Posts Tagged ‘composting’

Composting and worm farm workshop – report back

13 August, 2011

On the morning of Sunday 7 August I went along to a free workshop on composting and worm farms. And I’m very glad I did – I brought home a bunch of useful information and advice; far more than I expected.

Our compost bin is taking a very long time to fill, and tucked away behind the hibiscus down the far end of the back yard, it’s a bit of a case of out of sight, out of.. well, you know. So when I noticed a flyer advertising a couple of free, upcoming Brisbane City Council composting workshops one day a couple of months back at our local public library, I immediately sprang into inaction! What I mean is, I grabbed the flyer, brought it home and left it lying on the scanner lid in the computer room for a couple of weeks, long enough for the first workshop to go flying by. Mostly the problem with these sorts of things for me is being in a location where it’s possible to make the booking when I actually remember about it. But then one day at work I did remember, and there was the phone right in front of me. And so I actually made the call and booked a spot at the next workshop (the last in this series).

Assuming it wouldn’t be that interesting a topic to many people, on the Sunday I geared up and headed over to the venue, the Inspiration Garden which is a permaculture garden open to the public in the back streets of Morningside, backing on to the nature reserve there. As I backed the car out, I considered taking a folding chair along. But it seemed like too much effort, getting back out of the car, so I just trundled off.

Ooops. As it happened, about 50 people turned up for the demo, out of about 60 bookings! And there were very, very few seats around – that folding chair would’ve been most handy. Luckily I snagged a spot on the stairs up to the house, overlooking the area at the front of the garden where Deana (sorry if I’ve spelled that wrong) from the Brisbane City Council gave us 3 hours of highly useful information, answers to many crowd questions, a demonstration of how to fill a compost bin, and a look through a working worm farm. At the end of the session I came away far more informed about the whole composting process, and in particular what I was doing wrong with my own bin – i.e. lots.

So here,  very slightly tarted up, are some of the more useful notes I took during the workshop. Deana has also written a brochure available through the Council website, which probably says everything my notes say and more, and in a more elegant and visually appealing way. Oh well – story of my life.

Location

  • Move compost bins around the yard and garden – improves the soil no end.
  • Best spot for a bin is somewhere with full sun, away from the house (they usually don’t smell, but they can attract pests), on well-drained soil (clay gets swampy) and on a slight slope.

Ingredients

The four main ingredients are nitrogen-rich materials, carbon-rich materials, air (speeds up the decomposition process) and water (ditto).

Rule of thumb: nothing thicker than your thumb goes in.

Nitrogen

Food scraps – vegetables, fruit, egg shells, tea bags, coffee grounds

Vacuum cleaner dust

Green grass clippings

Manure from herbivores (very active, speeds up the decomposition process) – but not if the herbivore (e.g. horses) has been wormed in the last 4 weeks. Evidently Brisbane horses are wormed on average every 4 weeks, so there you go – I don’t think I’ll be using a lot of horse poo anyway.

Comfrey leaves – very high in nitrogen. Don’t add too much of these at any one time, as they turn into a thick sludge very quickly.

Carbon

Dry grass clippings

Dried leaves, dead twigs

Hay, straw

Mulch, e.g. sugar cane mulch

Old potting mix

Old compost

Newspapers – though not glossy – scrunch into balls to trap air in them.

Cardboard

Wood chips from untreated wood

Sawdust

Ash from fireplaces – good for neutralising PH levels

Avoid

Meat scraps, fats, oils – these attract rodents

Carnivore’s manure

Bread – also attracts rodents

How to build the pile

Layers should be 5 – 10 cm thick. These will get stirred together over time, of course.

Stir every 3 – 7 days. (Ooops – so far I haven’t stirred mine once – didn’t think I had enough in there to make it worthwhile!)

The materials should be damp to the touch, the whole way through. Not soggy – that’s too wet. In our dry season we will almost certainly have to add water. Paper, cardboard and dry grass clippings can be used to dry the pile out.

Use lots of manure to speed things up. Soak the manure in water first – helps to spread it.

Don’t leave food scraps exposed in the pile – this attracts bugs and cockroaches – cover them with grass clippings or similar.

Put weeds in water for 6 weeks first – kills the seeds – then add the resulting ‘weed tea’ to the pile.

Deana recommends having 2 bins, and also recommends getting all the stuff together and building one while bin at a time, if possible. With two bins, you can be building one while the other is full and ready to use.

To stir the pile, with a garden fork move stuff from the core out to the edges and vice versa, using a dragging motion. This ensures more even decomposition throughout the pile.

Handy implement recommended by Deana – “Compost Mate” – $20 – good for aerating piles, though perhaps not as good as claimed for redistributing the contents.

Grow comfrey! Seems no good compost pile should be without it.

Using finished compost

The compost is ready when you can’t recognise any of the original ingredients in it – it looks like a rich, dark soil.

Place on the garden and then put mulch over it. I guess it’ll mix in at its own pace.

In pots, use 50% compost and 50% potting mix.

Conclusion

Well, I think that’s enough for one post. Rivetting reading, I’m sure you all agree!

So I think I’ll do a separate, shorter one on worm farms. It’s Saturday morning and time for breakfast…