This composting article was written by Co-op member Lara Dunford
When food waste is composted it turns into healthy, nutrient rich soil that is medicine for your garden or pot plants. This process creates a true circular economy where your food waste becomes the nutrients for your own vegetable garden.
Why should we compost?
- To Reduce Methane Gas… when we don’t compost, food and other organic matter are buried and compacted at the tip. This burying and compacting process produces methane gas which is released into the atmosphere. Methane gas is 23 times more powerful as a greenhouse gas than Carbon Dioxide. This is not good!
- To Reduce Leachate… when organic material is buried and compacted down acids are released into the ground. These acids combine with other household and commercial wastes like batteries and plastics. This combination creates a toxic liquid called leachate. This toxic leachate flows into our groundwater. This is also not good.
Who can compost?
Almost everyone can! From one person through to a huge family, garden or no garden.
Choosing your compost bin
For those living in an apartment or a townhouse with a balcony or patio there are Tumbler compost bins. These don’t need a patch of soil and can be put anywhere on a patio or balcony. These bins will work for a family of 3 to 5.
For a family with a garden I would recommend 2 or even 3 standard black plastic compost bins that sit up right. These are the cheapest form of compost bin. You could also use a large tumbler bin.
Worm farms are great for smaller amounts of food waste. So good for singles or couples. Worm farms produce beautiful, rich, nutrient dense liquid that can then be added to water and used on your pot plants. AKA Black gold! These are available at Bunnings or on line with all the instructions.
What you need to get started composting:
- A compost bin.
- A good supply of “mulch”. This could be dry brown leaves from your garden or you can buy mulch like ‘forest fines’ or ‘pea straw mulch’. This is the ‘Carbon’ and it is vital in the decomposition of food waste. This needs to be stored right near your compost bin and will need to be kept relatively dry.
- A bucket of rich compost from a gardening shop / nursery.
- Dolomite Lime (not just regular gardening lime which has less minerals in it) available at nurseries.
- Old Hessian sacks (available at The Co-op or local coffee shops). This is not necessary for tumbler composting bin.
- A “turning fork”. This is a cool metal spiral turner, that kind of looks like a huge corkscrew. Also not needed for tumbling composting bin.
- A suitable receptacle to hold your food scraps in the kitchen. I use stainless steel “billy” from a camping shop. It has a lid that is easy to open, and has a handle to make carrying easy. Remember stainless steel won’t hold odours like plastic will. But really anything will do, a Tupperware container will work.
- If using a tumbler composting bin you will need some worms.
All these items are available from Bunnings or at Kimbriki tip or at Terry Hills or online.
- Position the bin on soil that is well drained and either sunny or shady. If using a tumbler there’s no need for soil. Find a spot that you will pass regularly or that is at least is relatively close to the kitchen so it’s convenient to visit each day with your kitchen scraps.
- In the bottom of your compost bin place a layer of brown dead leaves, twigs, and woody mulch.
- Water this layer with a bucket of water.
- Add 3 shovels full of the nutrient rich compost. This seeds your soil with “aliveness”.
- Put some more mulch on the top .
- Cover with your hessian sack like a blanket (this keeps the heat in).
What to chuck in your compost bin?
Now you’ve set up the bin you’re ready to start composting. You can compost all sort of food waste; vegetable peelings, apple cores, old greens, fruit cores and peelings, seeds, (despite popular belief citrus and onions / garlic are fine for compost bins, just not great in a worm farm).
You can also chuck in your compost bin tea leaves and tea bags (the paper ones), coffee grounds and eggshells, crush them up first to speed up decomposition. If you’ve got huge, thick pieces of veg or fruit like watermelon skin or broccoli stalks cut them into roughly 3cm pieces or smaller, this helps them break down faster. Don’t put in meat as it will attract animals. A bit isn’t bad though and worms will munch through it (though there are special meat composting bins).
On top of the food scraps throw the same amount of mulch (dry leaves, etc) using your supply that you created when setting up. Mix it all up with the spiral tool. Throw a bit more mulch on the top if there’s food on the surface and replace the hessian sack and the lid.
And that’s the routine.
Hints for success
Use the ADAM principle:
Aliveness Compost is a “living creature” full of worms and healthy microbes.
Diversity, you can put other things in your compost bin too. Use a variety of ingredients, grass clippings, hair, herbs etc. Remember variety is the spice of life!
Aerate your compost AT LEAST EVERY 3 DAYS with the spiral mixing tool. It’s important to really get it turned over and the turning tool is really good for this. It’s a good work out too.
Moisture, keep the compost in your bin moist, not wet. Add water to it if it is dry. Imagine a moist chocolate cake, it should be kind of like that.
Every week add a teaspoon of Dolomite lime to balance the acidity. Your compost should be ready in about 6-8 weeks depending on the weather (in warmer weather it will take less time). You will know it’s ready when it is quite fine and moist and very dark in colour with a soil like consistency. If you have more than one compost bin you can “rest” your working compost and let it finish its business while you start using the second compost bin.
Common composting issues easily fixed
What do I do with all the compost I end up with?
Many people are concerned they won’t know what to do with the tonnes of compost they will produce.
Don’t worry… You won’t end up with that much at all. A large bin full of food scraps will actually reduce to the size of a small bucket once your composting bin has done its job. You will not be left with mountains of compost. Just the right amount of nutritious soil medicine for your garden or pot plants. If you are concerned you can give it to friends!
How do I avoid attracting rats, mice and other native species?
When setting up your regular up right compost bin place some “snake and mouse mesh” on the dirt underneath it so the mesh is between the dirt and the compost bin’s base. Make sure that the wire square covers the entire base of the bin. Alternatively recycle some old sheet metal lying round, drill some holes in it and place this under your compost bin.Just remember when choosing mesh or drilling holes; You need to allow worms in but keep rodents out. Tumbler compost bins and The SUBPOD composter (see below) will deter mice and rats and possums.
Fruit flies; These are quite normal and harmless (just annoying ). If you find you have heaps of fruit flies just add more mulch and a few handfuls of extra dolomite lime and even a bucket of soil from the garden. You might be putting in too much fruit and not enough veggie scraps. Composting requires a good balance, just like us!
Maggots; These will occur if you’ve left the food in your kitchen food scrap bin too long and flies have been hanging round. I have a friend who keeps her kitchen food waste bin in her fridge in the summer. This could work if you’re not emptying it every day.
Bad smell; If your compost heap smells bad:
- Use the turning tool every day until the smell gets better. There is not enough oxygen getting in and you need to Increase your AERATION by mixing it all up in there.
- Add a bucket or two of extra carbon (mulch)
- Add a handful of dolomite lime
Other composting ideas
The SUBPOD is another composting system that could be used on a larger balcony or in a garden. This composting unit uses same principles as the regular upright bin however it sits partially submerged either in your garden or a small garden bed. It doubles as a garden seat. SUBPODS are available on line and are becoming really popular. Check them out: https://subpod.com.au
All items I’ve mentioned here are available at your large local hardware shop or at Kimbriki tip at Terry Hills and of course online.
Want to learn more? Take a look at this website: www.ecohouseandgarden.com.au/content/workshops
If you want to get in touch with Lara please email firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll put you in touch.