Happenings at HCC

It’s been pretty busy around HCC headquarters. Apart from the continual turning of the compost bays and running around collecting buckets I also had some very welcome guests over the last week.

Jen and Edwina from SEE-Change Canberra stopped by to get a tour of the compost heap ‘in action’. SEE-Change Canberra is a community organisation that is interested in improving the resilience of our urban ecosystem and shares valuable information on all things sustainability keeping in mind benefits for Society, the Environment and the Economy. It’s fantastic that the HCC has the support of SEE-Change. Jen and Edwina had lots of great ideas for the HCC to implement that could help even more community members get on board. To start with, I should borrow their bike trailer soon to see how that goes with buckets full of scraps, as the bike panniers can only hold so much at a time!

Jen watching me ‘unveil’ the compost
Edwina and I, with compost in background 🙂
demo time

And speaking of carrying large-ish volumes of compost, on the weekend I helped Anna from North Canberra Osteopathy donate some compost to the Hackett preschool. Anna’s eldest attends the preschool this year and she was motivated to help them bring their raised garden beds back to life. We took down as much of the chunky compost from HCC bay no. 4 as we could carry, and then dug it into the beds.

helping

Anna had constructed some ‘olla pots’ which hold a reservoir of water that slowly releases from pores in the terracotta, providing an easy way to keep the beds watered.

More helpers, and Anna with the olla pots

It was a very pleasant way to spend a late summer morning and great to see the compost being used in such a community-focused way. And I can’t wait to hear what the kids decide to grow in the beds! 🙂

smiles all round after a job well done (although baby C probably wants to get back to playing with the hose!)

Finally, an upcoming happening at HCC is the next open day! In the end I decided on Sunday the 24th of March, with morning tea on hand from 9 – 11 am. As per the open day last year if anyone would like to help by bringing along a plate that would be great. But if people email me on hackettcompost2602@gmail.com about attendance then I can make sure to have enough tea, coffee and snacks on hand. Hope to see lots of you then!

-Brook

Want compost more quickly? The HCC is here to help

Howdy HCCers, and meet Maryann. I mentioned her in my last community profile. Maryann lives in Hackett, quite close to Katia and both became HCC graduates early this year, embarking on their own compost production with lovely new tumbling composters.

This is how Maryann explains her interest in composting:

“I am motivated by the wish to reduce my household’s waste to landfill and to use the compost to improve my garden without applying expensive artificial fertiliser. I’m encouraged by how easy HCC made it (those yoghurt buckets are a perfect size) and from your support (thanks again for the bucket of nitrogen and advice). Turning that handle is fun and watching the composing process happen is satisfying. And I was surprised to find it’s not smelly if I keep getting the brown to green ratio right.”

 

I totally agree, one of the reasons that I’m happy to work hard at creating compost is to have a productive garden while avoiding the need to buy heaps of fertiliser. When we were finally able to purchase our home (in Hackett, hooray!) I was an out of work scientist (there are a lot of us..) and spending money on the garden, even relatively small amounts like the odd bag of cow manure seemed somewhat indulgent.

But I knew there was a resource right there for the taking in the form of kitchen waste. I started collecting kitchen scraps from friends and was able to satisfy my frugality as well as my sustainable goals. In this way community compost really epitomises the circular economy as well as the gifting or share economy. What all that means is that we can redistribute resources that may be unneeded or detrimental and find value in them when used in the right way.

But how does any of this make compost more quickly? Maryann mentions that I gave her a bucket of nitrogen. This was in the form of ‘compost accelerant’, composed of a few big forkfulls of half-processed compost and a dusting of dried sheep manure. This has given Maryann’s new composter a ‘turbo boost’ by bulking up the amount of material and adding a substantial amount of nitrogen, which should heat things up. As Maryann also mentions, it’s important to keep an eye on the carbon to nitrogen ratio, adding a bit of carbon each time you add the nitrogen rich kitchen waste. This shouldn’t be an issue at all in the next little while though, as there is about to be an abundance of autumn leaves! They make for a great carbon addition to any compost heap.

I know that quite a few other community members within the HCC have their own compost heap, as well as supplying scraps to HCC headquarters. Sometimes the plastic composter in the corner of the backyard is full and slowly doing it’s thing. If you would like to speed that up I’d be happy to provide some accelerant in the form of hot, half-composted material that you can mix into your own heap. You’ll have finished compost to add to those veggie gardens in no time 🙂

Thanks very much to Maryann for showing off her spiffy composter and for being part of the conversation. I’ll be hassling other community members to feature on this blog too, but if anyone would like to volunteer then let me know and I can come over and grab a compost selfie with you and your full bucket 🙂

-Brook

Interested in composting yourself but just can’t find the time? Use HCC to bridge the gap!

There is a common theme among many new HCC members and it goes a little something like this: “I’ve been meaning to start my own compost heap but just haven’t got around to it yet!” Like many things in our busy lives we can easily end up feeling a little guilty or at least preoccupied when there are good intentions but the new habits have not yet solidified.

This was the experience of HCC member Katia. Katia grew up with parents who were keen gardeners and there were always a few chooks around to take care of most of the kitchen waste. Throwing veggie scraps into the landfill bin wasn’t the normal routine. Once Katia started her own household she intended to start composting but was busy setting up other things and taking care of little ones. At the same time she found herself becoming more conscious of the issue of waste. Katia started looking around for ways to become more sustainable by reducing her overall waste footprint. Without a compost heap of her own Katia found that she didn’t like throwing out the leftovers after misjudging the kids appetite for morning porridge or the many fruit peels etc. Luckily this meant that Katia was just in the right mindset to become a HCC contributor!

With a family of four Katia and co. generated many large buckets of kitchen scraps last year. And the fact that her kids were excited to see me pick up those buckets makes up for the Springtime magpie swooping that was involved in the process 🙂

This year though Katia has become a HCC graduate. The family got themselves a lovely compost bin and have been dutifully adding to it, making sure to supplement the kitchen scraps with dry materials from the garden. Katia says that HCC helped her to bridge the gap between intention and action and now the whole family are in on the composting act. They’re now using a tumbler style composter that has a gear mechanism to make the turning easy enough even for the kids to help out. Katia and family are looking forward to using their very own compost in the garden in the next few months to grow their own edibles with.

So to anyone out there thinking of starting to compost soon, you are quite welcome to divert your kitchen scraps to the HCC in the meantime. In fact there is another HCC member who graduated at the same time as Katia and they live on the same street! Spooky!, perhaps there is something in the water? The more people composting the better 🙂

Thank you to Katia for letting me share your story. I’m hoping this will be the first in a series of community member profiles so that I can share all of the ways that people interact with and contribute to the HCC. And although Katia is no longer contributing scraps to HCC headquarters she remains a part of our composting community. I’m always on hand to answer any questions about composting (even if I have to do a little research first) and of course it will be lovely to see all of the green and vibrant things that result from using our scraps in a much better way.

 

 

Cut flowers in the compost – yes please!

The fact that Valentine’s day was only a few days ago reminds me of a question that came from community member Jody in Watson: are cut flowers ok in the compost heap? This turned out to be quite the thought provoking question so thanks for asking it Jody 🙂 Specifically, Jody was wondering about the preservatives that are added to vases to prolong the life of cut flowers as someone had mentioned that these are perhaps best kept out of the compost heap and away from the diverse ecology that the heap harbours.

This was not a consideration that had occurred to me before but even before I looked into just what the ingredients of flower preservatives are I guessed that the answer would be: “nah, she’ll be right!”. This is what I wrote back to Jody initially:

“The cut flowers are a great question. Myself and others have definitely added some to the heap and I haven’t thought there would be any problems with this. I will look into the preservatives question. I suspect there is no concern necessary, due to not only the dilution of these chemicals in the larger volume of the heap but also due to some ‘bioremediation’ activity. The compost heap is a bioreactor and a very complex one at that. This complexity leads to some amazing phenomena such as the ability to detoxify some of the chemicals that we don’t want hanging around in our environment. It’s really cool stuff 🙂 Of course without fancy scientific equipment I can’t be sure which reactions are occurring but I can make some educated guesses.”

This is the kind of science that I love pondering and learning more about so if anyone has any similar questions then ask away!

In the end cut flower preservatives turn out to be quite simple. Whether you make up your own solution or use the sachets provided by a florist it’s basically a small amount of a simple acid, a little sugar and a tiny bit of bleach [source]. Any sugar left on the flowers will be beneficial for the heap (everyone loves sugar, animal, insect, bacteria or fungi, in moderation of course). The heap generates its own acids and a tiny bit more won’t hurt. As for the bleach, any trace amounts may indeed kill a bacterial/fungal cell or two but the community will not be dinted. So please do add cut flowers to your buckets. They will certainly add a smile to my face, making me think that someone has been romantic to someone else or that someone was enjoying a lovely spot of self-care 🙂 If they are flowers with scent then all the better! The compost benefits from balancing nice odours with the occasional unpleasant one. Unfortunately though, those scents are not only absorbed quite quickly into the millieu and nullified but they can also be transformed with the bioremediation/biotransformation reactions mentioned above.

Anyway, more on all that another time. For now, enjoy this pic of the best cut flowers of all, exuberant dahlias.

-Brook

destiny = compost