A whole new world


(Continued from “We’ll draw a green thumb”)

I watched my father-in-law poke a few holes into the bag with the screwdriver. He left it in the corner, and turned around to find me in a happy daze.

Here I was fretting about the lack of an actual ground. ‘One can’t possibly compost without a hole in the ground,’ I thought to myself. And there he was, coolly collecting all the kitchen waste into a plastic bag to make a compost bag in our tiny apartment balcony.

After my in-laws returned to their home, we continued to add kitchen waste to this make-shift compost bag, excited about harvesting compost.

But something wasn’t quite right.

For starters, it smelt bad. Very, very bad.

And it was super soggy – dripping brown smelly liquid wherever we kept it.

And then there were the maggots. Lots of them.

I was sure that I wanted to compost waste, and was determined to do so. But was it to be as yucky as this? Neither of us had any idea. And so we shot the question out into the electrical void – the internet.

The internet informed us what was going wrong. The short answer: our compost was out of ‘balance’ and had too much moisture*.

To solve our immediate composting crisis, we added shredded newspaper, and left the bag slightly open, in the furthest corner of our balcony. Next step: we decided to get a proper composter.

Fast-forward a couple of months, and we welcomed our Kambha.

The Kambha is a terracotta composter made by a Bengaluru based NGO, Daily Dump. There really isn’t much to it: three earthen pots with holes on the sides. While the top two had a rope mesh at the bottom, the third one was closed at the bottom. They stacked up neatly. I marvelled at the simplicity of its design.

We watched the instructional video and transferred our (now utterly disgusting) waste and added some of the ‘remix’ material supplied by the organisation. The ‘remix’ material and the terracotta absorbed the excess moisture, and within a couple of days the compost stopped smelling.

As I learnt soon enough, the compost pile is as much a living organism as you and me. Needing a well balanced diet, breathing in oxygen, and exhaling carbon dioxide. And if it is malnourished or there is something wrong with its digestion, it emits a foul smell.

As for the maggots, they stopped bothering me. The composter was now a self enclosed eco-system. The compost pile was its earth. And a host of creatures grazed on its lands. With the plastic bag out of the way, the air around the compost became more breathable, and the fruit flies joined the maggots. Soon the land sprung shoots of large fungi, and even a sapling here and there. And the fungus gnats appeared. The maggots slowly reduced in number, as the competition for food grew. And then came the spiders – the top of the food chain, preying upon the insects.

All the while the kitchen waste continued to reduce. What was first green, yellow and purple slowly turned a rich, dark brown colour, and it smelt sweet – like Mother Nature.


* The long answer comes in a separate post!

The Silk Trap


“Mommy, mommy!” The little bug ran towards her mother.

“I’m not going foraging!” she cried.

“Budku! What have you told Chitkoo now?”

Budku chuckled to himself and flew swiftly away from his mother.

“Mommy! Budku says there are spiders out there! And they chase gnats into their silk traps! Is it true?”

Mommy bug let out a deep sigh. Budku had always been mischievous. But this time, he had been partially right.

“Come here, sweetie… don’t think too much about it… It’s too early to be thinking about foraging.”

Chitkoo hugged her mother and calmed down.

Mommy bug glared at Budku as he peeped from behind the fungus, even as she kept Chitkoo close to her. There were spiders, yes. But Chitkoo was in deeper danger at home than out there. Just yesterday she had spotted a web close to their home. It was Budku’s first day learning to fly, and he’d had quite the adventure.

“Out there, is a wonderland, my dear.” Mommy bug said softly.

“In a few days you’ll be ready to start flying on your own. And it will be fun. There are peels of fruits and vegetables all over the ground. And there are fungi. So many different types than the ones near our home. And there are seeds too. They are much harder to forage, but they are the ones that have the most goodness – the reward is worth the effort.”

“Yeah, and there are fruit flies,” added Budku. Mommy bug’s glare had had its effect. Budku changed his tone.

“They’re just the cutest – brown and round, floating slowly. You’ll really get along very well with them.”

“What about spiders?” Chitkoo asked, without looking around.

Mommy bug sighed. “Yes, dear. There are spiders,” she replied.

“But they are fewer than us gnats and flies. And they can’t fly. No! They crawl and spin webs, but we have wings and we can fly. Budku was chased by one today. And he was so scared. But he flew away. And you will learn to navigate the alleys.”

Mommy bug didn’t dare tell Chitkoo about how close Budku was to being spider-meal. But Chitkoo would have to fend for herself. Spiders weren’t the only threat.

Chitkoo looked up and caught her mother’s glare. She turned around to see her brother sitting next to the fungus. He loved fungus, and was always nibbling at it. But today he just sat there, too scared of his mother to even look at the white goodie.

Above the ground, the other gnats and flies were busy going about their foraging, when the heavens above opened up. “Giant alert! Giant alert!”

Bright light filled the the sky, and it began raining. The gnats and flies flew, as far apart as they could. The spiders ran for their lives. The giants were notorious for squishing the spiders, purely for game, it seemed. They sure didn’t eat the spiders.

It was all over in a few minutes. As it always did. The rains were always heavy, and buried the slower flies and gnats. But once the sky closed back, it was a feast. A fresh pile of food, and the spiders away for some time.

To be continued.

Cover image by Atul. (@chitraakriti)