"Do you think you are educated? I don't care if you can speak French, you have an MBA, you've travelled the world, you've accumulated plenty of money and you run your own business - you're uneducated if you don't know how to make a compost heap" Satish Kumar, Environmentalist 2007Compost Confusion: A lot is written about composting but many people are still confused and fail at their first attempt and then give up - 'the heap didn't break down', 'it went really slimey', 'it just stank and was full of cockroaches' etc. I want everyone to be a successful composter because it makes your plants grow better and recycles nutrients that might otherwise have been lost.
|What a lovely load of rubbish!|
1. Get the recipe right. For compost heaps to work they need about 15-20 parts carbon (dry,brown stuff)to one part nitrogen (green stuff/manure). That's a lot of brown stuff to green. To help you - think about how nature feeds itself - say a forest. What is dropping on the forest floor to replenish it? A lot of leaves, decaying logs, branches, strips of bark, ash from spot fires, fallen flowers, fruit, feathers, shed animal skins, egg shells, decaying bodies of animals and insects etc. That's a lot of brown stuff to green. There is no direct correlation - it's just helpful in thinking how compost is made in nature and what you should be putting in your heap (just leave the dead bodies out please!).
2. Keep it simple. There is no need to go out and spend $500 on a compost bin. Choose the system that will work for you and your family - one that you will use. If you don't have enough stuff to fill a compost bin fairly quickly then you may be better off with a small and compact worm farm.
3. Give me a sunny spot. A lot of people make the mistake of putting their compost bin out of sight/down the back/behind the shed etc. There are two problems with this. For compost heaps to work they need to be warm and airy and you won't be making trips to it with the kitchen scraps if it is too out of the way.
Making compost does not require a science degree, however, for success a few simple rules needs to be followed:
A Balanced Diet: Compost breaks down if it has the correct balance of carbon (sawdust, dry leaves, straw, newspaper, kitchen scraps etc) and nitrogen (fresh pulled weeds, fresh grass clippings, seaweed, fresh manure etc). You need more of the carbon (C) than the nitrogen (N) – about 15 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen (this is where most people go wrong!) It also needs enough air and needs to be kept damp (not wet). Keep some sawdust or shredded newspaper next to your bin to add every time you put a load of weeds, kitchen scraps or grass clippings.
What Kind of Bin: Compost bins need to be large enough to generate enough heat – about 55oC – to break down materials and prevent unwelcome guests like cockroaches. I have always had success with the plastic black bins – the million dollar bins (they are made from recycled banknotes!). However they will generally not get hot enough to kill off seeds – so don’t put invasive weed seeds in there (feed them to the chooks (or worm farm) or ‘hot’ compost them in a black plastic bag), however this does mean that beneficial ‘volunteer’ seeds will keep your vegie garden regenerating – you will always be getting new tomatoes, parsley, basil, papayas, coriander, dill, cosmos, zinnias, rocket etc.
What Can Go In: Kitchen scraps, coffee grounds, egg shells, shredded paper, leaves, weeds (not onion weed bulbs), hair, wood ash, seaweed, grass clippings, soft prunings, manure, comfrey and yarrow leaves (compost activators), straw, sawdust, stable sweepings.
TIP: Weed and prune your garden beds before you mow – use the catcher and you will have a perfect shredded mix to add to the compost heap.
What to Leave Out: Dairy products and meat scraps, they can bring maggots. Too many citrus peels – they rapidly change the pH and kill off the micro-organisms necessary to make the compost work – oils and fats. Large pieces of watermelon skin and pumpkin will attract rats - chop it up and bury it in the middle of the bin. Coloured and glossy paper. Plastics. Any plant with thorns. No chemicals.
Where to Put it: Do not put compost bins in cool, shaded, wet areas – they will not work – they need warmth and air to work.
TIP: Grow some comfrey next to your bin. Are you ready for this? Comfrey is a dynamic accumulator and therefore compost activator. It is full of 'mined' minerals and nitrogen and gets the whole thing working (and you also have a talking point at dinner parties!)
What Can Go Wrong: Foul smells – heap too wet (too much N(nitrogen) – add some C(carbon)) a handful of garden lime/ dolomite or wood ash and turning the heap will help to combat this. Not working – too cold/dry/or not enough N – add some fresh garden weeds/manure/lawn clippings/comfrey and maybe move to a sunnier spot.
TIP: The smaller the pieces that you put in your compost the quicker it will work.
What the world needs now is a sense of humus