Compost Revolution

Feed food scraps to your compost, not the  landfill.

Composting is generally the best option if you live in a house as they will even break down your garden waste and food scraps.

Households produce an average of 60  to 70% organic waste, mostly food scraps and paper, which will be transported to landfill where it rots without air to form harmful greenhouse gases. Home composting is easy, fun and an important way of reducing the volume of these valuable materials going to landfill, cutting down on the associated greenhouse gases and returning nutrients back into the soil. By increasing the number of households that compost in these neighbourhoods we can reduce our ecological footprint and improve our local environment and community.

Composting

Compost works by breaking down food scraps in a container which lets the air through. This process is called aerobic decomposition and creates a small amount of heat. It needs garden materials as well as food scraps.

COMPOSTING SUITS YOU IF

  • have garden materials (you need twice as much as your food scraps);
  • have space on bare earth to put the compost bin; and
  • are in a household with more than two people.

THE BENEFITS ARE

  • you can add a greater variety of food and other materials than in a worm farm including garlic, onion and citrus;
  • you can recycle your garden materials; and
  • you can add larger volumes of materials.

1. The Basics

How do you turn your food and garden scraps into rich, healthy compost?
Worms, fungi, good bacteria, and other tiny creatures do the work for you! The secret of healthy compost is to keep your workers happy.

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Home
Set up your compost in a sheltered spot with good drainage and lots of sun.

Balanced diet
Feed your compost a 50/50 mix of food scraps and gardens scraps.

Air
Help your compost to breathe by stirring it every time you feed it.

Moisture
Add dry materials or water as needed to keep your compost moist, but not too wet.

DID YOU KNOW?
It’s best to avoid food waste in the first place.  One way to do this is to plan your weekly meals in advance. This will allow you to save money because you’ll only be purchasing the ingredients that you need.

2. The Perfect Home

Your compost needs to be located in a convenient spot that you can access easily, is in contact with the earth, and has good drainage.

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Step 1
Keep your bin close to your house so it’s convenient to empty your scraps. Position away from windows and neighbors. Compost breaks down faster in the sun but requires less stirring in the shade.

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Step 2
Good drainage is best. Place your compost on soil that drains well, sand or even gravel. Avoid sealed surfaces like concrete because this will lead to boggy, smelly compost.

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Step 3
To get started, place a 30cm layer of woodchip or mulched dry garden scraps in the base of the bin to help drainage.

TIPS
Make your compost bin rat-proof by lining it with chicken wire. Place the open base of your bin on top of a piece of chicken wire, bend it up around the outside of the bin and tie in place with rope.
Got a friend with a compost bin? Grab a handful of their readymade compost to give your compost a kick start!

DID YOU KNOW?
Worms generally find their way into compost bins and improve the soil by aerating it. They also break down nutrients in the soil so that the plants in your garden can absorb these nutrients more directly.

3. A Balanced Diet

Your compost needs a 50/50 balance of food scraps and garden scraps. For every bucket of food scraps you’ll need to add one bucket of garden scraps.

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Food scraps
All food and drink scraps, including chili, garlic, citrus, grains, dairy and tiny amounts of meat. Food scraps are wet and high in nitrogen encouraging compost to break down. Substitutes include: manure, fresh grass clippings and seaweed.

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Garden scraps
All grass and plant clippings, leaves, mulch and woodchips. Garden scraps are dry and high in carbon so they’ll stop your compost smelling. Substitutes include: shredded paper and cardboard, coffee husks and grain husks.

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Things to avoid
Avoid adding more than 100g of meat, tofu, dairy, eggs or oils at one time. Avoid more than 500g of carbohydrates or citrus. Avoid: gum leaves or pine needles, wood, inks or vacuum dust with unwanted chemicals, dog or cat poo.

Technically anything organic (once living) can be composted, but in a small backyard compost bin it’s best to be careful and follow these guidelines.

TIPS

  • Diversity is the key; too much of one thing can cause an imbalance in your compost;
  • Chop food scraps and garden scraps in to pieces smaller than a golf ball – the smaller the pieces the faster they will break down.

DID YOU KNOW?
Weeds can be composted but you probably don’t want their seeds to grow in your garden. Kill the seeds before you compost them by soaking weeds in a tub of water for a month or two. They’ll break into a rich sludge that you can use in your compost as a substitute for food scraps.

4. Feeding Your Compost

The key to good composting is as simple as: Food! Stir! Garden!

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1. Food!
Keep a large container or bucket in your kitchen to collect food and drink scraps that go to waste. Empty the container into your compost bin every few days.

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2. Stir!
Keep your stirrer next to the compost and turn it every time food scraps are added. Sink your stirrer into the top 2/3 of your compost and pull it up several times, ‘tossing’ the food scraps and letting fresh air in.

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3. Garden!
Scatter a bucket of garden scraps or clippings across the top every time. This keeps the top of the compost neat and deters vermin. The garden scraps will be mixed through next time you turn the compost.
This formula is the easiest way to ensure your compost has a balanced diet and gets plenty of air through regular stirring and tossing. This helps to manage the moisture levels in your compost by balancing wet food scraps with dry garden scraps.

TIPS

  • Collect garden scraps and clippings and store them next to your compost so they are available when you need them; and
  • Use your kitchen scraps bucket to scoop garden scraps from your stockpile into your compost. This helps ensure equal quantities.

DID YOU KNOW?
Cold composting
The method above is called ‘cold’ composting. it’s the most convenient way to compost your food scraps regularly. The compost does generate heat but because scraps are added gradually it won’t get really hot. It will take three-six months for the compost to be ready.

Hot composting
This is when you fill the compost bin in layers all at once and leave it to ‘cook’, stirring and adding water occasionally. This will create compost in six to ten weeks.
Gardeners sometimes use both methods; establishing a ‘hot’ compost that is filled to the top and left to cook, as well as a ‘cold’ compost that they add scraps to regularly.

5. Avoiding Problems

Composting is very easy and you won’t have any problems if you ‘Food, Stir, Garden’ every time. But in our complex world things don’t always go to plan! Here’s how to fix any problems that might arise.

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Bad smells
If it smells then it probably hasn’t been stirred enough and is too wet. Give the whole compost a good stir for aeration and add more garden scraps. If smells are strong, sprinkle ash, dolomite or garden lime on top.

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Too slow to break down
It is probably too dry or cold. If the compost is dry, soak it with a hose. Adding more food scraps or moving your compost to a warmer spot will speed things up.

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Cockroaches
They hide in warm, dry, still patches. Soak your compost with a hose, then ‘toss’ thoroughly using your stirrer. Only add garden scraps when you ‘Food, Stir, Garden’ to avoid dry patches forming.

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Mice and rats
They could be attracted to your compost if it smells. Avoid adding grains, meat, eggs and dairy. Check the lid is secure and there are no gaps. Rat-proof your bin by lining the base with chicken wire.

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Soldier fly larvae
Often confused with maggots, larvae are: bigger, browner and more segmented. They help break down compost faster and aren’t a problem. There’s no easy way to remove them. Just stir more often, add more garden scraps, and they’ll leave in a few weeks.

TIPS
Keeping your microbial workers happy is the secret to composting. If you have a problem, think about what might be imbalanced in terms of their Home, Diet, Air and Moisture.

Remember there are some ‘things to avoid’ feeding your compost:

  • Strong, scented leaves from eucalypts or pines can slow things down by ‘fumigating’ your workers; and
  • Bad smells can be caused by too many animal products or carbohydrates and this can also attract vermin.

6. Harvest Time

Your compost is ready to harvest if it looks like dark, rich soil and smells earthy. This normally takes three-six months. Spread the compost around plants or mix it with soil to create your own potting mix. Always cover soil and compost with a layer of mulch to keep it alive and thriving.

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Harvest from the bottom
The newer food scraps on the top may not have broken down, so harvest your compost from the bottom of the bin. Any scraps that haven’t broken down can be thrown back in.

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Getting the compost out
If your bin has a trap door – open it and scrape the compost out with a shovel. No door? Tilt the bin to one side and scrape it out with a shovel.

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Emptying the whole bin
Lift the whole bin off the pile and use the harvested compost on your garden. Any scraps that have not broken down can be thrown back in to kick start your new compost.

TIPS

  • Compost is always good for vegetables and exotics plants, but is often too rich for native plants;
  • A common harvesting problem is finding small patches of ‘ready’ compost mixed with recently-added food scraps. This can be avoided by only stirring the top half of your compost, allowing the ‘ready’ compost to accumulate at the bottom;
  • Don’t worry about eggshells or avocado seeds not breaking down. If the rest of the compost is black, fluffy and smells earthy then it’s okay. The eggshells won’t be visible in your garden once you add a layer of mulch over the top; and
  • If it’s not quite ready to harvest but you want to start another compost – lift the bin off the compost pile, cover it with a tarp or rug, and leave it for a few weeks until it’s ready.

DID YOU KNOW?
Your backyard compost is unlikely to get hot enough to kill seeds. If plants like tomatoes and pumpkins sprout where you don’t want them, just pull them out and throw them back into the compost or replant them in a veggie garden.

 

Last Updated: September 13, 2014

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