How often have you wondered if those vegetables and greens you buy from your local vendor or market are really as wholesome as you imagine them to be? Are they safely grown, free from contamination of any kind? Are they untainted by toxic chemicals and fertilizers? Once you bring them home you wash them thoroughly, especially the green leafy ones, because you know your family needs safe food besides nutrition and taste. You hope that every trace of chemicals or physical impurities, and insects are totally eliminated. You know what havoc their presence can create for your family’s health. Still, the dilemma persists, you aren’t sure the veggies are one hundred percent safe. It’s getting tougher these days to get pure stuff. Escalating food shortages and the ever-increasing population’s demand for food often force growers and suppliers to throw caution to the winds and concern themselves with only increasing outputs even by resorting to harmful chemicals. Can’t blame the growers though, especially the poverty-stricken, small and marginal farmers. Many are left without a choice but to match their outputs with their inputs. Invariably, they use some form of artificial fertilizers to boost production.
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Grow Your Own Greens and Herbs
There is, however, a great and simple way out of this dilemma. By growing your own food, or rather, some significant portion of it - like greens and herbs. You can do that in a small plot in the backyard if you have one. If not, you can make do with some pots, discarded cans, thermocol boxes or just about any container. For a start, you will need some good potting soil with a generous amount of organic manure. You will be surprised to see how easy it is to make organic manure from everyday kitchen wastes like peels, onion skins, vegetable ends, egg shells and other degradable items.
Getting Started for Homemade Organic Manure
It takes as little as 3 to 4 weeks to get really fantastic organic manure from nothing but composting using kitchen wastes. Here’s how you do it:
If you have a place in your backyard, dig a small pit of about 2 feet in diameter and two feet deep.
Line the bottom with thin and dried soft twigs, leaves or straw to about 4 inches depth.
If you have no backyard, any deep tin or bucket will do, but make some holes at the bottom for water to drain.
Next, sprinkle some water to moist (not wet) the twigs etc. Top with another four inches of green leaves or freshly cut grass.
If you can – though it’s not necessary - get some animal manure like cow, pig or chicken dung and spread it on top of the grass.
Alternately, you can sprinkle with about two litres of water mixed with a handful of jaggery. This step hastens the decomposition.
What you essentially put in the compost pit is food for the bacterial micro-organisms in carbon and nitrogen form. Dry and brown materials are carbon-rich and provide energy for the bacteria.
Wet and green materials are nitrogen-rich and provide food for their growth and reproduction. Therefore ensure a balanced mix of brown and green material.
Now cover the pit with plastic. Put bricks or something heavy around corners so it remains in place.
1 week later open up the plastic cover and, with a hoe or pitchfork, thoroughly turn and remix the stuff inside.
If you find the mixture a little dry sprinkle some more water to moist it. Put the plastic cover back in place.
This turning and remixing must be repeated every 4-5 days to allow proper aeration.
How Decomposition Takes Place
Composting is actually creating conditions to speed up the natural process of decomposition. We assist the countless soil organisms – micro and macro – in their work of breaking down the compost pile. Life in the compost pit/bin is an ecosystem of hundreds of species of bacteria, actinomycetes, protozoa and fungi. A good deal of chemical decomposition takes place there and the bacteria are responsible for that. Larger organisms such as millipedes, centipedes, spiders, ants, slugs, beetles, earthworms and others are responsible for the physical decomposition as they shred the composting materials into smaller pieces.
Aerobic bacteria numbering millions per gram of soil are the most abundant of organisms and the most important chemical decomposers. They eat almost everything, utilizing carbon for energy and nitrogen for protein building and reproduction. Because of their oxidizing (eating) activity, there is rapid temperature build-up in the compost pit/bin. While composting these organisms also excrete nitrogen, phosphorus and magnesium which are essential plant nutrients. However, if oxygen levels dip below 5% another type of bacteria, the anaerobic ones, take over to produce offensive, sometimes toxic, substances. Aerobic bacteria work at different temperature levels. At level one (12 to 21°C) Psychrophilic bacteria work at composting, giving a small amount of heat. At level two (21 to 40°C), Mesophilic bacteria take over from the point Psychrophilic bacteria leave. They produce acids, carbon dioxide and heat. At level three the temperature shoots beyond 40°C. Thermophilic or heat-loving bacteria then take over. They can thrive even at temperatures of 71°C, raising the temperature of the compost pile to those levels, rapidly finishing up degradable materials before dying off. Mesophilic bacteria then take over again and finish off the decomposing process. At 71°C, all pathogenic organisms die as they cannot survive the heat. Then again, the compost might lose its disease fighting ability. Therefore allowing temperatures to reach this level is unnecessary. You can effectively exclude pathogens by not throwing into the compost pile dog and cat feces, or manure from diseased animals and diseased plants.
Finally, Healthy, Earth-Scented Compost
The twenty-five or so days are finally over and you take off that plastic cover. Instead of disgusting rotting material, you find instead beautiful compost with a characteristic earthy smell. The microorganisms Actinomycetes are responsible for that smell. They turn dead plant matter into peat, liberating carbon, ammonia and nitrogen to be used by higher plants like herbs, ferns, shrubs, and trees. The three to four weeks of dedicated labour will now provide you with excellent organic plant food free of cost, gifted by nature herself. You can now feed this food to the soil in your garden or pots and guarantee yourself and your family a choice and endless supply of organically grown mint, coriander, chillies, tomatoes, fenugreek, spinach, and many other vegetables and plants (and flowers too).
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