Sunday, August 05, 2007

Composting.

The village where we live has implemented a composting policy. The garbage men who come to our village will no longer collect our biodegradable garbage: residents are encouraged, instead, to compost all of our biodegradable trash.

For P600 each of us can buy a composting bin and 25-kilo sack of special composting soil. The composting bin is a plastic drum with the bottom cut out and holes drilled into the body, meant to be placed in the garden. However, any container can actually take its place; some people just use a circle of wiremesh (the wire improves air circulation) in their garden. The soil has some fertilizer and microorganisms in it already, to make the decomposition process happen more quickly, but again, regular soil can also be used. Some people don't use soil at all, but without soil, it might be slightly more difficult to find the right mix of organic trash to activate the decomposition process; moreover, one has to be a little more judicious about what kind of organic waste to compost (see below).

What can be composted? Technically, anything that's organic, although websites I consulted recommend that manure and urine from carnivorous animals (such as dogs and cats), diseased plants, and ash from charcoal not be home-composted, because the heat of home composting piles rarely reaches the intensity necessary to kill pathogens that can spread disease and illness to other plants or, if the waste seeps into water sources, to humans. When soil isn't used, it's also a good idea to avoid using meat, milk, dairy and fish products, as rodents and other animals may come and try to dig these out of the composting heap. Those planning to use the compost to fertilize vegetable patches might also want to avoid adding weeds to their compost pile, so the weeds don't spread to their vegetable patches. Wood scraps (from untreated wood), ash from untreated wood, food scraps, fruits and vegetables, garden trimmings, shredded black and white newspaper, shredded clean (unwaxed) paper, shredded toilet paper, manure from vegetarian animals, shredded cardboard rolls, shredded cardboard cereal boxes (if unwaxed), coffee grounds and filters, cotton or wool (i.e., natural) rags, lint from driers and vacuum cleaners, crushed eggshells, hair and fur, nut shells, tea bags, sawdust, and dead leaves all can be composted without problems.

The composting process is simple. First, organic trash needs to be cut into small pieces to hasten decomposition. It is best if the bottom of the composting heap is well-aerated, either by using a composting bin with holes in the bottom, or by putting an initial layer of wood materials and scraps that can allow air to pass through. After this, the bottom layer of the heap should be a two-inch layer of soil or nitrogen-rich garbage ("green stuff" such as fresh grass clippings, kitchen vegetable scraps, manure from vegetarian animals, or [brace yourself for this] a bit of human urine). The next layer (no thicker than two inches) can be any kind of organic garbage (this is the layer where carbon-rich waste is concentrated: "brown garbage" such as dead leaves, newspaper, and wood scraps), followed again by a two-inch layer of soil or nitrogen-rich garbage. As trash accumulates, this process of layering continues. It is helpful to keep the heap covered so it doesn't get too wet with rain, and so rodents or animals will not try to dig through the composting heap.

If your compost bin is made up of a lot of food, watering the compost heap isn't necessary, because kitchen scraps contain a lot of water. (I think the humidity of the Philippines also helps to keep the composting heap moist.) Compost bins composed of very dry materials, however, need to be watered a little until damp (not too much!) as each layer is added.

In ideal conditions, composting takes just three to six weeks. The compost heap will first warm up then will begin to cool. In ideal conditions, it should emit a sweet, earthy aroma. When conditions are less than ideal (e.g., heap is too dry, too wet, or has too little nitrogen-rich materials), decomposition may take a bit longer. You can correct this easily, depending on the problem. If the pile is not warming up, add more nitrogen-rich materials, sprinkle with water, and turn the pile a little with a rake or shovel. If the pile has a foul garbage-like odor, add more nitrogen-rich materials. If the pile is too wet and soggy, add more dry materials (such as dried leaves), and turn the pile.

After the compost heap is warmed up and then cooled, the compost heap is almost ready! Turn over the pile, to allow the bottom to dry. When done, the compost can be used as a thin layer of fertilizer for the garden and for house plants.

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Our homeowners' association in our village resells composting soil, but if you're interested you can contact Lacto Asia Pacific Corporation, the suppliers of Happy Soil at 7761511 or email address lactoasia[at]yahoo[dot]com.

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2 comments:

Via said...

wow! this is so impressive! I wish we were doing this where we live too! Noel and I have started our own small way of pitching in by investing in canvass bags for doing the groceries in- no more plastic bags. I blogged about it too with our Jack as a model . :)

rowie said...

hey via! that's great!!! i read in the newspaper that rustan's and SM are starting to do that, but when time i went to SM hypermart to do groceries last week, they had run out of the totes. :( the bags must be really popular! :)