Compost News Issue 27

It’s about a month since the last Issue, No 26 – alas, it’s still cold outside daffodils seem unhappy.

Tubs 1 and 2 are full, 3 is well on its way – soon we’ll have to take some action.

Yesterday I thought I’d explore the situation and with a set of plastic gardening tools from the £-shop and sturdy bin bags I set to work on Tub 1, hoping to bag the contents and make room for more.

Somewhat naively, I imagined the compost would be dry, crumbly and fragrant… No…soaking (free water running here and there in little rivulets), compacted into one solid mass, slimy and very smelly.

Getting the door open was quite difficult and to scrape out any material I had to get down on hands and knees and tear away at the smelly mess. After half an hour of this I was filthy up to my elbow and managed to clear only about half the floor area of the tub. I dreamed of a hand-grenade or stick of dynamite – my pathetic little short handled plastic tools made hardly any impression. So, after a while, I just tidied up the place, collected plastic bags, tape and one rubber glove that should not have been in there in the first place and retreated home to lick my wounds…and read the instruction manual (which I should have done earlier) and blogs of other users. This is the essence of my findings:

  • The good news is that the tub was warm to the touch and full of very lively pink worms –  and a happy little cloud of fruit-flies got up to celebrate. The other important thing is that it takes longer to produce good compost than I allowed – 6 to 11 months, in good weather. And there are a few additional rules to observe:
  • the kitchen material should be spread in thin layers and each covered by a generous layer of paper, cardboard, pulp crates torn into postcard size pieces
  • it is not possible to ‘turn’ the stuff – it has to be ‘skewered’ instead, making vertical passages through which air can circulate and liquids descend – we did not think of that and do not have the right tool for it (does anyone have a spare javelin or orphaned ski-pole to donate, in addition to hand grenades?).
  • the lids can be used to control the amount of air entering the tubs – if the contents are too wet, we should turn the lid just enough to stop it blowing away while if it is cold and dry outside, turn it tight.
  • to empty a tub where the stuff is compacted, we also need a long-handled stout gardening rake with a head small enough to pass through the hatch – any offers? – otherwise I’ll buy and donate one.

In about a month we should have another go – if anyone is interested in joining me, send me a note and I’ll call you, when the time seems rign the meantime here are some of the ‘official rules’ that may help.

Composting with Green Johanna

Does the compost smell?

No, a well-functioning composter causes no odours.

Why is the compost hot?

Energy (heat) is released when micro-organisms work – they work between 2 and 75° C. Different micro-organisms work at different temperatures. The ideal temperature is 45-65° C.

Can I mix garden and kitchen waste?

Yes, the optimal mix is 2/3 kitchen waste and 1/3 garden waste.

Can I just throw the material into the compost bin?

No, the material has to be layered in order for the composter to work. If you’ve just put in kitchen waste, you should put in a little carbon-rich material over it, and vice versa.

What size pieces can I put into the composter?

The smaller the pieces, the greater contact area for the micro-organisms = more rapid composting.

What happens if I don’t layer the material?

If you only add nitrogen-rich material, the compost will be too wet and can start to smell and stop working. On the other hand, if you only add carbon-rich material, the process will be slowed down.

How thick a layer should I put into the composter?

Not thicker than 5 centimeters

What kind of material should I sprinkle over kitchen waste?

Carbon-rich material such as sawdust, egg cartons, paper, cardboard boxes and garden waste.

What kinds of paper can I put into the composter?

Unbleached paper, such as coffee filters, napkins and kitchen paper.

How much kitchen waste can be put into the composter?

About 60% of kitchen waste is carbon, which means about 120 kilograms/person/year.

Can a composter work with only kitchen waste?

Yes, but in that case you may have to add compost or sprinkle sawdust.

What can I put into the compost bin?

All organic waste from the kitchen and garden.

What can I not put into the compost bin?

Glass, plastic, rubber, paint, chemicals, cloth etc.

Can I put lemon and orange peel into the compost?

Yes, but if you tear it into smaller pieces, the process goes more quickly.

Can I put dog & cat faeces into the compost?

No, because they can contain harmful pathogens and must not be spread in the garden.

Can I put oak leaves into the composter?

Yes, but they contain an acid that is difficult to decompose. For the process to work, put the leaves in an airtight plastic bag for at least one month before they’re put into the compost bin.

What should I do if I put a great deal of meat into the composter?

In order not to attract flies: cover with a carbon-rich material and decrease the ventilation for a couple of days.

What materials are rich in nitrogen?

Fertilizer has a high proportion, as do eggs, fish and meat. Newly cut grass is also nitrogen-rich.

Why is there a smell of ammonia in some composts?

When there is too little carbon-rich material in the compost, the nitrogen can be turned into ammonia. For that reason, it’s important to aerate the compost. Make sure that the air flanges at the bottom of the bin are free, stir the compost and add carbon-rich material.