There’s more to composting than just tossing bits of unwanted food in a bin every now and again.
Yes, it is eco-friendly, yes, it is natural and yes, it can help your garden enormously, but only if you remember a few things.
When you start don’t be pressured into investing in a whole composting system that looks great but is totally unnecessary.
Firstly, think about the nature of rain forest and remember that the luxuriant growth of the South American rain forests exists on only 600mm of constantly composting material with practically no soil to speak of.
In Australia we are faced with some of the shallowest topsoil on the planet so it can work here too.
There are a few different methods of composting that can be applied to every type of home.
Whether it’s a plastic bin with a few holes in the side, a ‘pile’ in a corner of the backyard, a serious timber or wire box made from old wooden pallets and chicken wire, or a very serious set of adjoining boxes with removable slat walls, the principles are still the same.
1. Ensure that wherever to locate your compost heap there will be sun for more than 4 hours a day. (compost is heat activated)
2. The ground should be reasonably level to help with drainage. If you have no drainage in your bin, drill holes in the side and make sure they are always free.
3. Remember that you must be able to turn or mix things up in there.
4. You need to balance the amount of green and dry materials in your heap. (50/50 is good. Green adds nitrogen and Dry adds carbon)
G. Fruit and veggie scraps, green leaves and spent flowers, grass clippings, Coffee grounds and tea leaves.
D. Shredded paper (including newsprint, excluding magazines and mail-outs), lint from the dryer or vacuum cleaner (do not use this lint if it is predominantly synthetic) and sawdust.
5. Never add any animal materials such as meat scraps or bones, animal fats and definitely no dog or cat poo. (this is not manure, this is poo!)
6. If you add dry leaves in Autumn, well and good, but, if you do not turn the mixture often they will never break down and can stop the whole process of composting for years.
7. Turn or mix your bin, heap, pile at least once a week, as this creates oxygen exchange, moisture equalisation, and encourages decomposition.
8. Water your compost at least once a week. Dry compost is a contradiction in terms. Once it dries out it takes ages to get the rotting happening again.
9. Give it time to become ‘soil’. Don’t be impatient, it it rot away at it’s own pace. Some plants like Yarrow will speed the decomposition up a little but generally be patient.
10. It can help to occasionally spread a layer of dirt or potting mix on top (not too thick) to add texture and volume to your compost.
Once your bin or whatever is full, simply carry on with the above activities.
You will know when it is ready to use by the sight and smell. It actually looks like good soil and smells a kind of ‘earthy sweet’ that is quite comforting.
The volume of your bin will about 15% of it’s initial volume. It really takes that much in compression and conversion.
Hopefully, after your first bin was full you found it necessary and imperative to start another one while you waited.
The success of ‘making dirt’ in your first one will encourage you to keep going further.
Now, as I mentioned, there are hundreds of composting products available and, so you will always be able to buy what you are not interested in (or capable of) building yourself.
But, if you want to take the role of DIY waste management, then I would suggest obtaining (for free ideally) five timber product pallets that are usually only made for one use and then discarded.
Four sides and the base of your compost bin is done! A few self tapping screws to hold it together will give you a very ‘airy’ box.
A 10m roll of chicken wire wrapped around the sides and the bottom and your bin is complete.
Fill and wait.
Usually the timber used in pallets is low grade and generally untreated with chemical.
This means that, naturally, the same organisms that compost your waste are going to have a go at your bin as well.
Personally, I don’t see a problem with that as the bin was never intended to be an architectural addition to the garden.
Your bin will probably be a one metre cube which is pretty well an ideal size to use for an average family and garden waste disposal and it’s not too large to turn.
The bigger the bin, the more effort is required to layer and to turn it so keep it real. I know from experience that leaning over a large compost bin and tumbling in is no party.
Remember that your compost bin is ‘supposed’ to be full of life. Worms, snails, slugs beetles and other weird looking creatures can live out their whole lives in your compost bin and the circle of life is so complete that it’s just magic.
For additional hints on garden nutrition, hydroponics and home gardening check out GreenFingers.com.au