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National Composting Week & How to get Started with Alena Turley

National Composting Week & How to get Started with Alena Turley

Why Compost?

It may come as a surprise (or not), but when we throw food waste in our bins that are sent off to landfill – it doesn’t break down properly.

Food waste in landfill is just as hazardous as all the other ‘stuff’ that ends up there,  and will end up producing methane gas which is extremely harmful to our environment (worse than carbon dioxide!)

So, if you’re on a mission to reduce your waste and better care for our planet – composting your food instead of chucking it in your landfill bin – is a great place to start.

Luckily when it comes to the topic of composting, my lovely friend Alena Turnley form Soul Mama Hub has all the answers!

Alena Turley of soul mama hub academy. Helping mums connect


First up - What is Composting?


Composting is a process that transforms organic matter into a dark rich and crumbly material called humus. It is a natural recycling process that occurs in nature, and we can replicate in our own gardens.


Next - what are the benefits of composting when it comes to our garden? 

Compost adds microbial life to the soil. It improves plant growth, increases the soil’s capacity to hold nutrients and the ability of plants to resist disease. Good soil means resilient plants.

By composting we also reduce our dependency on artificial fertilisers by returning organic matter to the soil.

This also helps to ‘close the loop’. By using our organic waste on-site at home, less waste is transported to landfill (where it would create methane gas, a greenhouse gas, as it degrades).

By creating natural fertiliser with our own composted waste we bring less external materials into our garden. This increases our self-sufficiency whilst reducing the need to manufacture external, artificial fertilisers, or transport soil and fertilisers from one place to another.

A closer look at the benefits:

  • conditions the soil, improving its structure and moisture retention
  • fertilises, encouraging root growth
  • mulches and smothers small invasive plants in the garden bed
  • prevents the surface soil from drying out
  • can be used as potting mix
  • reduces outgoing waste

 


So, what can we compost?

On average, around 50% of domestic garbage is compostable.
Organic garbage (fruit and vegetables) will decompose, though not all will decompose fully from composting.

Here's a handy list of what you can and can't compost.

 CAN CAN'T
Brown (carbon) diseased plants
leaves, hay, pea-straw weeds gone to seed
woodchips & sawdust ivy, succulents
shreeded paper/newspaper grasses with roots that spread under the soil
tissues & paper towel
meat, fish, leftovers, bones or grease
chipped brush
fatty foods such as oil butter or cheese
dry grass pesticide treated plants
Paper egg cartons
baked goods
wood wash pet waste
shredded cardboard synthetic fabric
Green (nitrogen)
vegetable scraps
fruit peelings
fresh lawn clippings
old plants
egg shells
coffee grounds
tea leaves
seaweed

 

Starting your compost

For composting to work, both air and water are needed.

It is best to keep the compost heap moist but not drenched to aid in maintaining the right balance of air and water. This encourages the perfect habitat for microbial organisms to do their work of breaking down the material.

Temperature is important as well. Generally speaking the warmer the pile, the faster the decomposition, though too hot (like a black bin in the sun) and the pile will dry out and become inhospitable to microbes.

As long as the balance is maintained, the more green, nitrogen-rich material added, the hotter it grows. In ideal conditions, decomposition can take between eight and ten weeks. Though, in my experience, this is rare in domestic settings.

Size matters – the optimal size is a maximum of one cubic metre of material.

Composting may be carried out with open heaps (covered by a tarp, or hessian) but enclosures or bins are better. They offer protection from pests and keep the pile tidy and sheltered from the weather. If vermin are an issue, a mesh may be needed at the bottom of the bin to prevent burrowing in.

There are two ways to begin:

1. The first one is simpler and easier to set up but slower to get results. It can be helpful to start with some soil to mix material with. Using this method, the compost can turn to humus in around six months.'

2. 'For those with more time and a desire to achieve results more quickly, the heap can be built in layers to accelerate the decomposition process. One layer of organic and garden waste of about 150mm is covered with a thin layer of lime and fertilizer (or pre-composted matter), then another layer of about 50mm of soil – repeated all the way to the top of the bin, which must have air vents.'

 


Once you’ve decided which method is best for you, follow the steps below.

  1. Collect kitchen organic and garden waste in a bin with a lid in the kitchen – on or under the bench.
  2. Start building your heap in the bin or enclosure you’ve chosen. This may involve alternating layers of kitchen scraps, soil and lawn clippings or else lumping it all together. It is better to have coarser materials on the bottom layer to help with aeration.
  3. Keep it fed (topped up with scraps), moist and aerated. Remember the hotter it is the quicker it works. Use a compost turner or pitchfork to turn it if using method one if you need to aerate it.
  4. When your compost is done use it to enrich your soil, plants and trees. Your compost is ready when it is dark brown, crumbly, and earthy smelling.

     Let's look at worm farming

    Worm farming, or ‘vermiculture’, and composting are similar processes.
    Where composting creates humus via a natural decay process, in vermiculture the worms turn the organic matter into castings, a rich and concentrated slurry or thick muddy plant food that can be used in the same manner as compost. Though it is often so rich it needs to be mixed or diluted before use.

    Earthworms generally speed up the decomposition of organic matter in a compost heap and the worms themselves, when added to soil, help aerate and improve the soil structure permitting greater water retention.

    For trouble shooting and tips on how much to use when you're compost is ready then you can continue reading Alena's article here - Composting | What, Why and How.

    Alena is Sydney-based mother of three, a podcaster, educator, martial artist and 'mum-connector'. Click here to find and connect with her.


    It's composting time!

    Depending on where you're located you might be able to grab a free compost caddy from your local council.

    If not, search 'compost caddy' online and find one you like. We do hope to be stocking them here at Diminish soon.

    Once you have your indoor caddy sorted, all you need to do is find a space in the garden for your outdoor compost. I actually just use a big old gardening pot - so just find something that works for you.

    And once you've got all the gear - you can happily start composting away!! Good luck.



    If you'd like more support on how to reduce your waste and improve your eco-footrpint then head on over to our Diminish your Waste Membership. The membership is designed to help and guide you at every step of the way.

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