Three years ago, when the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) asked a Mahadevpura-based society to stop generating wet waste, there was a wave of mild panic among its 200-odd residents. While all of them were segregating their waste, very few knew about or even practised composting.
But Shilpa Maheshwari and Nitin Sinha rose to the challenge and decided to take this opportunity to move towards a healthier future.
“Due to the lack of equipment for community composting, I started my experiments with composting, using methods like storing the used vegetable waste etc. from the kitchen and making compost out of it,” Shilpa (38), an entrepreneur tells The Better India.
Over a period of time, the experiments translated into developing a nutrient-rich compost. The high volume of compost generated every month gave Shilpa the idea to use it as an organic fertiliser to grow vegetables.
Today, the couple grows all kinds of organic vegetables from their kitchen waste. In the last three years, they have not generated any kind of wet waste.
While they tell me this with pride, Nitin jumps in and excitedly reveals that their home garden fulfils 60 per cent of their vegetable needs.
“Initially, we turned to the internet to acquire knowledge about composting, but it left us very confused,” says Shilpa.
However, they understood the basic idea that wet waste has to be dried to make compost. So, they drilled holes at the bottom of four buckets and deposited kitchen waste in them for the next month.
The buckets were placed in the balcony to avoid pests and odours.
“All the liquid from fruit peels and food waste left the bucket through the holes and after 15 odd days, I was left with the remnants, and mixed cocopeat in it. By the end of the month our compost was ready,” explains Nitin.
Further, they stored liquid from the waste to use as a pest repellent in their garden.
When asked if there was a stench from the buckets or attracted any insects, Shilpa says, “We covered the buckets with proper lids and regularly cleaned the area around the buckets, so there was no problem.”
During the course of experiments, they also realised the amount of food wasted every day and decided to tackle that as well. “ We have stopped wasting food. We consume everything that we cook. Everything else out of the kitchen, like vegetable leftovers, fruit peels etc. are converted to compost,” says Shilpa.
The home-based composting proved cost-effective as all they invested in was the buckets and cocopeat.
The couple had always dreamed of growing vegetables at home. Since now they had a motivation (compost), they began to attend online gardening workshops.
“Learning pot-based gardening turned out to be an interesting experience. This type of gardening involves a mix of soil and extra nutrients to make up for the space crunch. In addition to that, a high breeze can shred plant foliage and even break stems. The pots need proper sunlight which results in quick evaporation. So it is vital that plants are watered more frequently and are well-protected,” says Nitin.
It took several failed attempts for the couple to attain feasible results.
They took care of providing enough nutrients by regularly feeding wastewater, waste milk, banana peals, crushed eggshells, buttermilk and tea leaves to the soil.
From easy-to-grow vegetables like tomato, coriander and green chilli to growing seasonal vegetables like ladies finger, radish, capsicum, cauliflowers, cabbage, variety of beans, bitter gourd, bottle gourd, lemon etc., there are around 50 types of organic vegetables that the family consumes. Recently, they scaled up their gardening activities by growing pomegranates in a drum.
“The most important impact of these two practices is the satisfaction of seeing our kids eat safe and freshly grown food,” says Shilpa.
Then there is the fact that their neighbours, both young and old, take an active interest in learning about gardening and composting.
“The way the kids interact with our kitchen backyard is perhaps the most satisfying aspect of this whole exercise for us. Moreover, this helps to spread the awareness that it is possible to grow your vegetables in your concrete balcony using homemade compost. You do not require acres of land to do the least to save the environment. On a personal front, we also made a shift to eco-friendly products and practices like eliminating plastics,” concludes Nitin.
In a city where the green cover is rapidly dwindling, such eco-friendly practices by citizens like Shilpa and Nitin give us hope for a healthier and greener future.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)