Buddhist Action Month 2016

Dishing the Dirt

On Mon, 27 June, 2016 - 12:15
Momtaz's picture

BAM! It all starts here… for the gardens at Taraloka at least, with our COMPOST. I love it, and I love making it. So it’s time to dish the dirt. Let’s start big, with some facts about soil and our planet.

1) It can take about 1,000 years to make just a couple of centimetres of soil.

2) The human population is rising globally, and almost all of the new growth is being housed in towns and cities that, by definition, are not providing food for their citizens.

3) About 2 billion hectares of soil have been degraded for example by chemicals or deforestation over the past 40 years - equivalent to 15% of the Earth’s land area. Soil is being lost at 10 - 40 times the rate at which it can naturally regenerate. This is due entirely to human mismanagement, carelessness or ignorance.

4) One third of all living organisms on our planet live in the soil. Without this subterranean life, there would be no gardens (and a lot more besides!) and it is vital to have soil that contains as much life as possible, i.e., beneficial bacteria, fungi, worms, lovely worms, beetles and so on.

Soil is not a fixed thing, any more than light is. Think of it as a living entity working WITH plants rather than an inert medium in which to raise them. And the good news is that the best way to nurture soil is with*normal garden compost*, which anyone can make in their garden or allotment, or with a wormery. There is nothing quite like a lovely, steaming compost heap.

Here at Taraloka we have 3 large compost bins, made from pallets, so nothing fancy. (There’s also a cage beside them where I make leaf mould, otherwise known as Black Gold in my mind.) Last year Maitrisiddhi, Anne and Rebecca built 3 spanking new bins to replace the original ones that had rotted away, and they are wonderful.

I try and layer the heap, a bit like an enormous Black Forest gateau (remember them?!). The Retreat Centre, community and gardens provide both the green and brown waste that makes for a healthy and balanced heap.

Green waste comes from uncooked veg, fruit, mown grass clippings, and clearing from the garden and so on. I get enormous satisfaction that flowers that I’ve grown from seed will go onto the heap when they’re ‘finished and dead’ and in fact are anything but. They continue to be part of the seasonal circle of life and 6 - 9 months later will be providing nourishment to the soil. At the moment I’m looking on with delight and amazement as butternut squash seedlings are appearing all over the place - it must be from the compost…

Brown waste comes from things like the non-shiny cardboard boxes of our deliveries, shredded paper from the office, wood ash from the log burners, and the contents of our vacuum cleaners. So none of this is going to landfill. I don’t want to lower the tone, but one of the best things you can put on a compost heap to help it in its work is pee. I won’t name names, but there is one faithful contributor in this way in the community, to whom I’m very grateful.

Each year in Spring and Autumn we have a few Gardening Days, when volunteer gardeners come to blitz the place, and those are the times when our compost is spread on the flower beds, woodland planting etc. Taraloka could not look the way it does without them. Taraloka could not be what it is without them. Neither could it be what it is, or look as it does without the compost bins and the miracle of the glorious living, nurturing substance that is made in them.


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mokshini's picture

Dear Suchitta, thnak you for your report on Black Gold, Green gold and  much else besides! You and the Taraloka team seem to be stars on the sustainability department and it was great to read about what your doing and get a sense of your enthusiasm for it. 

Regrettably i live in a flat at the moment (well, I am very happy I live here, BUT - ) there is only a large communal patio outside, no soil, so no possibility for a compost heap. I have a north facing balcony and have thought of installing a wormery but I don’t know much about them: have you - or anybody else out there - any advice?  

Otherwise I need to wait until Exeter city council get it together to set up food recycling, which they have promised they will do, but may take quite a while

Christine's picture

Mokshini, I had a vermi-compost when I lived in Toronto and found it to be pretty straight forward. Like most things, it helps to be a bit organised. The resulting ‘black gold’ was like magic. I’m not exaggerating! I witnessed the resurrection of a Hibiscus that was down to a single leaf.. after a touch of black gold it sprouted all its leaves back and gave us a fantastic big flower. Magic…

Christine's picture

Thanks, Suchitta and Taraloka for speaking to something we should all be more passionate about. Soil is so important! Thanks for sharing your practical experiences (and practice) that relate to composting. I’d heard that urine was good, but didn’t know it was THAT good. There’s no chance I can do that in my composter, as it’s one of those black ones which would require acrobatics and excellent balance. Not gonna happen. I hope to come to one of your volunteering days.. will be in touch! With metta, Christine