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 ๐Ÿ™‚

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 ๐Ÿ™‚

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 ๐Ÿ™‚ 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 ๐Ÿ™‚ 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 ๐Ÿ™‚ 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

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 ๐Ÿ™‚

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 ๐Ÿ™‚

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 thenย  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 ๐Ÿ˜‰

 

Looking forward to another year of composting

Happy end of 2018 everyone! I hope that everyone had a lovely Christmas with quality family time. I’m currently enjoying catching up with the US side of the family, while thinking of the Aussie side as you all battle through a heatwave in Canberra and Melbourne. It’s not too cold over here, currently only about -4 degrees Celsiusย so it’s not all that different from a Canberra winter. I suppose with the heatwave in Canberra the heap might be drying out a bit, although if there are continuing injections of vegetable waste that will add some valuable moisture. My thoughtful husband actually got me a two foot long, heavy duty thermometer as well as a moisture sensor for the heap for Christmas ๐Ÿ™‚ So you can expect this blog to get a touch more nerdy as I try and chart some parameters next year!

But first I’d like to reflect on the year we’ve just had. There has been so much wonderful composting activity. I’ve been blown away by the engagement and gratitude of you all! It’s been wonderful to see so many people in our community who appreciate the benefits of composting kitchen waste. For my efforts in transforming this waste I have received Patreon donations, cash, wine, homemade preserves and jam, cake and more. All of this certainly spurs me on to do even more. Perhaps even more encouraging, are some of the feedback comments from HCC contributors, with sentiments along the lines of “I feel so much better about my waste footprint now!” or “I don’t have to take the bin out as often!”. Another fantastic aspect has been the ability to give out bags and bags full of compost, and thinking of all the lovely plants that will be enjoying the rich organic matter therein.

The last few months of the year may have gotten away from me in terms of record keeping but I can easily say that HCC has processed a few thousand litres of kitchen scraps this year. Hundreds of litres of chunky style compost have gone back into local gardens as a result. A few lucky members were able to snatch up some of the ‘black gold’, the sieved compost fines which can be used in multiple ways. All of these efforts, with everyone doing the right thing with source separation has meant that collectively we have avoided the generation of a large amount of methane* from this waste stream. So we’re all doing great things to protect our environment for a more pleasant future.

Of course there is always room for improvement. There are many little details I’m excited to work on and improve in 2019 to enable even more composting: smoothly run bucket pick-ups, well timed turning for efficient processing and even some building of new garden beds and more space for composting ๐Ÿ™‚ To help me get loads more done I’ve reduced my paid work hours in 2019. Wednesday afternoons in 2019 are now devoted to compost turning. No more rushing home after work in winter to try and beat the sunset. As a result I’m going to request (small) monetary contributions from any new contributors, but I can explain all that in another blog post. Of course there will be discounts for those living in apartments etc. because one of the main aims of the HCC is to provide composting services for those that would otherwise have a hard time disposing of their kitchen scraps responsibly.

I’d also like to giveย a big shout out to Zoe, HCC’s first official employee! (ok, maybe Scott is employee no. 1, although he has never been paid money for the privilege). Zoe is looking after the heap while I’m OS, doing the hard work of carrying binloads of scraps up to the heap and layering with carbon-rich materials when needed. The soldier flies and worms aren’t at risk of going hungry.

Goofy smiles from a couple of compost nuts ๐Ÿ™‚ (Zoe on the right)

That’s probably enough from me for now. I’m going to get back to enjoying this relaxing time of year but I just wanted to touch base to let everyone know that I’m super grateful for everyone else’s gratitude and to share my enthusiasm for even more composting in 2019!!

-Brook

*This reminds me, I will write a future blog post all about how composting helps to avoid methane getting into our atmosphere as a result of food waste breaking down in landfill.

 

Hackett is full of compost lovers

HCC continues to grow with new members supplying lovely scraps. Some new contributors were convinced to sign up at the Hackett Party at the Shops recently. This was a great event and I was kept busy talking compost all day. The weather was just about perfect and there was a great atmosphere with lots of music and dancing.

We really are very lucky to have such a vibrant and engaged community in Hackett.

It was probably a bit unusual to have a big pile of compost at such an event. Hackett is obviously populated with compost lovers already though, there were plenty of people who approached me who were composting or who had at least given it a go at some stage. In fact the main line of questioning all day was about tips for how people could improve or remediate their own heaps.

Iโ€™m more than happy to give out composting tips but Iโ€™m also aware that efficient hot composting is always going to be faster and more productive than a heap that is not constantly fed and monitored. This is the really great thing about the HCC heap. Not only does it perform composting services for those that are not inclined or donโ€™t have the time, but it also performs a whole lot better than if the waste was spread out among many slow backyard heaps. Together we can create lovely compost, more quickly!

Speaking of efficient compost making, I have to mention an aspect that can hinder our production: Contamination. The main contaminant in the HCC heap is fruit stickers. Someone at the party at the shops had an interesting perspective in that they assumed that the stickers were designed to degrade. That would be a decent assumption to make but unfortunately is not the case. The stickers may look like paper but they are actually plastic and the glue isnโ€™t great either. I could write a whole blog post on these terrible little things! Other common contaminants that I pick out of the heap are rubber bands (from around bunches of greens etc) and other small bits of packaging. Can I ask everyone to keep an eye out for these items and keep them out of the buckets?

At the moment, seeing as the composting at HCC is still very manual that means that I can pick out every single fruit sticker that I see. And because Iโ€™m turning the heap manually via pitchfork then I do see most of it! Itโ€™s great that the HCC is building in a slow yet steady way. That enables me to think carefully about some of these issues while at the same time hopefully building an engaged community that understand the responsibilities of waste source separation as well as the benefits of less waste to landfill and great quality compost for all of us to use.

And weโ€™re getting there! One of our newer members in Downer took the effort to label her buckets so that the whole household could quickly reference the ins and outs of what to donate. I think it looks fab! And Iโ€™m sure it is helping raise the quality of the compost too ๐Ÿ™‚

Compost update after a brief break

Ideally the HCC heaps are turned every few days for optimal efficiency. However, Scott and I took a trip down to Melbourne this weekend just gone, and drove back up to Canberra today. I was excited to see all of the kitchen scraps waiting to go into the heap once we returned.

4 days worth!

Thanks to many hours of driving by Scott we got back with great timing and I had enough time to turn bays 1 and 2 before dark tonight ๐Ÿ™‚

Grainy sunset compost photo

Bay 1 is now ready to receive any scraps that HCC members have been keeping aside! Thanks to everyone for being patient and accomodating to the disruptions in normal service. I’ll be looking into getting a few ‘compost monitors’ for next time I’m out of town. Especially now that the weather is heating up, it’s best to get the scraps into the heap to start degrading properly instead of just turning into a vinegar fly farm.

Whilst turning bay 2 I found the compostable packaging that Katia had given me so that I could assess it’s degradability. It was originally placed near the top of bay 1, then turned over to the bottom of bay 2. Of course the middle of each heap is where the best degradation happens, with extra heat. Now that the bag is in the middle of bay 3 we might be able to see some more noticeable degradation. It’s certainly already gone ragged around the edges. Has anyone else been getting packages sent in these home compostable bags?

The compost heaps are now back on track. Next thing to do is to wash all of the buckets!

That’s all from me for the moment, but make sure to stop by the ‘Party at the shops’ at Hackett shops this Saturday if you’d like to talk compost! I’ll be there, and happy to answer any questions as per usual ๐Ÿ™‚

-Brook

Compost update and Open day debrief

Thanks to all of the HCC members who stopped by last Saturday to chat about compost and meet the worms ๐Ÿ™‚ My head is now bubbling with lots of new ideas and thinking about all of the great aspects to the Hackett Compost Collective. I know I won’t be able to get all of the thoughts down here in a coherent manner but I think I can at least distill out the most important points.. perhaps over a few blog posts.

The most common question of the day had to be “How long does it take?” and the answer is – about a month or less! And that’s a generous estimate now that the weather is warming up as the degradation is going even quicker than it was over winter. And the soldier flies are back! Funnily enough we were talking about soldier flies on Saturday and today I noticed active larvae and a few adults in the heap again. I hadn’t seen them since Autumn, I’m pretty sure they don’t like Canberra winters! These little flies (well, their larvae really) are even more efficient at converting our scraps than worms are so it’s brilliant to have them in a compost heap.

Speaking of a fast compost heap, I took a video of my favourite thing to do right now:

Can you tell what that was? Yup, a corn cob. There’s just something so satisfying about picking up something that seemed so rigid a little while ago, and seeing it transform to something that can feed the soil once more so that we can once more grow tasty plants. Now whenever I see a corn cob during turning I reach in and see how it’s going. Most that I’ve seen recently have crumbled just like this one. And I haven’t even added any manure in over a week! Just lots of kitchen scraps, and a healthy community of bugs, fungus and bacteria.

And speaking of effective degradation I have to correct something. I think I may have been wrong about the mango pits! Today when I turned the heap I found two pits and they were not so impenetrable. The second one just needed a little squeeze and then I was able to crack it open to reveal the nutritious ‘meat’ (endosperm) inside. I bet the fly larvae will love it. Luckily mango season and warm weather co-occur.

This impressively fast composting is all thanks to the input from HCC members, as we all work to diverting kitchen waste from landfill. The bulk of the scraps and their nitrogen content, as well as all of the lovely juices really help to ‘cook’ the compost. The continual, small contributions from kitchens in Hackett and beyond help to ensure a constant food source for all of our buggy helpers. That just leaves a bit of tending from me to add a bit of carbon and moisture when needed, but most importantly to keep the whole heap turning.

This afternoon I turned bay 1 over into bay 2, then added a ‘blanket’ of material from bay 3 to keep it all humming. I just hope this doesn’t make it too hot for those larvae that hatched this week. Then again, maybe they will multiply and I might see even more when I turn the whole lot again in a few days. Because I enjoy turning compost so much I was tempted to then move the remaining contents of bay 3 over to bay 4 (the plastic composter). But bay 3 was still very hot in the middle, so it’s better if I keep mixing that in with layers of fresh scraps in bay 1. This will inoculate bay 1 again and keep the nitrogen levels about right. Even with this second time through the bays, and then another week maturing in bay 4 these materials will be ready for someone’s garden in less than a month from when they left someone’s chopping board.

To answer the question once more, the compost heap is very efficient and quick. This means we can take contributions from even more households! As always, tell your friends and neighbours.

I’ll have to write more again soon, but for now I think I’ll just balance out the brown photos above with something a little more colourful, and then say ‘thanks for the scraps!’

 

HCC Open Day!

The absolute best thing about running the HCC is getting to meet like minded people who appreciate that diversion of kitchen scraps and other compostables is worthwhile and beneficial.

Therefore, what better than all getting together over a cup of tea? I’m looking forward to it!

A blustery Spring day filled with composting – lovely!

Saturdays here at Compost central are filled with moving stuff around. It was an odd weather day in Hackett. At one point on the radio I heard a simultaneous warning for hail and bushfires! Luckily neither of those eventuated. The lack of a hailstorm meant that lots of compost was turned and the various heaps were maintained to keep the HCC degradation efficiency high ๐Ÿ™‚

Thanks to some donations of dry leaves the HCC stockpile of ‘browns’ is looking pretty good (thanks Purdie and Peter especially!). But I needed the big old tarp bag for some other temporary storage, so the whole pile of leaves was moved to our backyard shed.

I was glad to find we still had some small autumn leaves at the bottom of the bag, these are ideal for adding to the compost heap. The oak leaves are bigger and take a little longer to break down. We’ve also hung onto some recent hedge trimmings. The green leaves will add a bit of nitrogen to the heap, which will be great. The little twigs will take longer to break down. I may make use of a chipper to tackle these kinds of feedstocks in the future, to carry out some size reduction before adding them to the heap.

empty bay no.4

The tarp bag was then filled with the contents of bay no. 4. This compost had a good few days of hot composting, and then a week or so maturing in bay no. 4 (the plastic composter). For such a short time composting the consistency is pretty good. There were a few citrus fruits that were still recognisable (at least on the inside), so I threw these back into bay no. 1. And there were plenty of those oak leaves that had managed to stay dry and un-degraded. Some of these didn’t have much of a chance because they were the ones that sat on top of the heap at various stages for odour control. Regardless, the compost, such as it is (chunky) is ready to be dug into a garden bed, which will surely benefit from the extra organic matter!

empty bay no.3
empty bay no.2

Seeing as compost is moving off to new homes I could then turn over bay no.3 into bay no.4, and bay no.2 into bay no.3. And all this before breakfast! (Granted, I have late breakfast on Saturdays…) It was great to have new collections turn up while I was doing all this too, thanks especially to Gina and Naomi! Due to there being plenty of room in the composter I was able to once again pick up fruit pulp from Julie’s juices at the EPIC markets. It makes for such a colourful compost heap ๐Ÿ™‚ I made sure to add a handful to the worm farm also.

I was happy to welcome new HCC community member Robyn this week, and she has asked if she can please have some compost. Absolutely! Things were getting a bit full here a few weeks ago, so I actually had to dig some holes in the garden to make use of some of the finished compost. I’m sure the bottle brush and olive trees will enjoy the boost! but if anyone else wants some compost I will be putting a big pile out front next weekend, from which anyone will be able to fill their receptacle of choice.

It’s great seeing so much kitchen waste going through the cycle here at HCC. We are all saving tonnes of greenhouse gases from escaping to the atmosphere, and instead the organic matter that they would have come from is being used to grow all sorts of lovely plants.

Thanks for the scraps everyone, and make sure to mention us to your inner north neighbours, together we can transform even more kitchen waste!

-Brook

Compost on its way to a nice big garden bed, from the other weekend