Yesterday, my brother and I attended a hands-on "workshop" on composting at Kerem Maharal, a moshav south of Haifa.
The event was held by Eretz Carmel, a non-profit organization whose goal is to "promote models of sustainable growth and revival of the environment, while at the same time preserving quality of life and building for a better future", and led by its founder, Amiad Lapidot.
We arrived at around 9:00, and under the shade of an olive tree, we sat and listened to Amiad describe the perfect composting cycle, and the composting project he implemented on the moshav (where household garbage is separated by residents at the source into organic and inorganic waste). Afterwards, we went down to the composting site (where we had originally congregated) for a more hands-on explanation and demonstration.
The site is an old greenhouse (an uncovered greenhouse - just a metal frame), probably 20 meters deep. Amiad begins constructing the compost piles at the far end (there are currently five piles) and works from the back to the front of the plot, adding new waste as it is collected. Currenlty there are 5 heaps , each at a different stage of decomposition. The piles aren't particularly high - the newest heap is approximately half a meter tall, and as the materials decompose, the piles get lower and lower.
Once a week, after Amiad collects all of the organic waste thrown out by residents, he brings it to the site, along with tree/garden trimmings that he either collects or buys. He sets down a bed of the trimmings, tops it with the organic waste he collected, and covers it with more trimmings. The pile gets longer and longer with each passing week and once it reaches the front of the plot, he can start constructing a new one. Once he covers the newest addition with trimmings, he wets down the pile, in order to maintain a proper level of moisture. The moisture is necessary in order to keep the red worms he employs in the process alive.
Materials can decompose with or without red worms, but they certainly make things go much faster - six months vs. a year. The breakdown of materials is accomplished through heat (and the worms). The piles heat up to extremely high temperatures. We stuck our hands in two of them, and the temperatures were in the 50-70 degrees celsius range. Amiad gave us an explanation regarding each heap (ranging in age from brand new to 4 months), showed us the worms at work, and showed us the breakdown progress over time.
Next we built an improvised back-yard composter (almost identical, in fact, to what my parents have had in their back yard for years) and began filling it with farming waste that had been dropped off that morning.
Next we went to the oldest pile, approximately 6-7 months old, which was completely decomposed and ready for use. Amiad showed us some of the methods he uses at this stage to separate the fine compost powder (the type generally sold in nurseries) from the remaining compost (which breaks down in bigger chunks, good for ground cover between trees and plants), beginning with a simple window frame shaken by two people (almost like sifting flour), a bigger netting he rigged, and finally a mechanical spinning drum that his father and a friend engineered out of an old barrel, netting, and an old washing machine engine (see video below).
I would imagine that many people would be wary of living next to a compost site, or of having a composter inside their home (if they are city dwellers like me), but I have to point out that the site does not smell at all. As my family will attest (and my florist, too, since I once had to toss out a beautiful new bouquet he sent ), I have an ultra-sensitive sense of smell. The only thing in the entire site that smelled at all, was the pile of broccomini that had been delivered by a resident farmer that morning for composting, part of which we used to fill the improvised composter. Fresh refuse draws flies and rots in the elemetns, leading to the familiar rotting smell that we find so repelling. However, once it is covered up with trimmings and the flies' access is blocked - the smell is gone! I have a friend who lives on Kerem Hamaharal, right next door to Amiad's compost site. In addition to his house, 50 meters away, are two residential units that he rents out. His tenants' windows are 20 meters away from the plot. There is NO SMELL at either of these units.
When we left, Amiad gave each of us a small bag of compost (I gave mine to my brother, since he's a budding gardener (heh - I'm so punny sometimes) and I also bought a 2L bottle of ecological-organic olive oil from him (home-made), which smells awesome.
Pictures and a film follow. A more detailed explanation of the pictures appears in the flickr set.Posted by raptorgirl at June 15, 2007 06:20 PM