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  • Writer's picturePhoebe

Composting for every body

Updated: Feb 23, 2023

We've said it before: at Patch of Plenty we believe that composting is a revolutionary act.


How could it not be? Through an almost magical alchemical process (but really through a complex web of biological relationships), composting turns once-living waste products into black gold. It reduces emissions from landfill and transforms our soil for the better.


However, lots of us feel daunted about doing our own composting at home, whether because we’re concerned about getting it wrong (and creating a smelly pit of despair) or because the work involved may not be possible for those of us with limitations on our energy or mobility.


We reckon there are three main things about composting that can make it labour-intensive, or out of reach for some bodies.


1. Turning heaps

Turning a compost pile helps maintain heat during the bacterial-dominated stage of decomposition.


If you manage to turn it 'inside-out', you'll also make sure that the material gets evenly decomposed. Otherwise, what tends to happen is you have beautiful fine compost from the inside of the pile, where it got hot and stayed moist, and undecomposed material from the edges.


Turning is certainly beneficial, but it's not the be-all and end-all of composting. In fact, I rarely turn my compost unless I'm feeling particularly energetic! All this means is I might need to wait a little longer for the finished product, and if there is undecomposed material it goes back into the bin for another round.


However, all piles need oxygen in order to compost properly. Turning also helps aerate the heap and stop it from going anaerobic (which equals stink) – so if you choose not to turn your pile, you'll need to make sure it's getting oxygen another way.


I use a piece of repurposed plastic down pipe with holes drilled into it, stuck through the middle of the bin. Insert this when the bin is empty and then layer your materials around it. This will help with air flow. (If you want to get fancy about it, you can use an Aerobin, which does essentially the same thing.)



Another option is to use a compost tumbler, which is certainly easier than turning it by hand with a spade or fork. Just be careful not to fill it up too much, or it will get too heavy to turn.


Indi and I both use tumblers for our food scraps, because rodents can't get into them. However, worms can't get into them either, so once they're mostly full and partially decomposed (as in bits of food are no longer identifiable), their contents join a gradual compost in an open-bottomed bin, and the process begins again.


Compost screws can be bought from hardware stores and garden centres (or made from thick gauge wire if you're handy) and are another solution to turning and introducing oxygen into your pile that is easier on the body than the traditional method.

2. Shifting materials and completed compost


Wheels are a great friend in the garden. Use a wheelbarrow or garden cart to haul your compost materials to the pile where they're needed.


Put the materials into bags, buckets or small trugs before they go in the wheelbarrow to avoid the need for shovelling at both ends.


For example, when I collect goat manure for my compost, I shovel it into old feed bags at the goat yard, then once home I wheel it from the car to my compost pile and pour it straight into the bin.

(Goats are the best.)

For getting your finished compost into the garden, you might choose to harvest small amounts at a time (some bins allow you to do this easily from the bottom by way of a little hatch).


I can't do this because I usually want to use the bin to start composting again straight away. But in this case, you can store your completed compost in bags or buckets where it will continue decomposing until you need it.


Otherwise, make your compost in the same place it's going to end up! Use an open-bottomed bin under a fruit tree or on a veggie bed. Then, when the compost is ready, just pull off the bin and rake out the compost – no need to move it at all.


3. Chopping up materials

This reduces the particle size of your materials, and makes for much faster and more even composting.


If you're using kitchen scraps, it's generally doable to chop them up a bit with a knife before they go in the compost bucket. (Or use a food processor to do it for you.)


Some sources of carbon, like sawdust and leaves, already have a small enough particle size to go straight in.


But if you're using garden waste for all-at-once composting, that's where it can get tricky.


One option is to lay your materials out on the lawn and run them over a couple of times with a lawnmower. This is what Indi does!


Another is to feed your materials through an upright mulcher. You can buy these second-hand fairly readily. Mine is noisy and can be finicky, but allows me to produce great all-at-once compost without too much labour.


A trug full of material that's just gone through the mulcher.


If you have a gardener (or a pile of children) you can get them to chop up the materials you've collected.


Or (and this is kind of our favourite solution), organise a quarterly chop-fest!


Harness the power of your community to help each other turn waste into food for the soil. Invite your friends over seasonally (or rotate between each other's gardens) and use secateurs, shears and mulchers to turn a big pile of waste into smaller pieces. If you can't do the chopping yourself, maybe you can provide everyone with delicious snacks to say thanks.


Here you can see how chopping up materials finely contributes to a turbo-charged composting process. The picture on the right is taken 3 days after the one on the left. The pile has shrunk considerably and has reached almost 65 degrees celsius.


Even with the above tips, composting at home might not work for your body or your context. There's no shame in buying it in! Getting a bulk delivery is a very cost-efficient way to get quality compost. You might also like to check out Share Waste, which allows you to drop off your scraps and garden waste to home composters in your area.



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1 Comment


jodn
Feb 22, 2023

Super helpful, thanks Phoebe and Indi. Agree the compost tumblers are really good. Your local coffee shop may be happy to donate their (large volume) spent coffee grounds as a composting ingredient (yes, coffee has a large footprint but high sociability). The caffeine can be toxic to plants so best to compost first. Nice paper here: "Spent Coffee Grounds Characterization and Reuse in Composting and Soil Amendment" (https://www.mdpi.com/2813-0391/1/1/2).

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