Compost superstars and the ongoing barrel experiment

Yesterday I paid a visit to long time HCC contributors, Chris and Leigh in Gunghalin. But isn’t Gunghalin outside of the HCC collection area? That’s true, but Chris and Leigh happen to be very good friends of mine so that makes it easier for me to collect their kitchen scraps regularly. Also, Leigh had been working in Hackett for the last few months so she was able to drop off their scraps once a week. However Leigh will be taking a break from her paid work for the next little while as they are about to welcome baby no. 2!

Some people bring some nice biccies when they visit, I bring a big black bag of leaves

Despite impending life upheaval they have been very gracious and let me run a little experiment in their backyard. Chris and Leigh have been the first household to host a barrel. They found that the barrel could be tucked into a corner of their courtyard quite easily, in a convenient location that wasn’t too far from the back door and kitchen. Apparently little A is right into the spirit of things and is quick to declare “into the compost!” with any scraps after dinner. Chris has noted just how many half-eaten foods can pile up with a toddler in the house. With the scraps collections however, (either into a bucket, or into the barrel) they don’t have to take the kitchen bin out as often, a small win for convenience.

Family of four with a barrel and plenty of dry leaves tucked in behind the lemon tree

Although the courtyard is only small there is plenty of room to roll the barrel just outside their back fence. I’m sure the grass at the golf course doesn’t mind a little bit of nutrient rich barrel juice!

Chris and Leigh did a great job adding a handful of leaves each time they added kitchen scraps. The barrel had been gradually filled over three weeks. I was a bit worried that it might get too full and then I wouldn’t be able to lift it but it seems as though my initial estimate of a month was about right. I could have waited one more week before swapping it over. Nevertheless, I switched it with a clean barrel because I was keen to see how the decomposition inside was progressing.

plenty of leaves = no slimy mess

My one mistake was providing leaves that were still attached to twigs! The leaves had come from a pile that a neighbour had conveniently raked up yet there were too many twigs and sticks hidden in with the leaves. This just meant that it was a bit of struggle to get the contents of the barrel out.

Besides the sticks the contents of the barrel were great, no bad smells and it had obviously been hot enough to keep quite a few soldier fly larvae happily chomping away. It was certainly starting to compost and will integrate into the main heap nicely. I’m calling this a success! If you’d like to contribute scraps to the HCC but are not in the collection area, or don’t want to drop off scraps every week then a barrel could be a good option. Email Brook at if you’re keen 🙂

phew! emptied. I’m glad I provided nice small leaves for better mixing and less tangles this time!

Trike trial!

Howdy HCCers, meet Peter (he’s the taller one):

Peter and his family have their own compost bin but have also been contributing scraps to the HCC for quite a while now. Peter has also donated some large bags of leaves, keeping the HCC well supplied with carbon rich materials. But for the best contribution of all, Peter is helping to make the HCC carbon neutral (finally!).

Saturday is the main day for bucket swaps, and I have been driving around Watson and Downer to collect buckets of scraps on Saturdays for a while. At first I justified it because I would tie it in with collecting juice pulp from the farmers market. But what I really wanted was to be able to do the bucket run using pedal power. For that I needed a cargo bike. I started looking into cargo bikes and quickly learnt that a Christiana cargo trike would suit my needs, with an extra large bucket for carrying lots of buckets of scraps. Funnily enough I had been walking past one of these exact bikes each time I swapped buckets at Peter’s place but it took me a little while to realise that was the same model I was researching online! Better yet, when I asked Peter about it he told me he would be happy to sell it as his boys were outgrowing the kids seats it was originally bought for.

The Christiana cargo trike is all human powered (although it may be possible to fit a motor), so I needed to try it to see if I could collect all of the buckets under my own steam. Peter was very gracious and let me take the trike out yesterday morning, all around Watson and Downer, picking up buckets. Below illustrates how the trial went in pictures:

All loaded and ready to go
Hooray for shortcuts!
Although not all shortcuts were so easy…
Being on a bike lets you appreciate your surroundings more

perhaps you can tell by my expression but this hill in Watson did me in!

Made it back, with all the goodies

Basically, it was a very pleasant way to collect buckets of kitchen scraps. Much more fun that hopping in and out of a car. I was initially worried that I would annoy some drivers by taking up more of the road and being slow. But by the end of the ride I was much more confident and could easily slow down and pull left if need be. It helped that I went out quite early so that there wasn’t much traffic at all when I first hit the road. The total route did take me longer than in the car but that was partly because I kept stopping to take photos! (and to check the map a few times to verify shortcuts).

So, will I do it again? I sure will! The trial run was so convincing that I bought the trike off Peter the same day. I’ll look forward to taking it out again next weekend. I might just change the route slightly so that I go down Negus crescent rather than trying to push up it!

Many thanks are due to Peter to making the transition to carbon neutral bucket pick ups so easy. I thought I might have to go far and take much more time testing out and finding the right solution but luckily there was this great option right in Hackett 🙂

Heap refresh and new leaf store

They say change is as good as a holiday. In this case it was the main compost heap that got a holiday, while Scott and I got a work out.

Seeing as the wooden composting bays were getting a bit of a rest recently I took the opportunity to move the whole structure, just to refresh it. While the old location of the composter in the backyard was very convenient I decided to swap it with a raised bed on the other side of the garden that was having some issues. Roots from the nearby Birch tree had aggressively invaded the raised bed. Also, the metal wall of the raised bed has been getting the hottest afternoon sun. As a result the soil in this bed was not able to retain any water, so it was no good for growing veggies in. After emptying the bed of soil (no small task) I crossed my fingers that the metal ring forming the wall of the bed wasn’t concreted into the ground and then rolled the whole thing away.

Then we could empty out the wooden bays and move them across the yard. Easily done! (actually, as the wooden bays were initially built in place we didn’t know if this would be possible at all, with just two of us and a hand trolley. Luckily it all worked out and nothing at all was broken!)

Underneath the heap was a thriving community of decomposers, including some worms that I’d transferred over from the worm farm at one point. The worms don’t really like the middle of the active heap as it gets too hot for them but they’d obviously found a nice damp spot underneath the bays. Evidence of their action was some lovely castings that will enrich the soil beneath.

The wooden composter had been placed on some pavers so that it was not in direct contact with the soil. Nonetheless, seeing as the bays continually hold a warm, moist mass of decomposing organic matter it was expected that some of the wooden structure would be rotting. Also, areas where the paving stones do not make full contact with the wood will hold a little water and this will lead to wood rot also. This was mostly seen in a couple of supporting beams that brace the bays, so Scott quickly replaced a few of these. We’re happy for the structure to slowly break down though! I’d say the structure has at least another 12 months in it before it will be too wobbly and no longer pest proof. If anyone has some untreated 2 by 4’s that could be recycled to make the next one that would be tops.

Once we’d cleared the raised bed from it’s spot we realised there was more paving than we thought underneath it. This could be a great spot for a little tree! We tucked the composter behind this paved circle, nestled under the bottlebrush tree and installed the raised bed in the slightly shadier spot near the back fence.

Now full of layers of compost and soil
good spot for a citrus tree?

All the hard work of digging out soil and moving a very heavy wooden composter was carried out the weekend before last. Recently I started adding scraps to the bays once again and it seems to be composting quite nicely.

back in business
freshly turned as of yesterday, and actively breaking down loads of autumn leaves already (with the help of lots of veggie scraps)

The veggie bed in its new position might be a bit deprived of light over winter. At first I thought I would just sow some green manure on top of it. However, it occurred to me that it might be better used as a leaf store. I was inspired while digging decomposed leaves out of the gutter. Maybe that’s as grubby as it sounds, but there was a pile of leaves that had been sitting untouched out front of a neighbours place for about a year. The material at the bottom of this was a rich, organic soil that had formed as the leaves gradually broke down in place. The leaves that I store in the shed don’t have much opportunity to turn into this great stuff as they are protected from the weather. The new leaf store will be open to sun and rain and in contact with the soil too. I hope to fill it to the top of the chicken wire soon, and then let it sit to see how much of it transforms.

So if you see a lady in the gutters of the streets around Hackett, rake in hand, that’ll be me!