Monday, 28 August 2017

Composting

Following Plasticfree-July I felt it was apt that we revisit another waste-reducing action that can be done on a variety of scales; so it doesn’t matter if you live in an urban area, or have a veggie patch or access to a community garden- and that’s composting.
Composting uses the natural process of decomposition to convert organic waste matter into a nutrient-rich soil you can use on your garden. So it is a great way to reduce landfill, with the added benefit of creating your own compost, mulch or even worm tea (depending on your method) … so win, win all round!

Composting is most definitely not hard (though if you follow this blog you will notice I have made a few mistakes along the way), however if I can manage it, anyone can!
It is basic to set up (regardless of the method)
  1. Choose a shady spot to start your compost heap or to position your compost bin/wormfarm. There are many types of composting bins available - some require mixing and some don't.
  2. Add to your compost in layers of food scraps, garden clippings and paper.
  3. Keep your compost moist, but not wet and aerate it about once a week.
  4. When your compost is dark and crumbly (somewhere between six weeks and four months) dig it into your garden, spread it on top as mulch or use in plant pots.
Anyone who has read the older posts would know we began composting using a worm farm, as I had an alternative motion- producing our own worm supply for our bio system (sewerage from the house).  But over time we have set up a few here and there

A (commercially available) compost bin in the veg patch for direct disposal of weeds- this may sound crazy, but I actually keep some ‘weeds’ in the veg patch as they off great ground cover and compost/mulch rather well. Being so close to the pig pen and paddock I can also include manure to assist its breaks down before putting it on the garden- as its high in nitrogen (but we’ll get back to that)

Image result for compost binAdvantages
The bin has no initial construction and is easy to install.
The base is perforated to allow contact between the ground/earth (and its inhabitants) and your compostable, however it can be quickly and easily relocated.
The front hatch allows for direct access to the lowest materials (compost), whilst the lid allows you to continue to top it up.
And it is all discretely hidden away- ideal for small gardens and those with curious pets or children (and yes I have both, so I can get away with saying it).
Disadvantages
Fills up quickly
Not to easy to aerate if necessary
Can become mouldy in the tropical climate, due to minimal ventilation

A compost heap in the chook pen, for breaking down chicken manure, bedding and garden clippings.
Advantage-
Cheap to set up.
Allows the chickens to assist in the breakdown, as they scratch for extra protein snacks (could be messy in an urban set up though)
Well ventilated
Can easily see the compost progress and aerate or ‘mix up’
These also work well on large scales as you may set up various stages along side each other.
Disadvantages
Visible
Accessible to curious animals and children

A worm farm in the herb patch; as its en-route to the shed/bin etc and reminds me to feed the worms their share of food scraps. As our biggest issue here been having sufficient scraps for the worms (as generally the animals get first dibbs).

Now these are not your generic earth worms (though that is what you rely on in a ground based composter- though adding these would not hurt your garden, but they may disperse.

Worm farms can be homemade (beware of residual chemicals and pesticides on materials- as may have been the reason our initial attempt didn’t work), or you can buy ready built versions maybe purchased from most garden centres or hardware store and online (we picked our up second hand from www.gumtree.com.au). 
 







Worms are also widely available through these places and online supplier. Our initial batch were purchased online (www.wormsrus.com.au) and we were amazed that they were delivered via express post . But also try community garden groups and online forums (these have become increasingly popular for trading good and items)  

Advantages
Discrete and can be set up in most situations (on patios etc)
Does not require as much space, as the worm assist the breakdown and is much quicker
Also produces worm tea- liquid fertiliser, a great addition to any garden
Disadvantages
You need to feed it- it cannot be forgotten about like the other options, or your worms leave or perish.

Once you have decided on the best system and location suitable for your home/set up, then there’s what to put in it. The obvious is household scraps, we make a habit of keeping a small bucket in the kitchen designated for food scraps (we do this for animals anyway). But you can purchase decorative little bins/ tubs from any retainers now so it doesn’t have to be unsightly.
I would advise washing it out regularly (after use), or lining it with newspaper can help. You can get biodegradable bags too but then I consider this an additional purchase/ generated waste item. But its personal preference; if it makes it more likely that you would use it.   
You can also compost paper, cardboard, tea bags, coffee grounds, vacuum cleaner dust, lint from a dryer, animal manure, used animal bedding, garden clipping… It’s probably easier to discuss what not to compost;
  • Meat, bones or fish scraps as they will attract pests
  • Perennial weeds or diseased plants, as these may be spread.
  • Banana peels and rinds of citrus fruits (like orange peel), these are very acidic and can affect the pH balance- and definitely do not include if you have worms
  • Dairy products (other than egg shells)
  • Grease and oils
Garden/animal waste
·         We do compost sawdust from the chicken coups, however this should be mixed or scattered thinly to avoid clumping.
·         Also pet manure (by pets I mean dogs, cats etc not livestock) can be composted (and many council encourage this now. However this should be confined to a specific composter (only for this purpose) and not used on gardens or areas that may come into contact with people or anything else that maybe consumed.
But otherwise it is a case of trying to balance your compostable scraps- it breaks down to a mixture of carbons and nitrogens- essentially you need both to encourage a ‘hot’ environment at its centre. This is why we aerate, to assist with the break down.
Material
Carbon/Nitrogen
Notes to consider
Kitchen scraps scraps
Nitrogen
 add with dry carbon items- no meat, fish or bone
eggshells
neutral
 best when crushed
leaves
Carbon
 leaves break down faster when shredded
grass clippings
Nitrogen
 add in thin layers so they don’t mat into clumps
garden plants
 use disease-free plants only
Pruning’s (trees/shrubs)
Carbon
 woody pruning’s are slow to break down
Animal bedding
Carbon

Green comfrey leaves
Nitrogen
 excellent compost ‘activator’
Flowers, cuttings
Nitrogen
 chop up any long woody stems
Seaweed and kelp
Nitrogen
 apply in thin layers; good source for trace minerals
Wood ash
Carbon
 only use ash from clean materials; sprinkle lightly
Manures
Nitrogen
Chicken manure is excellent compost ‘activator’
Horse manure requires a long time to decompose to avoid weed-spread
Pet manure should be composted separately- not for consumption or contact- dispose responsibly
Coffee grounds
Nitrogen
 filters may also be included (and some pods now)
Tea leaves/bags
Nitrogen
 remove metal staples if bags
Newspaper /
Shredded paper
Carbon
 avoid using glossy paper and coloured inks
Cardboard
Carbon
 shred material to avoid matting
Corn cobs, stalks
Carbon
 slow to decompose; best if chopped up
Dryer lint
Carbon
 best if from natural fibers
Sawdust
Carbon
 high carbon levels; add in layers to avoid clumping
Wood chips / pellets
Carbon
 high carbon levels; use sparingly
As mentioned earlier compost can be ready in as little as 6 weeks, but may take months depending on its composition and how you tend to it. It is ready when it turns to a dark rich colour, and maybe used in garden beds, pots etc.
I admit I am a lazy composter-but then that’s the advantage of having a few scattered about. However, if your composting process is slow, it might mean that your compost isn’t hot enough, or you composition isn’t aerated enough. Try one of the following:
  • Increase the amount of times you are turning your pile
  • Increase nitrogen-rich material, such as veggie scraps or green garden vegetation. See the table above
  • Ensure your compost is moist- so water but do not soak
  • Keep it warm, try covering the compost with some insulation
Your compost should be moist (not wet), so sprinkle with water occasionally and turn- remember the centre should be warmer and this is what breaks it down, but it still requires oxygen or it may ‘starve’- especially if using worms.