Category Archives: Composting

How to do it and what to do with it.

Under our feet

What if an easy way to reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide were right under our feet? It would not require years of research, huge investments in unproven technology and is available now. Today!

Impossible? NO! We can start now. All we have to do is change the way we manage the soil that grows our food.

I have used no-dig raised beds to grow food for nearly 30 years. In 2009  four small beds were made without digging heavily compacted soil that had not been cultivated for 30 years. The soil was gently loosened, covered with compost and seeds/plants sown. It worked! See this page

Now there is research about the beneficial effects of not cultivating the biggest of which is creating a carbon sink that reduces the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere.

Why are we not doing this on a large scale? Why the reluctance to act? We could all start to make a real difference today!

Better crops from better soil

What never ceases to amaze me is we have so lost touch with planet Earth that we have forgotten it is literally earth, or soil, that feeds us!

There is an increasing amount of evidence that we are taking too much from soil and giving nothing back. This leads to soil erosion on a massive, world-wide scale. No country is immune.

On the web site of Boston’s WBUR radio station is reference to a report from the UN saying that our soils are in trouble.

They state:

The health of the Earth’s soil is crucial to storing carbon.

So what does it mean when scientists conclude the Earth’s soil is being lost 10 to 100 times faster than it is forming?

“It’s undermining our ability for long term sustainability, in a nutshell,” scientist Louis Verchot says.

At last the message is getting out! By treating agricultural land differently, we could increase food output, improve spoils and lock in CO2. It is not rocket science! It does not need fancy new technology in fact or needs common sense old technology. No government needs to pass new laws or have any input into this. We could start doing this now! Yes, today, now!

The only groups fighting against it are agrochemical companies because they can see their profits plummeting.

Gardeners can be part of the change by quite simply learning more about what healthy soils. The first thing is to learn how to make and use lots of good compost. Next is to stop digging!

 

Food too good to waste

“If we consider the fuel that it took on the farm and on the roads, the energy it takes to process our foods, and make our fertilizer, food is very valuable indeed!”

If you are a gardener then why throw out food waste? There are many ways to it, you can either add it to your normal compost bin or have a separate container.

There is a myth about not composting cooked food as it attracts rats. Rats are survivors and they do not spend time hunting out cooked food, they will eat anything they can find.

We have been using a HotBin to compost food waste for a few years now and find it works well. Like all composting the trick is to get the right mix of contents and the add material in batches and not a few bits at a time There is more here

If you want to compost food waste from a school then look at the Ridan composter. It is much easier to use especially where food waste is added on a daily basis. It is much more expensive.

A different way to make compost

I must admit to being a composting geek. I just love to see piles of what some would call ‘garden waste’ being turned into life giving compost. That is no exaggeration as we need compost to maintain and restore healthy productive soil.

There are many ways to make compost, I have used New Zealand bins for many years. The truth is that compost happens everywhere without human intervention. It is natural process of the breaking down of organic matter. Often the only thing that stops composting is the gardener.

The latest 3 bay NZ bins.

The key thing to remember that anything that has lived can be composted, including us! Just how it is done is open to much debate and the differences between methods can be reduced to how long it takes and the quality of the result.

Many gardeners have a heap of rotting stuff at the edge of the garden/allotment/files. They throw their ‘waste’ on it and just leave it. It will compost over time but there could be a lot of weed seeds and not much in the way of nutrients.

So, what is the best way to make compost? I would say there are two main criteria: Keep the contents dry as rain washes out the nutrients and slows the process. Secondly, have enough air going through the bin so that it heats up to around 60°C for at least 3-4 days. Making hot compost

Last week I found this US based site that shows a very specific way of making compost using the hot (thermophilic) method and then adding worms when the heap cools. The Johnson-Su bioreactor It takes around a year to complete the process, but the argument is that the longer time ensures a good supply of microorganism for the soil. PDF version (full details) And see this YouTube video

Full size bioreactors

The problem for most gardeners would be finding the large amount of materials to fill the heap. Even with a large ornamental garden I find it hard to fill the 1 cubic metre NZ bins. The Johnson-Su method would need almost twice that.  Maybe the answer is a half-size version? It would certainly be much cheaper and easier to make than wooden bins.

Smaller version

The other issue is getting the right mix of ingredients. That is crucial for any type of composter to work correctly. Generally, it is described by mixing green and browns. That is, material high in nitrogen – greens with material high in carbon-browns. Ratio of greens and browns for best compost (Scroll down page.)

Broccoli Is Dying. Corn Is Toxic. Long Live Microbiomes!

Do you want the cheapest food possible? If so this is what you get: “Data going back to 1940, as reported by Eco Farming Daily, shows: “The level of every nutrient in almost every kind of food has fallen between 10 and 100 percent.”

This is not anything new, it is well documented and we have mentioned it before – “A study on the mineral depletion of the foods available to us as a nation over the period 1940 to 1991.” see the PDF is here.

There is a stark choice: you either go for the cheapest food and kid yourself that it is good value for money or you buy decent food that is not produced using high inputs of chemical fertiliser and chemical pesticides  –  organic food!

See this piece in Scientific American

Edible Mach Maethlon (Machynlleth)

As part of a project for Eyam Green Group I visited Edible Mach Maethlon (Machynlleth) last week. There are various sites in the town that are planted with edible crops which are available for anybody to pick. There are even planters at the local Co-op who are actively supporting the project. An interactive map of the sites is available here.

There are other farming/horticultural projects which train people in growing and coordinate small growers to supply a local box scheme. It was an inspirational visit that clearly demonstrates what can be achieved with enthusiasm and cooperation.

The first gallery includes photographs of the show garden located at Y Plas. It is an impressive and well kept garden with a number of raised beds. It was a volunteers day so there were people around tending the gardens. The volunteers then moved on to the library which is near the centre of town.

It was not possible to visit all the sites around the town but I did stop at the Co-op. There are planters each side the front and rear entrances. The planters at the front door contained a good selection of herbs. At the back entrance each planter had an apple tree and some soft fruit.

New compost bins almost ready

Work on the new three bay New Zealand compost bin is progressing slowly. The first two bays are in place. All of the timber is reclaimed, the back is made of sample oak flooring panels the local B&Q were throwing out. The rest is either from dismantled pallets or has been found lying around the garden.

With four days of heavy rain forecast there will be no further work this week.

Making compost with grass cuttings

We have been talking about composting recently, particularly about how to do it and what ‘recipes’ to use. In UK gardens there is often a lot of grass cuttings through the summer which provide the ideal base for an active compost bin. By active I mean one that gets above 40C.

Grass in a council green bin two days after cutting

The problem is that grass cuttings will start to compost on their own. Although grass will heat up quickly it soon runs out of air and the temperature falls. The grass then forms a dense stinking mass which does not breakdown.

Layers of partly rotted grass cuttings in a badly managed compost heap

The answer is to mix grass with bulky material like shredded twigs or straw. This allows more air to get to the grass and provides carbon to balance the nitrogen which keeps the compost going.

After a few weeks the temperature will begin to fall because the air in the pile has been used up. Time to turn the heap to allow more air to enter. The temperature should rise again but probably not as high as before.

For more information on what to mix with grass cuttings to get the correct C:N ratios, carbon or browns to nitrogen or greens see this page. For an online C:N ratio calculator  follow this link.

The other important thing to get right is the moisture content;  it should be around 55% or like a wrung out sponge. Not easy to gauge but not dry nor soaking wet.

To compost kitchen waste we use a Hot Bin. There is around a small bin full of stuff every week and I usually add some grass cuttings and chopped twigs. This is the temperature in the Hot Bin a couple of hours after adding new material and giving it a stir. Eight hours later it had risen to 46°C.