With the energy of mindfulness, you can look into the garbage and say: I am not afraid. I am capable of transforming the garbage back into love.Nhat Hanh
My new garden design is going to need quite a bit of compost.
The good news is, I’m all set to go!
Despite having my huge worm farm on Gumtree for free, I have had no interested parties. Once they realise how huge and heavy it is, they politely decline to take it. As it seems I am stuck with it, I will make the best of it!
I also have three compost tumblers and my active worm farm.
And it starts with a little bit of compost chemistry and a tiny bit of math.
The Compost Equation.
While the alchemist’s busy themselves turning lead into gold, I will share with you the formula for turning garbage into sweet compost, which is just as valuable!
(25C:1N) + (O2 + H2O) = Compost
(C) is Carbon-rich material like brown leaves, straw, pine needles, wood chips and twigs, ashes or basically, dry brown crunchy organic material.
(N) us Nitrogen-rich material like food scraps, used coffee grinds and tea leaves, green cuttings and lawn trimmings, duckweed, algae, seaweed and manure. (But, as I am planning to go stock free, I will not be using manure in my compost.) Nitrogen-rich material is typically green, organic, and squishy!
Ideally, compost needs 25 parts of carbon-based materials to one part of nitrogen-based material.
If the C
Accelerating your Compost Output.
By tweaking this compost equation, we can possibly generate compost within two to three weeks of starting the pile.
Small volumes of compost lose their heat quickly. A cubic metre of raw materials is about the minimum required for the compost to retain enough heat to get rolling!
The best way to keep a compost hot is mass. So in the case of my two compost bins, I have one bin I feed, while the other cures. Trying to spread a small amount of waste across two or more bins is not a good idea.
Fill one bin first to at least one metre cubic mass before filling the next one.
If you need to bulk up your pile with carbon-based materials, sweep up all your leaf litter or shred free cardboard boxes from the hardware store. If you need to bulk up with nitrogen-based materials, ask your local cafe if you can collect their spent coffee grinds or ask your neighbours for their grass clippings (that’s what I do!).
Compost needs oxygen to “breathe” and keep the microbial life that is busy transmuting your garbage into compost alive and thriving.
Regularly tumbling the compost will ensure that the mix is well aerated. I find that tumbling is a great deterrent to undesirable insects and pests like ants and slaters.
If you use a non-rotating compost bin or pile, you can
Not all carbon particles are created equally! Newspaper is slower to break down because it is made up of cellulose fibres coated with lignin, a resistant compound found in wood pulp. (Lignin also gives books that lovely old book smell!)
Corn stalks, straw and pea hay are also slower to compost because they are also composed of a resistant form of cellulose. Because microorganisms find it harder to access the carbon in these materials, their composting rate will be much slower than leaves.
So while these forms of carbon have relatively slow rates of decomposition, it can be accelerated by shredding the newspaper, cornstalks, straw or pea hay into smaller pieces. Shredding creates a larger surface area and makes the carbon more readily available for microbial use.
I have an electric mulcher I found in the classifieds that
Composting bacteria love warm, moist environment (think of a rainforest floor) and dry compost will take a long time to eventually break down.
Moisture can be added with additional nitrogen based material, or simply, add water. It is better to water your compost a little each day, than to give it a weekly drenching.
As I explained earlier, the quickest way to increase the temperature of your compost is to increase its mass. Heat is important to compost, it helps to “cook” the material, breaking it down faster and sterilizes any seeds, preventing plants popping up where you don’t want them.
I like using tumblers and closed compost systems because they retain the heat better, while also keeping out vermin and other pests.
If you have an open pile, you could cover it with a tarpaulin, or wet strips of cardboard or even old blankets to prevent heat from escaping the pile.
I actually LOVE weeds!*I have lots of nitrogen-rich weeds like
Shredding the weeds through the mulcher reduces the particle size. Then I place the weeds in a sealed tub (an old brew kit) and cover them with boiling water. You will be surprised at the volume you can fit!
The boiling water is the first stage of sterilizing any seeds by cooking them. Then, when cool, I add shredded comfrey and worm wee to the mix to help accelerate the weed decomposition. Then, I leave the mix, lid on, for two weeks. Yes, it smells! But the weeds decompose and ferment to the point where they are safe to add to my compost tumbler as a
Worms, Worm Wee and Castings
Composting worms can make quick work of fine textured, well-balanced compost by eating through the raw material and creating air pockets as they move through the material. I have had composting worms in my tumblers and they dont seem to mind the daily tumble!
If you don’t want to add worms from your worm farm into your compost, add the worm wee or juice that contains much of the microbes needed to break down the material and accelerate the compost decomposition. Equally, a few handfuls of worm castings (worm poo) will introduce bacteria to the mix.
Scoby is a symbiotic mix of bacteria and yeast that transforms sweet black tea into Kombucha. It “grows” into a gelatinous, cellulose-based biofilm, and contains several strains of yeast and bacteria, including species like Acetobacter which are known to be beneficial for breaking down nitrogen-rich material.
Maybe I’ve watched too many episodes of Billions, but Scoby Juice sounds like it could be the next superfood multi-million IPO. Remember you read it here first!
Since we use the continuous Kombucha method, I have plenty of spare
Compost Accelerating Herbs
The microbial life that breaks down the carbon and nitrogen ingredients need nutrients to thrive. Herbs like comfrey, yarrow and borage, are high in just about every nutrient such microbes (and plants!) need, including Phosphorus and Potassium, and many trace elements.
Comfrey particularly has more potassium than composted manure and is a great addition to the compost.
Diagnosing and Fixing My Compost Issues!
My Old Worm Bin
My old worm bin has been fed an exclusive diet of grass clippings for the last 18 months. It has not been watered. The worms have been eclipsed by a pill bug or slater infestation.
But underneath those clippings, is rich compost and castings.
I have split my worm bin into two sides, the left has compost ready to use, the right is “digesting!” I have added more worms to the pile to boost population numbers.
My New Worm Bin
Remember earlier in the year I created a new worm farm? I transferred some fresh lawn clippings that had been dumped into the big worm bin, into the small worm bin and also transplanted slaters into the mix!
So I am going to empty the contents of the new worm bin into the old worm bin and start fresh with new, pest free worms, and be much more careful about what I feed them this time around!
Medium compost tumblers
My medium compost tumblers get all of my household compost and most of the unflowering weeds from my backyard. It needs to be balanced with some fine carbon materials. Fortunately, the large Peppermint tree at the front of my house obliges with a plentiful supply of dry leaves.
We trimmed the elderflower hedge and when shredded through my mulcher, it provided plenty of nitrogen-rich mass to my compost tumbler.
Large Compost Tumbler
AS you can see, my large compost tumbler is full of dried out, carbon rich material. So it will need more nitrogen-rich additives like the lawn clippings, plus daily watering to get it composting.
I contemplated pulling all the dried material out and running it through my mulcher before returning it to the tumbler, and frankly, I chickened out. There’s more than a few spiderwebs in there and I don’t want to risk a redback bite, even for excellent compost.
Making compost is rewarding and saves you buying it. My kids are very mindful of the importance of our “rubbish” and how useful it is! Plus, I am equally excited about cultivating compost as I am about growing plants and I hope that now you are too!
Do you have your own sweet compost? What’s your secret? Please leave a comment below and share it with us! We promise to keep it between ourselves!