Cycles of Nature

Issue: 

It is that time of the year again, a time when everywhere we look; we find piles and piles of leaves shed by trees. For many urban dwellers, the sheer volume of these leaves and the constant need to sweep and collect them is a nuisance. And that is one of the numerous limitations of our urban blinders. If only we were able to see that, the shedding of leaves is perhaps the simplest and most direct way for us to experience the magic of Nature's cycles.

Due to their ability to photosynthesize, plants are the only living things that produce their own food as well as food for other living things. They take in carbon from the air in the form of carbon dioxide, produce carbohydrates (like glucose) and release oxygen, which keeps life on Earth going. And when the plants shed their leaves, they are decomposed by millions of soil microorganisms to release carbon to the soil and air, which is absorbed by a new plant again. The cycle thus continues so more food can be produced. This forms part of the ‘Carbon Cycle’, one of the many essential cycles in nature. In fact, the same carbon atom can move through many organisms and even end in the sameplace where it began. This is the magic of the carbon  cycle; the same atoms can be recycled for millions of years!

The ‘Nitrogen Cycle’ is another example of the fascinating coordination and inter-dependency between the various biotic and abiotic elements in nature. Nitrogen found in the atmosphere cannot be used as such by plants and animals. It is converted by bacteria present in soil and water to more usable forms. Animals then get their share by eating plants/plant products, and humans get theirs by eating animals/plants/plant products.

When animals and plants die, and when plants excrete, they release inert nitrogen, which is once again converted to complex forms by microbes to a form that continues the cycle. And why, one might wonder, is the nitrogen cycle so important? The answer lies in the fact that nitrogen is the most important part of the building blocks of life – proteins. That all these cycles continuously occur on theirown is indeed fascinating.

When we begin to engage with life around us, we realise that size does matter. We humans are but a small part of the Earth. It is the millions and millions of microorganisms and other small creaturesthat ensure life is continuously engaging  with one another. Perhaps, a walk in the garden or park or forest with a magnifying glass, would offer us a glimpse into a completely new world primarily inhabited by these microbes that sustain life on earth. As Geoff Lawton, a  permaculture consultant and designer explains in his film (40 Tons of Life in One Acre of Soil), “there can be as much as 40 tons of life actively at work in an acre of soil, and let's not forget that that life is almost completely restricted to the top few inches of top soil”.

Microorganisms like bacteria, fungi and other larger organisms break down leaves, twigs, grass clippings and all organic matter to a rich resource – compost; in the presence of air and water. The whole process of decomposition is truly like magic. One cannot see the microbes in action and yet the result is evident. A pile of organic matter will, over time, heat up, shrink in volume and convert to dark, rich compost. Further study of this process reveals that this happens thanks to an amazingly well-defined hierarchy and role definition among the microbes. Through this biological process that returns organic matter to the soil, the composting cycle becomes part of the earth's biological cycle of growth and decay and  ‘compost itself is thus a symbol of continuing life.’

Nothing new can ever be added on Earth, except the energy of the Sun. It is therefore critical that living things be able to reuse the existing matter repeatedly. This means that things have to be continuously recycled. Which is why, the cycles of Nature like the carbon cycle, nitrogen cycle, and soil fertility cycle are so important for all of us. So, if we take efforts to fertilise our land (gardens/parks/ soil) by composting organic matter around us, not only would we be completing a key link in the soil fertility cycle, we could also be an integral part of the magic!

A simple poem in ‘Long Live Earth’ by Meighan Morrison (Scholastic Publication, 1994) sums it up thus:

If you can, plant a tree or a garden to suit.
Be good to the soil, and the seed will bear fruit

The Daily Dump team keeps itself busy trying to find ways and means to make waste beautiful and visible; and to address waste-related behaviour. We feel lucky to be working so closely with composting – a key part of the magical cycles of nature. Get in touch at www.dailydump.org or
dailydumpcompost@gmail.com.