Compost update: still plenty of capacity

It was great to meet contributor Alison yesterday who also composts at home but refers to that as ‘feeding the possums’ πŸ™‚ I feel the same way about my attempts to grow vegetables in the backyard sometimes. The compost bin that the HCC collections feed into has been built with security in mind. It’s going to be even more secure once a proper lid is constructed. We have intentions to build one from some old roofing from a garden shed… once we get around to it. In the meantime, the compost is covered nightly with wire mesh, coffee sacks and paving tiles to weigh it all down and prevent possums and others getting in. With more and more tasty morsels going in lately the possums have been extra determined though and even chewed a hole right through the hessian coffee sack!
And seeing as the compost heap was nice and full they were even able to pull a little bit of banana peel through the chicken wire. They’ll soon learn that it isn’t worth the effort though. I foiled their plan by turning over the heap yesterday. And it was hot in the middle! Like a stinky sauna! Helped by the fact that I also snuck a bag of cow manure into the middle of the heap to add extra nitrogen. Now the pile with all the tasty kitchen scraps that the possums were attracted to has been mixed up and turned over, with the heat and microbes within redistributed. I finished it off with an ‘icing’ of dry leaves to trap in any odours that had been stirred up and as extra possum deterrent in case they still want to investigate it from the top.

degradation progressing well
ready for the next pile!

My husband, Scott, is as pleased with the progress as I am but also expressed some concern that I may be nearing capacity. I’m not worried though, and reminded him that the wonderful thing about extra feedstock for the heap means that it is much more efficient. Quicker turnover will mean that we avoid reaching capacity and at the same time will be making more finished compost. It’s such a pleasure to have an efficient system. I know I’ve put quite a few cauliflower stems in the first bay of the compost over the past few weeks. These were woody at the base and even a little tough to chop up but now they have ‘disappeared’, being already partially degraded and unrecognisable. Other items may take a little longer but it’s all contributing to make a valuable end product.

This pile is definitely ready for plenty more buckets of waste so keep ’em coming and tell your neighbours!

How to avoid a stinky collection bucket

Any organic waste collection service has to consider the probability of some unpleasant odours from time to time although unlike a ‘night soil’ collection this is far from inevitable!

The worst thing that you can do with any decaying organic matter is wrap it up in plastic. This traps in liquids and excludes air and makes the whole situation ripe for fermentation, leading to greenhouse gas generation and some pretty funky odours. The same thing can happen with a bucket full of kitchen waste. Kitchen waste can be up to 80% water. As the juices from various fruit and veg collect in the bucket, and with extra material piled on top, fermentation can begin quite quickly. The good news is that with a local based initiative like the HCC it’s easy for me to collect the small buckets frequently. Ideally, the kitchen wastes would be added to the compost heap before any fermentation begins. Therefore I am happy to collect from households twice weekly.

Of course, remembering to put the compost bucket out is just one more thing in our busy lives, so some may prefer to have their buckets collected weekly, or even a little less often. In that case, another thing that can help a great deal is to leave the bucket lid off πŸ™‚ This gets air into the bucket, but more importantly lets the water evaporate. If your compost materials dry out then the bacteria that carry out the fermentation won’t have a chance to grow (or to stink it up!). If you want to go a step further you could even put some absorptive material in the bottom, like shredded paper towel or newspaper.

Municipality or local council run kitchen waste collection services don’t always tackle this issue successfully. Some of them have tried using carefully designed vented bins but frequency of collection may well be the answer. In this case I think that we can show that a local effort can do better.

And remember, if your bucket is getting a little on the nose, give me a bell and I’ll swap it for a fresh one! (even if it’s not full yet)

a rather attractive, non-stinky bucket from a long time HCC contributor πŸ™‚

 

Weekends are for composting!

Last weekend I went along to the North Ainslie Primary School sustainability fair. I met Jennifer from SEE-Change there and she very generously let me promote the HCC with some flyers. If you saw the flyers there then I’d love to know! Jennifer was very helpful in other ways, encouraging me to get the word out about the HCC. Thanks also to the coffee van at the fair that let me take some of the lovely nitrogen rich coffee grounds. They smelt delicious and will work wonders in the compost.

We also enjoyed the talk given by Desiree from ACT for Bees. I will be keeping an eye out for the different types of bees from now on! Desiree also gave me a great tip for a new source of compostables, the juice stall at the EPIC markets. Hubby and I routinely shop at the farmers market, this week we just attended a little earlier and dropped off a bin.

frosty AND foggy, but the markets are in there somewhere

When I went back at the end of the morning I was richly rewarded with quite a few kilos of fruit pulp.

Pretty! and it smelt heavenly too

This was great timing as I had only recently acquired a worm farm from a friend who is moving interstate. The fruit pulp is perfect for vermicomposting (feeding the worms) as it’s already cut up into little mouthfuls for them. Of course it’s great in the compost too, as the whole community in there will also appreciate the sugars and nitrogen from the fruit.

My new little helpers in their abode, near the old compost bin (currently serving as a store of dry ‘browns’)

Welcome new members! The hungry compost heap looks forward to your waste

It looks like the new flyer at the Hackett shops, and perhaps the ones I left at the North Ainslie Primary School sustainability fair, are working their magic! The HCC has new contributors this week πŸ™‚ Luckily, I turned over a section of the compost heap last weekend in preparation.

my glamorous life

The compost bin consists of 3 modules, but up till now I had only used the first two and the third had been full of dry leaves for a store of carbon rich material.

the system

On the cold Canberra morning I was excited to rug up and heave-ho and get the compost moving along. I moved the leaves to another part of the garden and then put my back into moving the partially composted materials from the middle section.

coming along nicely

The new collections will top off the first module nicely, and then I’ll look forward to turning that lot too!

I call it my ‘funny gnome lady outfit’

 

Are you really doing all this for free?

Yes, but probably for a limited time only!

At the moment managing our compost heap and some local waste collection is quite feasible to carry out in my spare time even though I also work full time. And I’m happy to do it!

There are commercial organic waste collection services operating in Canberra, but these operate on a different scale, collecting from businesses or organisations, and aiming for large turnover of materials. I’d like to operate on a smaller, more local scale, because my main focus is diverting kitchen waste from households. Plenty of people already recognise that this is a good thing to do, but there are many little reasons why it is still easiest for us to put this kind of waste in the rubbish bin. I’d like to present another option. Of course many people in Hackett are already successful composters. The sharing of different waste materials in a community of composters would support those efforts further still. But really I would like to reach people in Hackett for whom composting is not a priority, or something that they’re not even interested in. For such people it might be an odd concept to pay someone to come and pick up your waste, when that already happens ‘for free’*.

I’d also love to scale up efforts, collecting from as many households as possible. I think it would be great if there was no longer any organic waste going to landfill from Hackett. With extra collections comes a larger workload, and should drive efficiencies in the actual composting. In that case a fee for service or donation based system could be the most sensible model to keep things ticking along. So if you start contributing today you can think of it as a pretty good deal!

For a comparison take a look at Kooda in Perth, a small company making a big difference!

*of course it’s not really free…

Buckets ready and waiting to be filled!

The sad thing about helping my friends set up their new compost heap is that their family of 5 was my best source of kitchen waste. I have been picking up multiple buckets from them regularly. Their desire to compost on site is great, and I would love to replace their feedstock source with one or a handful of sources more local to my compost heap.

Both families have been accumulating buckets of various sizes for kitchen waste collection (mostly by eating vast amounts of yoghurt…). I would love to get these buckets back into rotation! And I would love to make some collections closer to home. If you think you can fill one then hit me up on hackettcompost2602@gmail.com. The buckets range in size from 1L to 4L so even if you only produce a few carrot ends and apple cores, it all helps πŸ™‚

The easiest compost bin?

Hooray for long weekends! This long weekend I helped some friends construct their own compost bin/area/secure heap.

It’s certainly true that if you leave a pile of organic waste in a heap it willΒ eventually decompose, but a compost bin can speed up things considerably. Another important aspect to composting in our urban environment is that we don’t want to encourage or feed vermin. There are of course many ‘off the shelf’ options for compost bins, each presenting particular advantages but I was confident that we could build one from materials I already had on hand, and that it wouldn’t even be too much hard work!

Materials:

  • 6 or so wooden stakes (in our case, straight branches salvaged from a pruning job)
  • small gauge wire mesh – sometimes available at the green shed for a few bucks!
  • carbon rich feedstock material – dry leaves/shredded newspaper/straw
  • coffee sacks or similar for covering heap
  • shade clothΒ  or similar for lining (optional)
  • tools for digging, gloves and a sunhat!

Our site was a disused corner of the garden, tucked in behind the veggie patch.

(Please excuse the poor quality photos, we were too excited about constructing!)

Construction/Installation:

First we dug a shallow hole. The old pitchfork proved very useful to loosen the clay and get around the many rocks. I just kept hitting the spade against rocks!

helpers!

Then we constructed the ‘fence’, the stick and wire walls of the bin. Rather than trying to drive the sticks into the hard, clay ground we simply stood them up around the walls of the hole and then back-filled with soil. Little hands are great for patting and compacting the soil around the base of the sticks. Then we wrapped the wire around the stick frame as tightly as we could, and secured this with some garden twine.

Seeing as we found so many rocks in the dirt patch they were added back around the base of the structure for a decorative touch! On top of the soil inside the bin we placed a square of shadecloth material that I had handy, this should just help some of the compost fines and nutrients from leaching away. It was loosely placed in though, so hopefully any worms that would like to move in can still get around the edges!

Little miss M proved stronger than you might think!

To finish it off, we dumped a whole load of autumn leaves into the bottom. This is mostly a pest deterrent! Mice or rats could probably still dig into the bottom of the heap, but they won’t have much incentive if all that they will find at first is a pile of dry leaves. Hopefully this is enough to deter them from digging in further to find the nitrogen rich veggie wastes anyhow! After this deep layer of carbon rich materials, the compost heap will be built up with alternating thin layers of nitrogen rich kitchen wastes (and some urine soaked kitty litter!), and thin layers of carbon rich materials. It is a good idea to have a pile or large receptacle of leaves etc next to the heap for this purpose.
We also placed a reclaimed coffee sack onto the top to protect it from above, this should also help with temperature regulation, and keep a bit of a lid on the occasional odour.

In the end we were pleasantly surprised by the structural integrity of the new compost bin. It’s only small, so may not be able to perform as a super-efficient hot composter, but it should be relatively easy to use. With a careful eye to layering of nitrogen and carbon rich materials, and keeping an eye on moisture levels, it should be able to carry out some decent degradation. It may not reduce all of the contents to ‘finished compost’ but that’s ok, as portions can be buried in the veggie patch before they are fully degraded and that will still be a valuable soil amendment.

A question that the new owners had for me: “how do we get the compost out of the bottom?”. The best way is going to be lifting up the fence/walls, at which point you can get stuck in with the pitchfork. This is what you usually end up doing with the plastic walled compost bins anyhow, even if they come supplied with little doors at the bottom. That will be a job for spring I think, and I’m sure I could be convinced to help once again πŸ˜‰

With some simple materials and not a whole lot of brute strength a couple of ladies (and some eager mini helpers) got this done in a few hours. I’m hoping the owners will enjoy disposing of their kitchen wastes into the new heap and enjoy watching it transform.