Happy days! Turning the compost heaps after weeks away

Hooray! Even though it was stinky and I got covered in bugs, getting stuck into the compost was something I’ve been looking forward to all week.

After a quick trip to the farmers market I was in the backyard and pulling apart bay no. 4 at 7:30. It’s a good thing I managed to get out there early because when I started turning bays 2 and 3 they were both hot at the centre and the day was quickly warming up.

Zoe did a great job taking all of the donated kitchen scraps from the collection bin out front to the heaps. I was concerned that the bays might fill up while I was away but thanks to many voracious soldier fly larvae the volume of bay no. 2 seemed to equilibrate, with the larvae eating materials about as quickly as they were added. I’ve heard that this is a downside to harbouring lots of soldier fly larvae in your compost. You don’t actually end up with as much compost, due to some of the organic matter flying off as adult soldier flies instead. That is fine by me though as I’m mostly interested in diverting as many kitchen scraps away from landfill as possible, rather than making large volumes of compost.

What the compost has been lacking while I was away was oxygen input via turning, however. This is also the reason why a lot of backyard compost heaps underperform, they just aren’t turned or aerated enough. It’s why I would recommend spending a little extra on a tumbler style of composter if you’d like to compost in your own backyard. Actually, one of our community members has just graduated from the HCC. Instead of donating her kitchen scraps to the HCC weekly, she’ll add them to her new tumbler instead. Great stuff!

Bay no. 4 Carbon-rich and a bit dried out

It was evident that the HCC heaps/bays were due for a turn. While bay no. 4 was a bit dried out, bay 2 definitely had some slimy, nitrogen-rich material at the bottom that could do with some oxygen, and perhaps some more carbon mixed in too. Sorry neighbours, there was an unpleasant odour in the vicinity of HCC headquarters this morning as I uncovered some fermentation hotspots. Of course that also meant that there would have been some methane production! The main aim of the HCC is to avoid the methane generation that happens when these kitchen scraps are sent to landfill, so the fact that this happened in the HCC heaps was not optimal. Not to worry though, it was only a small amount. It’s also one of the reasons that I am asking new members* to provide a monetary contribution to the HCC, so that I can pay someone for not only monitoring the heap if I’m away but also to do the dirty and heavy work of turning.

Slightly neglected bays 1-3, bay 2-3 full of soldier fly larvae though πŸ™‚

To fix up the heaps I carried out some layering with carbon-rich dry material from bay no. 4, interspersed with sloppier (and a bit stinky) materials from bay 2 or 3. All topped off with nice dry stuff from bay no. 4 to keep some of that odour in place while it sorts itself out.

Bay no. 4 mostly depleted with the contents put to good use
Bays 1-3 happy again

Now it’s time to start up those bucket collections again, as well as meet some new members! I’m sure that bay no. 1 will be full by the end of the day.

Speaking of new members, I’ve had some recent interest in people wanting to learn more about how the heap operates so I will definitely be running another open day soon-ish. Some of my composting technique is made up as I go along but I’m really enjoying the opportunity to turn theory into practice. This also means that I will have some compost ready to donate back to the community in a few weeks, once again. Make sure to let me know if you’d like some.

-Brook

 

*The 60-odd households that joined in 2018 get to keep their lifetime discount as thanks for helping me while I sorted out the logistics of the whole thing πŸ™‚

Who’s excited about composting in 2019?

I am! That’s not surprising as I’ve been excited about compost for a while now and I don’t see that abating. It’s true that I’ve been away for the last few weeks and haven’t been able to actively compost myself. However yesterday I was very pleased to take a peek at the HCC heap when I got back. I know that Zoe has been working hard to shift all of your lovely kitchen scraps and integrate them into the heap. Also working hard were the many soldier fly larvae that the heap is home to in this warm weather. They certainly have a voracious appetite and have ensured that the heap did not overflow with rotting scraps, breaking them down instead.

I even managed to do a little composting while in the northern hemisphere. Christmas in the northeast USA was a little warm this year. While I was lucky enough to enjoy a dusting of snow of Christmas Eve the warm temperatures meant that the soil had not yet frozen. So I decided to take care of the veggie scraps that had built up from Christmas dinner preparations and carry out a little soil amendment at my in-laws place. Veggie scraps had been disposed of in a pile in the veggie patch. This is a responsible way to dispose of this waste in that part of the world although of course it means that the bunnies and squirrels and birds will steal the best bits before anything breaks down. To ruin their fun I dug a trench right into the veggie patch and buried the scraps in there. Then we dusted the scraps with ash from the wood fires we had been burning. The alkalinity of the wood ash should balance out with the veggie scraps which will tend to be acidic. If anyone in Canberra has wood ash from untreated wood thenΒ  the HCC will happily dispose of it!

 

I was having so much fun with the digging and rearranging of the veggie scraps that my niece got stuck in too. Thanks for the help M! It was a great way to warm up on a cold winter morning. But digging and composting is not everyone’s cup of tea. I am fascinated by the degradation process and like to think about the biological and molecular changes in things like potato peelings and mango pits but I know it is a bit of a niche interest. Others, like my sister-in-law (M’s Mom) recognise that composting is a worthwhile thing to do but find the whole thing a bit daunting. How to properly manage a backyard heap so that it doesn’t become an ugly, stinky part of the garden? perhaps even one that attracts pests? That’s something that community composting can help with. The HCC heap operates much better because it receives rich inputs from so many households. And community members can rest assured that their organic wastes are being taken care of in a responsible, climate-friendly manner without having to manage their own heap or even think about it much at all.

So even though I will remain to be very excited about compost I am not actually expecting or even hoping for most of the community to be excited about the actual composting process. Rather, I would like to see it become perfectly normal for everyone to seperate out their kitchen scraps and have somewhere for them to be processed without much of a mental burden.

Of course if anyone wants to nerd out with me and learn more about composting then I’m happy with that too πŸ˜‰