Nature sets the perfect example: she recycles all her waste. Every atom from dead plants or animals is recycled into nutrients, which feed new living things. It makes no sense to recycle your domestic waste and still send the most nutritious part, your organic waste, to landfill.
Especially not if you understand that this is the stuff that creates the toxic leachate juices, which contaminate the ground water around landfills. And the stuff that leads to methane gas emissions – a more dangerous global warming gas than carbon dioxide. And that your garden and food supply, and probably your health, is the poorer for it.
At least 50% of our domestic waste consists of organic matter – peels, eggshells, left-overs, food scraps, tea leaves, whatever you generate in the kitchen during food preparation. To this you can add paper, tissues, cardboard, pizza boxes, paper plates – all the dirty paper that you can’t recycle. Even the dust from the vacuum cleaner and broom sweepings, hair, fur, any organic matter.
Yuk, I hear some people go: smelly, flies, hard work. Nope, not so. Simply not-so-cool excuses. A proper heap is not smelly, neither does it attract flies. Nature does the work for us.
No space, is another favourite excuse. All you need is one metre by one metre, especially if you buy one of the nifty compost holders available at garden shops.
What happens in the heap?
In the compost heap the moist, warm environment speeds up the natural decomposition of animal and vegetable waste. Tiny micro-organisms like bacteria, fungi and algae are our natural compost workers. They start by feeding on the softer, juicier materials. As they chomp away, their numbers increase rapidly, so the process goes faster. All this creates heat of up to 70ºC – “ high enough to kill most weeds seeds and germs.
Once they’ve broken down most of the soft stuff, they slow down and the heap starts to cool down. Now the worms, beetles and centipedes take over and help digest the tougher materials. By the end of the process, most of the original contents have been broken down and mixed together to create a rich, healthy fertiliser and soil conditioner for the garden.
- Find a shady spot in your garden, or you can build a 1m X 1m crate from wood or wire.
- Dig a trench of about 1m X 2m or simply build your heap above the ground.
- Start your heap with a layer of rough material, like sticks, cuttings or branches at the bottom – this improves aeration.
- Add some organic manure. Make sure it comes from an organic or biodynamic farm, else it’s not organic.
- Now add green organic waste – your kitchen stuff as well as fresh grass cuttings, if you still have a lawn.
- Cover with dry leaves.
- Now just add your kitchen waste, each time covering it with spade of soil, to prevent flies.
- Also all garden waste goes here, except for large branches – those you saw up for firewood.
- Cover your heap with a hessian sack or old mat to keep warm in the winter and keep it wet during the summer.
- Organic waste takes a few months to break down, so you want to add new kitchen and garden waste on the one side and remove old compost for your garden from the other side.
- It is also good to dig your heap over now and then. It is great exercise and really gets you in touch with the earth.
- all organic kitchen waste
- soiled paper & cardboard
- horse and cow manure
- annual weeds
- grass cuttings
- leaves and soft prunings
Don’t compost this:
- tough, perennial weeds (unless they’re dead)
- anything treated with weedkiller
- or insecticides (which you don’t allow near your garden),
- prickly or hard prunings
- magazines or colour newsprint
- dog and cat droppings
Need more reasons to compost?
- It improves the structure of soil, helps it retain water and nutrients and combats erosion. Compost is particularly beneficial to heavy clay soil and light sandy soil.
- It reduces household waste and makes bins more hygienic and less smelly.
- It doesn’t smell and won’t attract pests. It takes up very little of your time and it’s free!
- It conserves landfill space and reduces waste removal costs
* If you compost all your organic kitchen waste you have reduced your waste by 50% and more, plus the rest is now much cleaner, as all food waste is where it belongs – in a little bucket waiting to be taken to the garden.
Don’t have space? Make a worm bin
Earthworms produce excellent compost. They are any gardeners’ best friends.
- A heavy plastic bin with a lid makes an ideal worm bin, but you can use any container.
- Drill holes in the bottom and sides for drainage and aeration and stand it on a tray to catch the juice. No need to buy expensive equipment.
- Now layer in your container from the bottom: Sand or gravel to up to a few centimetres above the drainage holes.
- Place some cardboard on top of the sand as a foundation, with shadecloth on top to prevent the worms from escaping.
- Next put bedding material; mature compost mixed with shredded newspaper.
- Place a handful of earthworms on the bedding and feed them chopped up kitchen waste.
- Add a final layer of shredded newspapers to keep fruit flies away.
- Cover with a cloth to keep the bin moist and to keep it nice and dark inside for your wriggly friends.
- Add crushed egg from time to time.
- Worms like to feed on small amounts of food often; they love peelings and other vegetable scraps from the kitchen, also tea bags and coffee grounds.
Do not feed them:
- peels from citrus fruits
- potato peels
- cooked food
After about 3 months your worm compost is ready to harvest. Now place some food on top to call them up. Remove the top half of the contents, including worms, and place to one side. The rest of the contents is your compost for your plants.
Restart the process by placing some compost on the shade cloth and then adding the top half, with worms, which you had removed first.
Along the way you can also harvest worm juice from the bottom tray. Mix this with water and feed your potplants – very nutritious!
By Elma Pollard