22 June 2009

A move towards compost

It's a mystery to me why all gardeners don't make their own compost. It is an important part of gardening, will help enrich your soil, and it cuts down on the amount of rubbish that sits decomposing in the council rubbish dump. Why send your kitchen and garden waste to the dump to decompose when it would help you grow vegetables and flowers while contributing to the health of your soil? Of course, the way you compost will be determined by your climate, how much waste you have to compost and how much time you have to do it. If you aren't composting now in some form, and have the means to do it, I hope you'll think about it now and give it a go. I have written about compost a few times before here and here, so this post will be the odds and ends associated with composting and, hopefully, a motivation for you to start composting if you haven't done so already.

Our compost bin surrounded by volunteer cherry tomato seedlings.

There is a hierarchy of household waste that I've written about here. When you think about this hierarchy, also think about the wildlife you have in your backyard. If you have rats, mice, possums, foxes, coyotes, bears or wild cats, you'll have to be careful not to put food in your compost heap that will attract those animals. Generally it's a rule that you don't put meat or dairy products in the compost heap as this will certainly attract animals even if you've never had any in the past. Attracting animals with your compost is a problem in the country and in semi rural areas, but even if you live in the middle of the city or in the suburbs, you'll attract cats and rats if you continue to put meat out.

Flowering comfrey. This herb helps speed up decomposition.

Remember there is more than one way to recycle waste. You could also build a worm farm, or use your chickens or dogs to recycle some of your kitchen scraps. Chooks love to eat meat and chicken, and they love eggs, old bits of toast and cake and all forms of dairy. If you give these tasty morsels to your chooks, it will increase their level of protein food and, hopefully, their egg production.

Bathrub worm farm in the bushhouse.

If you have chickens, dogs or worms, you'll need to decide where your kitchen waste will go. The hierarchy again! If you have meat scraps or any other food that would attract the wildlife in your backyard, give those scraps to the chooks or dogs straight away, it will supplement the food you generally feed them. If you're going to compost, start by putting a small container, with a lid, in the kitchen in which to put your compostable kitchen waste. This will hold all your fruit and vegetable peelings, crushed or pulverised egg shells, tea leaves or tea bags and coffee grinds. Empty the little container every day into the compost heap or bin.

Our stockpile of dry material - shredded paper.

You will need a lot more dry material for your compost than wet material. Read about the importance of this in the links above. Dry material can be old newspapers, cardboard, old telephone books, junk mail, worn out cotton dishcloths or clothes, hair, feathers, wool or any other worn out item that is not man-made. Plastic and polyester will not decompose. You'll need about two thirds dry to one third wet material, so if you can gather a lot of these dry materials, you'll have the beginnings of a good compost heap. You'll need to keep your compost moist, not wet and you'll speed up decomposition if you add comfrey or comfrey tea to your heap. Make the compost according to the information provided and your own climate and conditions, add your kitchen scraps, and turn the material over to incorporate air and you're on your way to good compost.

Composting is an ideal activity for those of us who live simply. It reduces household waste and it helps us use what we have to its fullest extent - from new, right through until it decomposes and returns to the earth. It helps us see waste in a more productive way, instead of giving it to someone else to take care of. It encourages us to feel responsible for what we bring into our homes - we look for natural products that will be compostable in a few years time instead of buying plastic or polyester. But most of all, I love composting because it allows me to take full responsibility for what I buy. If it comes here, I want it to stay here and not be part of the growing problem of landfill. I hope I've encouraged you to think about composting in some form. There are few hard and fast rules for composting, each climatic zone tends to come up with it own innovative solutions. If you're composting already, I'd love to know what you're doing. I am always open to new ideas and keen to learn.



  1. Good Morning Rhonda
    We composted in the same way you do. Taught to me by my dear old Dad so many years ago. A few years ago we took part in a project to find out how much compostable waste is saved from landfill by home composters. I was staggered by the amount.

    Glad the wedding prep is going well and you are all enjoying it.


  2. Hello Rhonda
    A good reminder post for those of us who 'do'. A great post with lots of links also for those 'don't.
    If you 'don't' I think theres lots of information there to encourage you to 'do' lol
    Take care

  3. I've been composting at my house for a year and all the time as a kid. I don't have a fancy bin and i don't turn the compost. I hope it it just taking care of itself. I created an enclosure out of free bricks from craigslist with some space between for air to get in. The bricks on one side are set in differently so I can easily remove them and dig the compost out from the bottom when its ready. I put all my food scraps in there including paper and those biodegradable containers. Soon I'll be putting gardening scraps in there too. It can get kinda gross sometimes but it makes me feel good about life knowing that this "garbage" is turning into great stuff for the garden!

  4. Although I only have a tiny balcony garden I still have a compost bin.

  5. Hi Rhonda! I have to admit, I was as pleased as punch to have my sons friend put his banana peel in our compost bucket without being told. He was taught well by his mom!
    I live where there are bears so we have to bury our compost. "pit" composting, so to speak. It works well!

  6. We started composting a year ago, and have no plans to turn back. It is very easy to carry out the scraps each day, and turn over the pile. In the fall we gathered up the fallen leaves in bags, and add them to the compost through the year as needed. We had a little tree that was doing poorly, and we spread a good amount of compost around it earlier this year. Now it finally has new growth and is looking very healthy.

  7. Well I'm sold! Last week I was thinking of ways to reduce the amount of waste in our garbage bin. I'm sure if we compost we can reduce our waste by half, if not more.

    Hope your week of preparations is enjoyed by all, Rhonda.

    Cath in Sydney

  8. Dear Rhonda,
    I love reading your blog and have learnt many new things! I don't have a compost bin and no-one in my family composts. So I'm a bit shy of the idea. I'm not sure if it would be an advantage for me because I already have a very successful worm farm. Often wonder how I ever lived without one!!!!
    But worms don't particularly like eggshells, teabags, citrus or onions. I suppose I could put these in a compost heap? But then you say no dairy or meat, so perhaps it would just be better to bury these? The problem is I only live on around a 450sq metre property and have a very small garden. Perhaps a compost bin would be a waste of time? What do you think?

  9. Hello everyone. :- ) Thanks for your composting thoughts.

    Anonymous, you're already well taken care of with your worm farm, so I'd just bury the tea, citrus and onion peels. If you have chooks, dry the shells in the oven next time you bake, then pulverise the shells to make a powder. You can add that powder to the chook food to boost their calcium levels.

  10. Thankyou Rhonda for the advice! I will bury the citrus etc. No I don't have chooks, right in city, don't know if council allows, but will put that idea about egg shell in memory.
    Have a wonderful day,you are a true inspiration!

  11. Good morning Rhonda, an interesting post for a beginning gardener like me. I had no idea that 2/3 of the compost should be dry! I just spoke with The Gardener who has been complaining about the wetness of the compost. He agrees with you so I've just emptied the newspapers from the recycle bin. I guess I am going to be doing some shredding today. :-)

  12. Rose, tell the gardener it goes in dry but it shouldn't stay dry. All the composting materials need to be moist (not wet) to aid in decomposition. If the heap dries out, wet it slightly with the hose. It sounds like the dry material you add now will just soak up the wetness of the nitrogen based materials already in there. Make sure he mixes the dry in with the wet and it should balance out.

  13. I have been composting for years and love the results I get after the bugs, bacteria and chickens get done with kitchen my scraps. I choose not to include paper and cardboard in mine because of the added chemicals that are used to produce them. I use straw, hay, alfalfa, and old dried weeds instead. The hays cost a bit more but I like to try to get as close to "organic" as I can.
    Thanks for sharing with us. I like checking in to see what you are up to, I always learn something!

  14. We also have quite a large compost operation going on at the rear of our yard. Peter made 4 compost bins from discarded hardwood pallets. I am always amazed how our waste turns into lovely compost without us putting in too much effoert. It really is amazing how much waste can be composted.
    We recently stayed at an apartment in a resort in Queensland, there was no recycling and all our food scraps went in the bin too. I had not realised till then, how much we put into compost and recycling. By placing all our waste in the bin, I felt like I was doing something illegal!

  15. I've always wondered about composting newsprint. Could the inks used in printing be toxic?

  16. Stickhorsecowgirls and Georgia, I'm not sure where you are living but in Australia, it's fine to compost newsprint - the inks are soy-based now. You should still avoid the coloured glossy bits, unless that has changed now too.

  17. Hello Rhonda,

    I found your comment about giving chooks, chicken and eggs interesting. I don't know if it is a wives tale or not but we were always of the opinion that you don't give chooks eggs so that they don't develop a taste for eggs and want to eat their own. I also thought it was a bit cannabilistic giving them chicken scraps to eat. It is good to know that I don't have to worry about that anymore.

  18. Hi Rhonda
    We have composted for many years now in the traditional way. A worm compost is however on my "to-do-list".
    I´d just like to tell you about a Swedish farmer who swears by the "Earth drill" method. Some years ago we had many posts to dig here. For larger structures you have to dig down about 1 meter otherwise the winter frosts shifts things. I had read about the Sturrup farmers handmade handpowered earth drills and ordered one. They are great for our clay soil. With ease they bore a neat deep cylinder into the soil. Then it´s a simple matter to line the hole and pour in concrete.
    The farmer after many years of testing swears that this is the best composting method of all. He tips all waste into these drilled holes and then plants on top of them. Yes, an age old method but perhaps an easier and less messy way to compost our waste. He thinks it´s entirely unnecessary to go via a compost heap.
    I am sure he is right. Problem is this is OK for farms or large backyards. Not really feasible for us with smaller gardens where every square inch is already accounted for.
    Borje (the farmer) has won international prizes for his monster pumpkins - 1000lbs!!!
    He has a section of his homempage in English if anyone would like to check it out:
    If you land on the Swedish language info, just check the menu on the left for "English"
    Sunny greetings from Sweden
    Ramona K

  19. Margy, you don't give chooks eggs still in the shell, or leave eggs too long in the nest, because once they associate the shell with what's inside, it's very difficult to get them out of the habit of eating their own eggs. Chooks are, by nature, cannibals. They will peck to death and eat another chook when the circumstances are right. That is why if a chook ever draws blood you should remove it from the flock until the wound heals.

  20. We have composted for years but I still wonder about something. Can you use colored newspaper and other colored paper shredded in our compost pile? How about colored natural cloth? I had heard the colors have dyes that can be harmful. We now compost all black and white papers and white natural material and such but wonder if we could compost more? Also you mentioned to not add borax to your homemade washing detergent if you are using it for gray water..if you could could you address what harm the borax would do to plants and would the washing powder be ever so weaker without the borax? Do you know of any alternative to add instead? Sorry for all the questions at one time. Jody

  21. We have composted before, when we had a garden. We haven't had one in a few years, with the mole & gophers we have now I don't think it would work. But we did start a compost a couple of years ago with the idea of a garden. However, my very large dog kept getting into it and picking out the things he wanted to eat. He likes vegetables and I kept finding things all over the yard! He's very smart and nothing would keep him out of it.

  22. I'm new to composting, we have a bin but haven't set it up yet. The paper and cotton scraps, do you have a post already or can you post with a little more detail? I've never heard of that part before and wonder. Michigan is a bit cold, would that stuff still work. Thank you


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