if you wash yourself clean later.

If you encounter problems:

THERE IS A FOUL SMELL: Lack of air OR excess of water can give your compost pit a foul smell. If there is lack of air (i.e the waste hasn't been stirred since long) stirring it again, regularly should help. A compost pot which is too wet can be drained or dried in sunlight for a few days. You can also add dry leaves or newspaper shreds (add more dry organic contents) and mix well.

THE COMPOST IS TOO WET: A compost pot which is too wet, it can be drained or dried as mentioned above.

THE COMPOST IS TOO DRY: If the contents are too dry, sprinkle little water from the top and mix. TIP: Do not pour water, sprinkle it everywhere in small quantities.

HOUSE FLIES & FRUIT FLIES: Freshly adding waste can invite some insects and fruit flies. Do not worry. Many of these insects are extremely crucial to the process. They break down the bigger pieces of veggies into smaller ones for microbes to work upon. If you feel there are too many fruit-flies you can cover the pot with a net/mesh/lid/newspapers. If you are covering the pot fully with a lid, make sure you mix regularly for proper aeration.

WORMS & MAGGOTS: If you find worms and maggots (young ones of flies) in the compost, add lime juice or other citric food to the compost. Egg shells should also deter them. Drying the compost for a few days would help too, as the worms thrive in very soggy conditions alone. Keep the pot covered and mix regularly, so that flies do not re-enter and lay eggs.

SOIL MITES: Soil mites can grow where the compost is too acidic (eg:- too much of tea-powder etc). Try garlic-soaked water or Neem-oil to deter the soil mites. FACTS: None of these organism are harmful to the compost, we take these precautions only for our convenience.

BETTLES & BUGS: As mentioned earlier, many of these insects are extremely crucial to the process. They break down the bigger pieces of organic matter into smaller ones. This makes it easier for the microbes to work upon to decompose the matter. You can let them be unless they seem to be an absolutely unwanted. Adding neem-oil and egg shells as mentioned above, can help.

GOING ON A BREAK/ VACATION: If you are away for more than two days, make sure the compost is mixed well and well-cover with the lid.

Tip: We keep aside an extra pot of 1 month old compost, so that they can be harvested earlier in a separate batch.

There are many different ways of making bio-compost but in my experience this is the best and most cost effective way in an urban environment. If you have an queries / questions please write to us - ashvini@amvds.in Happy Composting!

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