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The Art of Composting - The products

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The Art of Composting
The compost heap
The products
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The products
Very near the base of each green compost container is a faucet. Four days after a heap has been started, volunteers turn on the faucet to drain the liquid that has collected in the container. More liquid is drained out once every four days for a total of ten times, or 40 days from the start of the heap, after which the heap dries up—a sign that the compost is mature and ready for use.

Each time workers collect the liquid from a compost heap, they dissolve about a pound of brown sugar in 20 kilograms (44 pounds) of this liquid and stored the batch in a white container. Liu Pin-jun (劉品君), another core volunteer at the workshop, said, “Brown sugar suppresses the odor from the compost liquid, helps with the fermentation process, and enhances the quality of the liquid fertilizer, which is ready in 21 days.”

The workshop usually cannot gather the liquid quickly enough to meet the demand. This liquid is in such high demand because it is quite a helper in any household.

The liquid, in full strength, has been shown to be a superior drain opener. Once an office toilet was so clogged up that even a plumber could not fix it, but after some of the liquid was poured into the toilet, it began flowing freely again, sparing the building owner the expense and agony of repair.

Unlike chemical drain openers, this natural clog opener is gentle; it does not corrode pipes or make them brittle. And because it is entirely natural, it does not pollute as chemical openers invariably do.

One quart of this liquid can also be diluted in 300 quarts of water to make a liquid fertilizer.

Both the liquid fertilizer and the solid compost are excellent soil conditioners that can give any gardener a green thumb. “The small vegetable garden outside the workshop serves as our best advertisement,” Lin said with a smile. The fruit plantation at the Tzu Chi Sanyi Complex about 30 miles to the north has started using these soil conditioners, and it has seen marked improvement in the quality of its produce.

According to the statistics that Lin is keeping, in the 33 months between April 1, 2007 and December 31, 2009, the volunteers at the workshop made compost heaps in 2,016 88-liter (23-gallon) containers, recycling about 40,320 kilograms (88,900 pounds) of kitchen waste. The heaps produced 1,210 20-kilogram (44-pound) bags of solid compost and 1,317 20-kilogram containers of liquid.

These numbers are for the food waste from the Xintian recycling station alone. They would be much higher if scraps brought in from other Tzu Chi facilities were also included.

Both products are used to enhance the landscapes at nearby Tzu Chi facilities. “They can also be purchased for prices substantially lower than comparable commercial products,” Lin explained. “The proceeds from the sales help defray the cost of microbe booster and rice chaff.”