Meet Secunderabad’s community hero, who is turning leaf litter into ‘amrut mitti’

The model that Poonam has created is perhaps something that all municipalities should look at replicating.
  • aditi mallick
Image credit: Facebook/Poonam Bhide

For years, Poonam Bhide of Secunderabad has watched the municipality workers in her locality burning the leaf litter in her area. The smoke from the burning leaves has always bothered her, and she wanted to do something about it.

But instead of petitioning the civic authorities or waiting for someone else to come up with a solution, the 53-year-old former learning consultant decided to take matters into her own hands.

Poonam decided to collect the leaves and make manure for her terrace garden, and now, the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) has recognised the green warrior as a community hero. In fact, they’ve declared her house a ‘Zero Waste Home’ for segregating her garbage into solid, liquid and medical, and also for making manure out of leaf litter.

“I have always loved gardening. It was after my sister Asha started staying with me that we created the terrace garden,” Poonam says.

Poonam has been researching different methods to make manure for her plants ever since, and a few months ago, she stumbled upon an article about how dry leaves can be decomposed to make quality manure.

“I decided to try it out,” she says.

“Initially, I used the kitchen waste to make manure, and it was good. But with the manure made of leaf litter, the soil becomes much softer. I can see the difference now,” Poonam explains.

The process is simple. Every morning, Poonam is busy collecting leaf litter from the lanes and buildings around her house.

After this starts the first stage, where she stores the leaves in a bag soaked in microbes.

“It can be anything – like soil mostly from near a tree, or a sour liquid like butter milk. Anything that is fermented, basically,” she explains.

This must be kept for over 24 hours, so that each and every leaf gets soaked properly, says Poonam. After this, she lays the mixture on her terrace, in a tray.

“First I add soil, then some kitchen waste, the mixture is layered in the leaf litter. It should be covered with a cloth for nearly 10 to 15 days allow it to mix and decompose,” she says.

Within three weeks, the bacterial activity starts as the bed starts heating up.

“And almost two months later, the soil turns black. I call it ‘amrut mitti’, which makes the soil fertile. The amrut mitti can put on the soil to grow fruits and flowers,” she adds.

Though the process of composting takes over couple of months, but she says, the quality is better than any other manure.

Poonam, along with her sister Asha Bhide who lives with her, has been making the amrut soil for several months now.

“In fact, we have stopped buying green vegetables, as we grow most of the green vegetables on our terrace. It has been very useful. With this soil, the seeds starts sprouting within two to three days,” she says.

Poonam’s initiative has impressed her neighbours, nearby schools, and also the GHMC. In fact, municipality sweepers now deposit the leaf litter they collect at Poonam’s house, instead of burning it.

“I have also advised some of the schools here on how they can raise compositing beds with waste from their canteen and garden. In this way, we are recycling most of the waste and using it for growing trees,” she says.