Bearing buckets of garbage to Lamma

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 18 August, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 18 August, 1994, 12:00am

YUMI Kikuchi has a weird way of making friends. She gives them her garbage.

Everyday, she saves table scraps, peels, mouldy tomatoes and onion skins and puts them into a bucket, covered, in her kitchen.

After it sits for a week or so, she hands it over to Queenie So, who couldn't be more pleased.

She uses the garbage-turned-compost as fertiliser for the vegetables she grows at Green Cottage, an organic farm on Lamma.

A veteran of kitchen composting, Ms Kikuchi insists the process doesn't take much time or space in her Happy Valley flat.

''I probably spend a minute a day on my compost,'' insists the lecturer and writer on environmental issues.

Her habit started five years ago in Japan, when she lived in Itabashi-ku, a ward in Tokyo. ''The Japanese Government really encouraged composting. Everyone was doing it. In fact, the government supplied the buckets free.'' When she moved to Hong Kong, the bucket came too. Now, as one of the founding members of SAFE (Safe Alternatives on Food and Environment), she hopes to spread the word.

And she did, last weekend at Green World Expo 94 in the Hong Kong Convention Centre. She used her pail of garbage as a show-and-tell exhibit in the SAFE booth.

Compost can be made from any organic material, she explains: potato peels, onion skins, leftovers from the dinner table, bruised tomatoes, any souvenir from last week's shopping spree that went bad in the bottom of the refrigerator.

What makes home composting so easy, according to Ms So, is Hong Kong's climate. ''Organic matter decomposes quite well here due to the warm, humid temperatures. In a normal household, composting can be difficult unless you have a good container with a lid. Sometimes, it stinks.

''In the beginning you need to experiment. If you get the volume right, it won't smell.'' Compost provides a healthy meal for the soil. ''It helps the soil structure, but it has little immediate effect on the plant,'' explains Ms So. ''Farmers who use chemicals can make a plant grow in three weeks. And chemicals also control the insects.

''Compost doesn't work overnight. It nourishes the soil slowly which, in the end, supports the growth of healthy plants. That way, you're contributing to the whole eco-system.'' In order to speed up the process of fermentation and minimise any odour or worms, Ms Kikuchi sprinkles a natural product, called bokashi, over the contents of the bucket.

Bokashi is a type of micro-organism that accelerates fermentation. The brand she orders from Japan, called EM, is not available here.

''You can make compost without bokashi but sometimes, in a small flat, it's messy.'' To each addition of food scraps, she adds about 10 grams of the powder.

Bokashi also comes in a concentrated liquid form but that product is best used to purify water for septic tanks and aquariums.

Though bokashi can be extracted from the soil, the process is complicated. It comes in bags (500 grams for $25) or bottles (a litre for $200).

Transporting buckets of compost from Central to Lamma and from the ferry pier to Green Cottage takes planning and extra strong arms, but Ms So is delighted with her friend's weekly donation.

Her most pressing problem this week isn't carrying buckets. It's dealing with the buckets of rain. Her crops are swimming.