Ong Chun Yeow is an avid composter, with two compost set ups at home – an aerobic one in his HDB corridor and an anaerobic one in his kitchen – plus a vermicompost bin situated at his rooftop community garden allotment. Also, when he was working part-time at the Funan Urban Farm, he set up a large aerobic compost bin on their rooftop garden which is still active. All his compost goes back into the different gardens where the compost set ups are situated, creating a closed loop where nothing is wasted. If you are looking into composting at home in Singapore, you should definitely check out his approaches.
Chun Yeow believes in space efficient gardening, and having a wide selection of plants to encourage biodiversity. With a limited space of 4×1 metres, he experiments with bio-intensive growing, cramping as many plants as he can while sustaining soil fertility. Through this method he has succeeded in having a high yield with minimal inputs. He had his soil tested not too long ago and it was found to be very fertile with a high level of nitrogen. To find out more, watch the interview I did with him below.
This is an update from my last interview with him 5 years ago, to see how his garden has evolved over time, read the interview here.
Early this year, I managed to persuade my parents to get a vermicompost kit. Before that, I mostly threw fruit and vegetable peelings in an open heap in my garden, which irked my parents, as they said it attracted the odd rat to our home. I still toss some vegetable offcuts into the garden, but only the ones which do not attract vermin, such as onion and leek, and orange peel. This helps to repel cats from the garden, their presence is not welcome by my chickens.
Waste management is an issue that we all need to be mindful of. Most people think about their trash for as far as the eye can see, and that it is something that will take care of itself. All our trash in Singapore is incinerated and then disposed of at Pulau Semakau, but even that is slowly running out of space, and soon we will need to find more land to bury Singapore’s waste.
But that is not the real solution, we really need to cut waste at its source, which includes buying products with minimal or no packaging, and by minimising what we throw away by repairing, reusing, upcycling and/or recycling what we can. Food waste is another issue that needs more attention, and to find out more about what we can do in Singapore, visit the Save Food Cut Wastewebpage.
Rather than dispose of our fruit and vegetable peels, we can compost them in a few ways to get nutritious soil amendment which you can use on your plants. To find out more about the merits of composting, and what you can compost, here is a great resource. For apartment dwellers, the best options are vermicomposting and the Bokashi bin or Urban Composter, as they do not take up much room, or a simple DIY version can be found here. For those who have a garden, larger composting units are available; there is the Tumbleweed Compost Maker or you can create your own bays for composting. To find out your composting options in Singapore, and the costs, see here.
A vermicompost system comprises of worms and is more suited to those who have moderate amounts of raw fruit and vegetable scraps. Worms don’t like oil, salt, meat, dairy, onions and citrus, so this system is not appropriate for those who plan to compost food of this nature. As a result, you will have worm castings and worm leachate for use on your plants. Both contain micronutrients and beneficial microbes that help with soil conditioning.
Vermicomposting has a three-fold benefit for me. I can compost my fruit and vegetable peelings, I get worm casting as compost, as well as worm tea, a liquid fertiliser. I got mine from Terracycle.
Of course if you don’t like worms, there is always the Bokashi Bin or Urban Composter. Once full, the bin is sealed and left to pickle for around 10 -14 days, and is turned into pre-compost. At this point, it is still too acidic to be added to plants, and needs further composting for at least two weeks for it to neutralise. During the composting process, leachate is also produced and can be diluted and used as a nutrient booster for plants.
My friend Bhavani Prakash demonstrates on her wonderful blog – Eco Walk the Talk – how to make your own compost bin using container pots, see here. They can be used indoors or outdoors, but sun exposure and moisture helps to speed up the break down process.
Another way to turn fruit and vegetable peelings into another useful resource is by fermenting it for three months in water and molasses. During this time, it will be transformed into “garbage enzymes” and it can be used as a household cleaner or liquid fertiliser. To find out how to use it, see here.
I have to admit that I’m quite partial to worms, but for fruits and vegetables that have gone off, I put them in a container pot. I make sure I give my worms the best food possible, mostly spray-free or organic. Maintaining a vermicompost is easy. Here’s a closer look of what the bin looks like after I dug into it a bit.
I place damp newspapers between layers of fruit and vegetable peelings to keep their bedding moist. It also ensures that ants don’t move in. Worm bins should not smell, mine smells pretty good!
What I look forward to doing each week is collecting worm tea. I dilute it for use on my plants. According to Terracycle’s website, one should dilute it with aged water at a ratio of 1:100. I’m thinking of selling my excess worm tea in the near future, seems like it is worth a fair bit.
If you don’t already compost, I hope you’ll consider it after reading this post!