Friday, 20 March 2020

Composting in a Crisis - Make Your Own Compost Heap

Here in Cambridge collection of our compost bins has now suspended for the next month and a half, to allow council workers to concentrate on making sure the recyclables and black bins get emptied. And while thats an inconvenience, I think we're all agreed that this is very much an example of a first world problem in the face of a whole world crisis and therefore an acceptable loss. Pandemic management or green waste collection? Its not a difficult call is it?

But then what are we all going to do with all the stuff that we normally get collected? Well, I think I need to split this into multiple posts. The first, this one, is about composting. Then I'm going to talk about making your own stock and perhaps frugal cooking. But first, compost.

The internet is awash with guidance on making compost and my gosh do they make it look complicated! It really isn't. It can be, or it can not. I'm going to talk about my garden heap, the allotment heap, and describe how to make your own.

Garden Composter Bin - With Worms!

This is my garden composter.

This is what it currently looks like inside:

And this is what comes out from the bottom of it:

Literally, if you order a composter bin like that, put it on the soil in a corner of the garden (shady is best), and keep putting compostable material in it, thats what you get. And if you scavenge a handfull of tiger worms from someone has them, or order some online, it will go like the clappers. The access port at the bottom lets you extract compost at the bottom while you keep adding matter at the top. As you keep putting more in the worms move in to eat it, leaving completed compost beneath them. Honestly, its as simple as that, its like magic. This compost is fine for most of my potting for vegetables for the allotment, and it works tremendously well as soil conditioner. The white bits, the shelly bits, are bits of egg shell, a side effect of eating a lot of eggs from our own hens.

If you can't get tiger worms, don't worry, it'll still work. Its just slower.

What can I put in a garden worm bin?

Well more or less anything that will rot down. Avoid meat because it attracts rats, avoid fish because its going to stink, and avoid too much citrus and whole layers of onion skins because its too acidic. Other than that - fruit peel and cores, vegetable peel, teabags, used ground coffee, weeds from the garden, egg shells, grass clippings... It all goes in. Its a great idea that if you put in lots of one kind of thing, especially something green, to also add plenty of handfulls of scrunched up newspaper (or that brown packing paper from Amazon, old printer paper, torn up carboard, etc.). Compost nerds will tell you its about C and N balance, but don't let that scare you. They're just saying if there's lots of one thing and not enough of another it goes wrong.

What SHOULD I put in any garden composter?

Urine. Pee on it. Pee on it. Every. Single. Day. Not only are you not then flushing away gallons of water, you're adding rapidly degradable nitrogen sources that give a massive boost to the bacteria and fungi that make your compost. You're also adding the smell of human urine and somewhat putting off foxes, mice and rats. Don't be precious - get out there and if you're a chap you know how this is done, if you're a lady use a jug or a bucket. 

And paper. Newspaper, cardboard, packing paper... All of that is handy in a home compost mix. Not loads, not masses, but every few weeks some scrunched up paper is a good idea because your home scraps are a bit rich, a bit high in nitrogen. 

And if you can get a scoop of well rotting stuff from someone elses compost to start things off, that helps too. It isn't essential but it starts the process off a bit faster.

What if I can't afford a bin?

Compsting just works. A pile of decaying matter under a bush with an old rug on top works. Can you scavenge a few planks or bits of door to make a crude square with an open front? Use that, and put a sheet of black plastic or old carpet on top. Pee on it every day, don't drown it in grass clippings with nothing else mixed in, and it will work. Just remember to cover it over, do it on earth rather than paving, and it will work.

What if I need a bigger heap?

On my allotment I've got three pallets nailed together to make an open square, a pile of decaying matter, and a sheet of plastic on top. Many shopkeepers can give you old pallets if you ask nicely, and you are NOT going to need to go bigger than this.

I want to compost but I live in a flat. What do I do?

I applaud your enthusiasm. Essentially you can still use a vermicompost (worm compost) system. This advice here is very good.

What about meat, bone and things?

Hardcore, eh? Well again, I applaud you. Now we're talking about anaerobic digestion and this is not for the feint hearted. I would advise that the first thing you should do is cook the bones and scraps of meat for stock, but if you want to then compost it then the search term you're looking for is bokashi composting. Remember though that however you do anaerobic composting you end up with something that isn't yet compost, its going to need to be added back to a normal compost heap or even buried to make use of it. As stated - this is hardcore stuff. 

1 comment:

  1. The height of my composter bin would require me to use a step ladder in order to pee in accurately in full view of my neighbours so it must be carried out at night with a torch. Is the urine factor really worth it??