Our terrace is our laboratory. This wonderful laboratory, under the open sky helps us understand the subtle science of nature.

Our first experiment started with managing our waste. Segregation has always been our part of life, thanks to our schooling. Dry waste was always kept separately. Recyclable items were sold & the money collected went to an orphanage. Wet waste from the kitchen was disposed via municipal collection.

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We have a small terrace garden for which we regularly need compost. We used to source compost from the market. Then we installed Khamba, an easy-to-use composter from the daily dump. This came in handy in converting our kitchen waste to healthy compost. Our first batch of compost brought a lot of smiles and satisfaction. The plants seemed to love it.

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Gradually, we took up growing our food. We started growing organic vegetables. Our hearts used to sink while watching pests attacking the yield. We used isolation pest repellent methods, but with limited success. We started looking into the challenges from different perspectives. We soon realized that pest attack can also happen because of unhealthy soil. Then we started working on making our soil healthy & balanced. Explored other methods such as companion cropping and vertical gardening. It took us several years to understand how it works. Today, we've adopted natural/do-nothing gardening style. We just leave our garden to nature to take care of it.

While composting we realized, citrus waste cannot be added, as it increases the pH value of the soil. But we consume a lot of citrus fruits at home and didn't know what to do with the waste. Our efforts coupled with study brought us close to citrus bio-enzymes. We studied the same bio-enzymes during our graduation, but didn't know how to use them. It was amazing to discover the vast spectrum of usage of this wonderful liquid. We wanted to brew our own enzymes. And so we allocated a corner of our kitchen hesitantly for this. Slowly the process of decomposition & fermenting was happening in the corner and citrus pulp was getting dissolved.

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There was no stink but discoloration of the liquid occurred. After 90 days of patient observation, our first batch of bio-enzymes was ready. Voila! We made our own enzymes – that smell like lemon, full of living microbes which work on our dirt like a killer, but yet completely free from harmful chemicals. This has replaced most of the synthetic chemicals in our home. Bio-enzymes can be used as a cleaner (floor, bathroom, toilet, drainage, grey water), washer (dish soap, stain remover), for our laundry, hygiene, and outdoor (fertilizer, insect repellent).

This is a monthly routine now. And making these bio-enzymes is fun, for I don't have to worry about contributing to water contamination. Now, we are able to manage waste and in the process we have reduced the number of chemicals and plastic containers we use.

We took another step towards making our home greener.

We installed a bio-gas plant on our roof top. This portable bio-gas plant consumes wet kitchen waste & produces bio-gas that can be used for cooking. We found it is easy to install & maintain. All it needs is some sunlight & cow dung initially to start the process of breeding microbes that produce methane. You will be able to use your first batch of bio-gas 14 days later!

Thereafter, all you need to do is to top up the unit with bio-degradable waste. We also encourage our neighbors to contribute their waste so that as a community, we could recycle as much as possible. We are glad to generate our own cooking gas now, and the slurry generated by this goes back to our garden.

In between, we decided to generate our own electricity to reduce the dependency on public grid. We installed solar panels, batteries & invertor. It was quiet tricky since we had multiple constraints like space, budget, existing wiring etc. With all this, we started generating 1KVA per day. This is sufficient to run our 5amp load such as fans, lights, TV and other smaller units. 15amp workload such as fridge & sump motor still depend on BESCOM to run. We also replaced CFLs & bulbs with LEDs for better efficiency. Other reason is that disposal of CFL is hazardous because they contain mercury and lead.

As per the waste management mantra (Reduce, Recycle & Reuse), in our journey we attempted to reduce our consumption & derive all that we need from nature directly. In our search, we invented natural moisturizing cream and lip balm. Yes! We make our own moisturizing cream and lip balm too at home from natural resources. There is a joy in discovering these little things.

We believe sharing & caring is what brings in meaning. Hence, Smitha & I paired up under the Soil & Soul umbrella to provide experiential learning on living sustainably. We conduct workshops on sustainable lifestyle, water rejuvenation, farm trails, tribal exchange and afforestation. The concept of Community Action Plan is introduced during our workshop; based on their inspiration participants are equipped to create their own blueprint to nurture the self and the environment. We hope to bring in small, little changes to our society through our humble efforts.

Photos and writing by Priti Rao, who is the founder of Soil & Soul.