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WASTE IS A RESOURCE - COMPOST IT
COMPOSTING OF ORGANIC WASTES

Wastes are nothing but misplaced resources. A large volume of organic matter is generated from agricultural activities, dairy farms and animal shelters which usually is dumped in a corner where it putrefies, sometimes emanating foul smell. This valuable resource can be utilised by properly composting it into a value added end product called manure. The chief objective to compost organic wastes should not be for the disposal of solid organic wastes but to produce superior quality manure to feed our "nutrient-organic-matter-hungry" soils.

WASTE IS A RESOURCE - COMPOST IT Two types of composting practices have been in vogue called the anaerobic composting and the aerobic composting. Anaerobic composting has been practiced in India from the past, where pits are made into which the wastes are dumped and the pit closed. On completion of six months the manure is excavated and put to use. Aerobic composting is a scientific process where the duration of composting is drastically reduced. Several aerobic methods exist today. Some of them are NADEP, Vermicomposting, composting by adding effective microbes, etc. Biodung composting is a very interesting method, which is partially aerobic and anaerobic. This method is generally applied as a prerequisite to vermicomposting. The reason is that the biodung method can destroy parasites and pests and viable seeds of weeds etc in farm waste due to increased thermal activity in the heap or pile. These temperatures may reach as high as 65� to 75� C. After 30 days with one or two turnovers of the pile the material can be used for vermicomposting. Vermicomposting utilises earthworms for the purpose of producing value added manure.

Earthworms have occupied such an important position in the ecosystem that it made the famous biologist Charles Darwin, after his elaborate observations on the earthworms to conclude "It may be doubted whether there are many other animals which have played so important a part in the history of the world as have these lowly organized creatures."

WASTE IS A RESOURCE - COMPOST IT Chemicals were considered a breakthrough in agricultural production when they made an entry into India in the name of Green Revolution during the sixties. They were magical ingredients that increased agricultural produce by leaps and bounds. It was only later that it was realized that chemicals were not a boon but a bane. To begin with, chemical fertilisers may appear to result in faster and healthier growth of plants, but they sacrifice the long-term benefits by destroying the soil and the ecosystem. Chemicals can be very harmful to the soil and plants especially when used repeatedly. 

Chemical fertilizers have been responsible for deterioration of soil friability (crumbliness), and destruction of beneficial soil life such as earthworms, bacteria and microarthropods. Moreover plants grown on artificial fertilisers have lower nutrient value than their organically grown counterparts. 

The most harmful impact of chemical fertilisers is that these fertilisers leach into the subsoil and permanently contaminate the soil and the groundwater. Moreover they also enter the food chain and harm organisms including man who depend upon them. This inevitably upsets ecological balance and has a negative impact on the beneficial birds and insects in the garden. Gardening without chemical concoctions is safer and works with, and not against, the environment. This helps build healthier plants, which naturally discourage attacks from pests. Composting imitates nature's way of rebuilding soil by encouraging the decomposition of organic substances, but it does so more rapidly because heat, microbes, and then the worms combine to speed up the process. Compost prepares the soil for plant roots to penetrate. Besides, it is the cheapest, most practical and environment-friendly method of disposing organic wastes. 

Apart from adequate nutrients plants need helpful microorganisms like bacteria, fungi, actinomycetes and protozoans, and other soil symbionts. These provide a good structure to the soil to allow the root zone to breathe and absorb moisture. 

WHERE TO GET ORGANIC BIOMASS TO PRODUCE LARGE VOLUMES OF MANURE TO MEET THE DEMAND?

Most towns and cities in India do not have proper waste management systems and untreated solid waste is generally dumped in landfills or on the roadsides and the liquid wastes are discharged into rivers or seas. 

In India, domestic waste is mostly organic, and at an average is about fifty per cent of the total waste. It is estimated that each household produces not less than 200 Kg of organic solid wastes per year. This can be put to good, productive use rather than being thrown into the bin from where it makes its way to overloaded landfills. These wastes have to be considered a resource to produce manure for the soils. Other sources include lawn mowing, garden litter, wastes from animal shelters as well as dairy sheds.

CAN COMPOST BE MADE WITHOUT EARTHWORMS?

Yes! But vermicompost is considered superior to other types of compost because of its quality. Moreover earthworms ingest litter, dung and other organic matter and grind it into fine particles, thereby increasing the surface area and promoting faster decomposition. The material passes through the body of the earthworm to produce vermicast. Soils with vermicasts have roughly 100 times more bacteria than soil without worms. Moreover plant growth promoting substances have been reported to be present in vermicasts.

WHAT IS VERMICULTURE?

Vermiculture can be defined as culture of earthworms. Earthworms are divided into two groups: humus formers and humus feeders. The first group dwell on the surface and feed on nearly 90% organic materials. They are generally darker in colour, and are also called epigeic or detritivorous earthworms. It is these worms that are generally harnessed for vermicomposting. The second group, the humus feeders, are burrowing worms some of which are useful in both compost preparation as well as making the soil porous. Generally the burrowers help in mixing and distributing humus through the soil.

It has been proved that earthworms can degrade organic wastes speedily and efficiently. However, to increase the efficiency of vermicomposting, care should be taken to see that worms thrive well on organic matter, breed faster adapting to moisture and climatic fluctuations. The most beneficial feature of vermicomposting is that it eliminates foul smell of decaying organic wastes, as it is a fully aerobic system. The concept of vermiculture became well known in the 50s of this century when facilities were set up in industrialised countries of Western Europe for the mass breeding of earthworms. Subsequently, USA, England and France conducted several experiments related to vermiculture technology for efficient disposal of organic wastes.

HOW DOES VERMICULTURE WORK?

Earthworms feed on organic waste, consuming two to five times their body weight. They use a relatively small amount of their intake for their growth and excrete the mucus coated undigested matter as vermicasts. Vermicasts consist of organic matter that has undergone physical and chemical breakdown through the activity of the muscular gizzard that grinds the material. The nutrients present in the vermicasts are readily soluble in water for uptake by plants. Vermicast is a rich source of macro and micronutrients, vitamins, enzymes, antibiotics, growth hormones and microflora.

Vermicompost refers to organic manure produced by earthworms. It is a mixture of worm castings (faecal excretions), organic material including humus, live earthworms, their cocoons and other organisms. Vermicomposting is an appropriate cost effective and efficient recycling technique for the disposal of non-toxic solid and liquid organic wastes.
WASTE IS A RESOURCE - COMPOST IT
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