From Garbage to Garden

Composting  Department, Amritapuri

A central theme of Amma’s teachings is the love and care of nature. Amma teaches that all is the Supreme Consciousness. When we start to realize this beautiful truth more deeply, we then feel that the natural world is an extension of our own body and our own spirit. The effortless functioning of nature provides us with all the basic necessities of life; fresh oxygen, clean water, healthy food. And, just as importantly, nature nourishes our spirits. When we walk through the quiet forest, swim in the playful ocean or gaze upon majestic mountains, our spirit soars with happiness and gratitude. We feel that nature is our very own self!

Amma teaches that when this feeling arises, we will naturally want to love and serve nature. There are so many ways that Amma’s children at Amritapuri ashram put this love of Mother Nature into practice. One way is with the Compost Project which is how we turn food waste into compost wealth! The Compost Project began three years ago and is constantly improving. All the food waste and bio-degradable waste from around the ashram is collected every day and brought to the compost yard. There is a dedicated and hard-working team of Amma’s devotees convert this food waste into powerful organic fertilizer. How do we do it?. . By using the knowledge of biological science.


How to make Compost?

To make an effective compost pile requires an understanding of basic bacterial biology because it’s the beneficial bacteria that really do the hard work of making compost. The food waste must be mixed with other ingredients in just the right way so beneficial bacteria will thrive. A proper compost pile requires four main ingredients: Air (oxygen), Food, Carbon materials and Moisture. The carbon materials are woody items like wood chips and shredded coconuts. These types of woody materials are in abundant supply at Amritapuri. When these four ingredients are mixed in the right proportions, the compost pile will heat up to the ideal temperature range where beneficial bacteria thrive and digest all the food waste and woody materials. We have a special temperature probe which allows us to carefully monitor the temperatures inside the piles. If a pile is too cool or too hot, we can adjust it to get the temperature back into the correct range.

As the bacteria do their work, they slowly use up the oxygen in the pile. So the piles must be turned or mixed once every week or two so as to mix air back into the pile. After 4-6 weeks, the pile is taken to our filter machine where we filter out fine and medium grade compost. This compost is then bagged and labelled. Amma’s devotees and associates operate various gardens, farms and orchards around Kerala, and the compost is shipped to them so they can grow healthy organic crops.

It takes a big team to make the compost! One group of devotees work at the compost mixing table, another group sends compost through the filter machine, another group removes stones and trash from the garden waste, and another group sends coconuts, sticks and palm leaves through the shredder. On a typical day, we have about 12 to 15 devotees working with love and dedication to making sure the compost is made with the highest quality.

On a typical month, we produce about 40 tons of compost! That’s a lot. Our compost is in great demand because it’s all organic and of the highest quality. Artificial fertilizers are expensive and they slowly kill the soil making it harder to grow crops. Organic compost constantly enriches the soil making the crops more healthy and resistant to disease and pests. Healthy soil is like a reservoir of nutrients, and compost keeps adding to the reservoir.

Inspired by the Amritapuri compost project and with Amma’s guidance, officials at AIMS started their own compost yard about two years ago. AIMS has almost three times as much food waste as the ashram! But they have organized a hard-working team that turns it all into terrific organic compost. Some mechanical engineers at AIMS have built and tested a clever compost turner machine that can be hooked to a tractor. This device makes it much easier to turn the compost piles and thus significantly reduces the time and labour needed to make quality compost.

Amrita University at Ettimadai also has a very successful compost project. With the hard work of many Amma devotees, the Ettimadai campus has gone from being mostly barren ground to a lush and green oasis of many shade-giving trees and plants. The organic compost produced at Ettimadai helps the plants to flourish all year round.

The government of Kerala and nearby cities are keenly interested in our compost project. Government representatives, students and groups from around India have visited our compost yard to see first hand how we make such high-quality compost. They see directly how proper, scientific composting can help all of Kerala and India become much more eco-friendly. They leave inspired and excited after witnessing how Amma’s vision, a love of nature and scientific understanding can help the Earth to fully blossom.

Vermi Compost

The Amritapuri ashram also has a successful earthworm composting project. Earthworm compost is the most potent and nutritious compost there is! Earthworms produce a range of powerful plant growth hormones that super-charge the growth of plant roots, thus helping plants to flourish and be very resistant to disease and pests. These plant growth hormones are not found in any other type of compost. This makes the worm compost even more valuable than regular compost. Just like regular compost, earthworm composting is an art and a science. The devotees who help manage the earthworms have learned the basics of earthworm biology and their life cycles, and know how to take care of them in the best way.

So our regular compost and earthworm compost provide a wide range range of organic compost products suitable for many different needs. In this way, we put Amma’s teachings into practice as an expression of love and service to our beautiful Mother Earth. May Amma’s prayer for a more beautiful and green Earth be quickly realized!