Once you establish a compost heap and harvest your first bucket of perfect, friable, dark soil that hasn’t cost you a fortune at the nursery, I guarantee you will be addicted. This is the ultimate in recycling. What I didn’t realize until a few years ago is that you can even throw in all your old bank statements and forget that costly purchase of a shredder, yet another item to store in your home office. Composting is an obvious money saver and making the heap can be cheap too, or you can fork out some dollars for a hi-tech bin. Better still, go to your local council and you will find that many now subsidize the cost of bins to their ratepayers and suddenly those bins are affordable!
How to do it:
Decide whether you want a bin or a chicken wire frame style or just a heap in the garden.
Collect the following:
50-70% brown material (leaves, hay, dry matter, paper, even newspaper torn into strips – the amount of printer’s ink in the latter is OK these days as inks are, by law, relatively non-toxic) This is the carbohydrate or energy foods for the compost organisms. The bulk of the brown materials leave the pile as carbon dioxide exhaled by the creepy crawlies in your mix. As smaller brown particles have more surface area they speed up the breakdown rate. Wood chips (rough sawdust) are great! Not the arsenic kind though. The dry layers also stop the whiff!
30-50% green material (grass, garbage, horse, cow or poultry manure which can be accessed from farms so keep an eye out for those signs by the side of the road when you are out on a day trip and always carry a tarp in the boot). These fresh, damp materials decompose fast on their own and contain nitrogen compounds that stimulate the growth of micro-organisms. Nitrogen is the key element in protein which is required to make tissue for animals. But it will stink if not balanced with the brown material. They should be layered with drier brown materials. Too much green material sticks together and will putrefy and your neighbours will hate you. It can also attract vermin ie. Rats!
0-5% black (dirt, old compost, not river sand as it is far too clean) This is the equivalent of yeast which will kick-start the process so to use a shovel full from your old compost or maybe a tub of worms from the nursery is essential. Rich soil or compost has innumerable soil organisms speeding up the process and allowing your worms to breed.
Water – you need to keep it as damp as say the soil in a tomato garden when freshly watered It is very important to have adequate moisture inside the compost pile. The vast majority of problem are caused by material drying out. Water the pile as you build it, not by spraying the hose in at the end. But beware of making it soggy. If you do this, then throw in a carton or some old film or sit-com scripts the latter being the quickest materials to rot these days.
Air – without air,(oxygen) biological activity will cease and the compost will start to smell. The base of your bin needs to be open, you need to turn the materials every couple of weeks or so (don’t stress!) and balance the mix so that it isn’t sticky. If you have a high-tech one with an opening base, just pull some materials from the bottom and put them on the top. Or you can buy a compost turner (it is like a massive screw or gimlet) and build your materials around that layer by layer. So easy to use you can turn it every time you add something.
Add some dolomite occasionally. This keeps it sweet. Just sprinkle a handful in when you are adding the lawn clippings.
Layer a little from each section of materials a bit at a time, watering after each layer.
After just one day it should feel warm. This means it is working.
What I did observe over the years follows:
- Black bins with a wide hole at the base seem to work the best.
- The more tiger worms you can get in there the better.
- Mice love to eat them and will chomp through your entire family of worms in a night so consider slipping some mesh (not flywire as it is too small) beneath the bin to slow them down a bit.
- If the bin smells, throw in a cardboard box which will absorb the excess liquid.
- Turn it whenever you feel like a gym workout. The more turning, the better the brew.
- Too many lime, lemons, onion or garlic makes the mix sour. Balance with cardboard and dolomite.
- Don’t add dog droppings after you worm your pet. This will kill all your precious bugs and worms.
- Small twigs are good as a layer as the worms love to make homes in the airy spaces. They will take ages to rot completely but you can recycle them into your next heap.
- The perfect situation is to have 3 bins on the go. We actually had 4. NOTHING organic left our house, even oyster or prawn shells which I washed before adding to avoid the salt and fishy odour.
- Charlie Carp (fertilizer made from carp fished from rivers and dams where they are doing harm) added occasionally is like rocket fuel to your heap. It’s a double benefit to use products like this.
Time it takes?
Well this depends on the weather. In the tropics, just a few weeks. Down south in the cool, a few months. And the workout you get while making and maintaining it will save you going to the gym. In a few days you will notice that your worm population has increased. After a month they will be there, squirming in handfuls as you dig down into your pile.
Don’t give your worms names … it will just make you sad when the blackbirds and thrushes invade your backyard in nesting season and eat your precious little chaps by the dozen. Beautiful and all as these invaders are, they do masses of damage to the Australian environment and the 1950s naturalist, Crosbie Morrison, used to advise getting rid of their nests and pretty eggs and feeding their chicks to the cat. Which used to give me nightmares at the time …
After you clean out the bin, retain a tub of ‘starter’ worms and earth for your next pile.
The soil can be used as top-dressing, potting or your vegetable garden and requires no additional fertilizer so you are saving many dollars given that such high quality material is around $18 a sack.
There are NO negatives to composting so commit to it and enjoy this profitable process!