If you don’t have a personal garden, public spaces can still benefit from your compost.
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Composting is an often overlooked aspect of recycling. Not necessarily due to lack of awareness, but because many in the city feel the lack of personal land area means there’s no point to producing compost.
However, Children of Soil founder Khim Joe argues that even if you live in a condominium without space to grow plants, public spaces like parks and sidewalks that have trees can greatly benefit from a boost of nutrients.
This is especially true for urban spaces where heavy development has caused the soil to be compacted.
“Compacted soil means the air and porous materials underneath the soil are reduced, so there is no oxygen for life underneath,” Khim explains.
“You often see roots of trees in urban spaces coming out of the ground. The roots can’t get enough oxygen under the compacted soil so it comes out to breathe and it causes pathways and roads to crack and break.
“But instead of treating the cause, which is the poor soil health, people would blame the tree and chop it down even though it’s been there for 30 or 40 years and contributed so much to the environment,” she adds.
Khim is a permaculture landscape architect by profession, and founded Children of Soil in 2017 as an entity to further her efforts in getting people to reconnect with nature.
Apart from providing consultation and education programmes on sustainable farming, she is also involved in assisting in the management of the community garden Kebun-Kebun Bangsar in Kuala Lumpur.
As simple or complicated as you want
For the record, there are also benefits to composting beyond the actual production of compost. One of which, is that it prevents food scraps from going to landfills where it takes up space and adds to the production of the greenhouse gas methane.
That being said, it’s still not a popular routine in people’s recycling habits.
“A lot of people don’t like doing it. They like the idea, but they don’t like carrying out the work,” Khim says.
“But there are a lot of ways to do composting, and there are so many methods to fit different lifestyles, so you just need to know the basics.”
According to Khim, the most basic thing to understand before embarking on a knowledge quest online is that it is largely a process of balancing the ratio of carbon and nitrogen content.
Understanding the ratios can get complicated, but a general rule of thumb for the sake of simplicity, is a mix of 3 parts carbon material (which are usually dry waste like paper and sawdust) with 1 part nitrogen-rich material (which are usually wet waste like coffee grounds, fruit peels, and food scraps).
“If it’s too wet, then you might get a lot of maggots. So you want more dry materials to cover it. And knowing to balance that is where you start,” she says.
With this understanding, the research becomes much more manageable.
The second factor to familiarise yourself with is the time involved. Khim explains that it takes approximately six months for an untouched compost pile to be ready for use. But you can speed up the process if you can commit to spending time to turn and aerate the compost pile or spending on additional materials that could speed it up to just being a three-month process. This would determine the type of container you would consider for your composting based on on your commitment level and urgency.
Designing spaces that integrate nature’s needs
Beyond the basics, one form of composting that Khim has been advocating is the use of compost tubes that can be directly placed into the ground.
Khim learned about this method while on a trip to an eco-village in Indonesia, where the community was experimenting with the concept of integrating their walkways with easy access composting. Porous tubes were planted into the ground, and the pavement was designed around it, allowing people in the area to throw their relevant waste into a pit that composts in the ground itself, requiring little to no maintenance.
Khim has since been conducting Children of Soil workshops to teach people how to make DIY versions of these compost tubes for their own home garden out of 4-inch diameter PVC pipes.
It doesn’t get too complicated, requiring only to drill holes along the pipe to allow the compost to interact with the surrounding soil and cutting it to length.
Sense of ownership and responsibility
Khim, who has a very spiritual approach to interacting with nature, is of the opinion that sharing your compost with a public space is a practice that actually creates a deeper sense of sharing with your community and the nature around you.
“It can be a culture or a lifestyle if you want it to be. Because Children of Soil is also trying to promote the sense of connectivity, and lessen the boundaries and separations we feel towards our environment,” she says.
“When you produce the compost, it is the outcome of the input of your energy. And when you share it and nurture the tree in your neighbourhood, you form a deeper connection with your surrounding and dissolve that separation.”