03 December 2010

Our First Harvest!

Aerial view of the project
Lots of exciting things have been happening with our community compost project recently. First among them was that a local newspaper published a two page article about it, detailing how it is a great way to combat contamination and bring neighbors together. I doubt if any of the neighbors read it because very few people read that paper, but I printed a pdf version and spread it around. The neighbors loved it.  Then about a week later, our neighborhood got suddenly invaded by rats, big, ugly ones, and everybody jumped to the conclusion that the compost project was to blame! Never mind that the project has been functioning for six months with nary a rat in site.  A bunch of neighbors went to the housing development administrator and demanded that he take the whole compost project away immediately and so he hired a truck and the project was doomed! I didn’t even find out about this until the truck was already hired! Of course I called him as soon as I found out and explained to him that the sudden invasion was due to a hole the rats had dug under the wall protecting the housing development and that he had better not take the project away without making a bit more inquiry into the matter.  With a little poison the rats disappeared and then I had to win back participants who had jumped ship!

Then a week later we harvested for the first time.  We got 14 bins of sifted dirt from the 84 bins of kitchen waste and leaves that went into this first section of the project, which means that the whole deal was reduced by 83% in the process.  It really puzzled me that there was no humus, no rich, black dirt.  It just looked like a pile of decomposed leaves.  This pile had been sitting for 19 weeks, which seems like it should be enough time for humus to form.  I think that the mix had too many leaves, too much carbon content, which slows its decomposition time.  I admit that I cover the kitchen waste with quite a few leaves every day to make sure the pile is well aerated and clean-smelling. A longer decomposition time is a fair price to pay to make sure the pile smells good. I would not want to give the neighbors any more reasons to complain! In any case, I will try to reduce the waste - leaves ratio as much as possible to get some humus for the next harvest.

When we harvested, we took the dirt around to the participants and gave each one a full bin or two for their potted plants or ornament garden.  They loved it and could not believe that their kitchen waste had transformed so much.  We even gave some to the lady who led the commission to denounce and eliminate the project, and she gladly accepted it! The whole neighborhood was outside painting the curbs and the driveways, so we really got some positive public relations in right when we needed it most. I hope this will encourage more people to participate.

The next harvest will be put into starting a small community garden, and I am sure that will get more people involved too. So far we have recycled 282 bins of kitchen waste and leaves, which seems like a good start.

20 June 2010

Our Community Garden

Many months ago I mentioned to some of our retired neighbors that they should take advantage of an empty space in the park at the end of our street to start a community garden. They finally hooked a hose up to the faucet there and started planting decorative and fruit-bearing trees pretty randomly around the garden space. When they mentioned that they would soon need planting soil if they wanted to grow vegetables, we devised a composting scheme.

So, we set up a compost area and then put these two bins near it. Kitchen waste gets dumped in the blue bin and then covered by some scoops of dried leaves from the red bin. Once a day I empty the blue bin into the compost area shown below. This photo represents approximately 5 weeks worth of composting.

The sticks you see on top of the compost are dead vines from my maracuya (passion fruit) plant that I put as a first layer to aerate the mix. On top goes the kitchen waste which is then covered with a layer of dry leaves.

The neighbors have done a nice job recruiting other neighbors to recycle their kitchen waste so now there are 7 families participating. Our goal is for ten families to participate so that we can learn how much waste a typical family collects per day, how often they dump their waste and how much that adds up to in all (measured in bins per day). We also have to learn how many dried leaves we can get the housing development gardeners (they prune people’s yards and trees and collect fallen leaves) to take to our garden as they can’t imagine why we would want such "garbage" and so they don’t collaborate very easily. After a few months we hope to have a better idea how it will work so we can get more families involved.

The garden looks like this right now, which is a huge improvement over the gravel-covered barren land that characterizes the rest of the park as you can see in the foreground.

04 January 2010


I took the following pictures to chronicle a physical process that can be highly allegorical.  If you look at it from the ocean's perspective, you can see how powerful waves are and how interrelated the sea is with human life.  I like to look at it from the boat's perspective, in which a decent boat motor malfunctioned one day and the fishermen had no way to prevent the boat from capsizing.  Once it capsized, the fishermen abandoned it completely, leaving it to be beaten by the relentless waves.  Sometimes I feel that our sanity is like this.  It goes for a minute and people get labeled and abandoned to slowly disintegrate.
Enjoy the pictures, even if you don't feel like interpreting anything beyond what is visible. The original album can be found here.