A recipe for home-made compost
I didn’t used to make my own compost. I thought it was stinky & too much hassle, it didn’t make enough, and it took too long.
Well all of the above is true! Except that I noticed that many of my customers gardens were bristling & thriving, and their secret was home-made!
It turns out that “living” home-made compost is far superior to bags of “dead” compost, which have been sitting around & drying out. Compost ideally needs to be recently made and biologically active.
Plus I found a system that was relatively high capacity, clean(ish), easy to use and didn’t need turning.
And I now get immense satisfaction from turning our so-called garden & kitchen “waste” into “gold” for the garden.
I am not too measured about ratios. But generally speaking: every time I add a trug of green garden waste (which is already a mixture of carbon & nitrogen), I add a layer of wet cardboard. I also randomly sprinkle in goodness, whatever is at hand, like EarthZing bokashi, worm castings, EMOs, and rock dust. It's not cheating, it's just making it even better.
Things also break down & compost much more quickly if you can chop them up as you go. And in warmer months, when composts are more active, I throw over an extra bucket of (preferably unchlorinated) water every couple of weeks. You can let a bucket of house water stand for 24 hours, dunk a bucket in a tank or water feature, or add a filter to your mains hose water.
The basic ingredients & layers
Chopped up kitchen waste - we keep a small 4 litre stylish Hachiman caddy on the bench & a small bottle of EMO spray (Effective Microorganisms/Compost Activator). We fill maybe a couple of small buckets/week with food scaps. I find smaller buckets are a good size to empty every 3-4 days & not sit around too long and get stinky. I rinse the caddy out over the garden; and don't clean it often.
I also generate lots of garden prunings – especially branch prunings, topiary & hedge trimmings; leaves, lawn clippings, dead flower arrangements; dead plants; and we get lots of packaging & cardboard boxes, which we add ripped up & wet with balls of wet paper, packaging tape & plastic removed, and no strong colours or glossy magazines. So for every large 42 L trug of garden waste, I add 1-2 small buckets of kitchen waste, fairy dust, and a ripped up wet cardboard box on top.
Meat & dairy, which attract rats and mice; too many coffee grounds, which can inhibit growth apparently; seed heads, which is a cooler process in home processing; diseased or suspect plant material, in home composting; and pest insects. I do add weeds, dried off to kill roots, and without their seed heads.
My set up
My composting system is a 420 litre Aerobin Composter available from gubba.co.nz. It’s basically a giant plastic bin, that sits in a handy corner in my garden, open to the ground and close to the kitchen & work areas, but not too close to outdoor living areas.
It has a lid; and sides at the base that come off to access the finished compost. It doesn’t need turning & has a large central perforated tube in the middle which they call a lung, which aerates the compost and removes the need to turn.
I find the size is just large enough to last the year – you can fill up the bin & a week later, it’s lost a surprising volume. It builds compost in around 6 months. I use as much as possible that is near-ready in August; then fill it up through spring. Then use more in late spring/over Xmas, and fill it up again over autumn and winter.
It has a lid & sides, so rats & mice don’t seem to be a problem. It’s a bit naturally stinky within a metre or so + when you open the lid (but not foul). There are also lots of fruit flies; and I try to keep a top layer of garden waste or wet carboard over decomposing kitchen waste, to minimise a top layer of ookiness.
Finished compost is not stinky at all; and I add it to the garden, even when not 100% decomposed, and let it finish in the garden over time.
A word on bokashi & worm farms
I have also tried making fermented bokashi & worm farms. Both are excellent sources of fertiliser for your garden; but I found both processes to be a bit smelly and wriggly for me - noting that I have total respect for the gardeners who persevere. To my immense relief, I discovered that relatively high quality over the counter options are available in the form of Earth Zing from bokashi.co.nz and worm castings + juice from mynoke.co.nz
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