Category Archives: Composting

How to do it and what to do with it.

Composting Christmas trees

Over the that last couple of weeks I have shredded 12 Christmas trees to make compost. That produced was about 0.75 cubic metre from the branches and tops. It was less than I expected and next year I will start collecting the trees earlier and aim for around 20. The main trunks were too thick for my small shredder and will have to go to green recycling.

The shredded material was mixed with a small amount of garden and kitchen waste. It was then damped down with a mixture of equal parts ‘universal compost activator ‘ or urine* and water.

The next day the bin had heated up to almost 23C. Not a big rise in temperature but considering we have been having sharp overnight frosts and cold days I am happy with the results so far.

* We are trying to reduce water consumption and would line to convert to either rainwater toilet flushing or composting toilets. The estimated average is 130 litres of drinking water, per household per day, is used to flush toilets!

Composting Christmas trees

As I am always on the lookout for material to make compost my thoughts turned to Christmas trees. What has stopped me in the past was the long running gardening myth that pine needles turn soil acidic which is the last thing I want. Then I found a piece about composting Christmas trees on  this site

Christmas trees: Yes, it is possible to compost a whole (real) Christmas tree. You’ll need to put in a bit of work by stripping the branches off the tree and breaking / cutting everything into small pieces first. The smaller the pieces better. You don’t really want any woody bits larger than your thumb going into your compost bin. Shredders make light work of this process if you have one. Thick woody pieces can however take a very long time to start to decompose (were talking a year or two before you see any progress) so be prepared to be patient, or consider composting only the smaller limbs if you don’t own a shredder. There is a misconception that composting pine needles will result in acidic compost. It’s not true, by the time the needles are composted they will have lost most of their acidic potency.”

I now have half a dozen trees lined up for shredding and with some other stuff to add that should fill a cubic metre bin.

How to be happy – compost something!

Can you compost egg shells?

Why of why is there a constant stream of advice to add egg shells to compost bins? They do not break down and neither do they add calcium to soil. It is an internet problem, somebody puts it on a web site or social media page and it becomes ‘the truth’. Nobody bothers to check, nobody challenges or tests it.

They last a very long time in a garden: “The study looked at a property in Virginia that was at one time owned by Thomas Jefferson. It was a tobacco plantation that contained a small community of slaves from 1840 to 1860. Excavation of the site found thousands of eggshell fragments from both chickens and ducks, which had been raised by the community.”

Click image for full article.

End of year report

It has not been the easiest of seasons with lots of cool, dark and wet weather especially since September. We have enjoyed harvesting a few test crops and are looking forward to planning for the 2020 season.

One success has been the compost and we have ended the year with around a cubic metre of good compost ready to cover the beds over winter. That was from five batches made up to October. The last batch failed as it had too much woody stuff (carbon) and not enough green material (nitrogen.)  It will now sit there until next year when it will be mixed with the inevitable mountain of grass cuttings.

Click an image to enlarge

There is still a lot to do but at least we know that the beds are working especially the solar pods, which were completed in early October. Details can be found here: “Solar Gardening: Growing Vegetables Year-round the American Intensive Way” (1994.) It is available here at Google Books.

It is real treat to have home grown lettuce at this time of year! The pods will be used to get an early start in February/March next year. The bed behind the first pod has been covered with a wheelbarrow full of compost to protect the soil from compaction by heavy rain.

The three 1M square solar pods

Inside pod 1, some left over lettuce plants and springs greens

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.