Quicker compost

by Lila Das Gupta

[...] my husband put in a built-in bin for uncooked kitchen waste under the sink. The next breakthrough was the appearance of an old tin jug in the bathroom to catch the early morning wee.

Compost binI've recently been working my way through 'The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People', a self-help book by Stephen Covey, and was immensely impressed that it has something to teach us gardeners.

In the book, Covey describes how he got his son to look after the "front yard".

Effective gardeners, it seems, don't have hissy fits or spend their time whinging. Oh no. Effective gardeners delegate. They don't micromanage, they simply hand over the 'stewardship' and as long as the results are the desired ones, they don't bother too much about how the 'delegated to' get the job done.

So, last week in the same spirit, I devolved responsibility for the compost heap to my husband. I explained the basics of how to build a heap (twiggy sticks at the bottom then green, nitrogen-rich ingredients sandwiched between brown, carbon-based ingredients with a very light sprinkling of water now and then). I also mentioned some optional extras that will help turbo-charge a pile like shop-bought compost accelerator, nettles, comfrey, pelleted chicken manure or, best of all, urine. 

Men have the natural advantage when it comes to making compost - they can wee standing up.   

So, two things have happened since the change of "stewardship". The first is that we have done away with collecting compostable kitchen waste in carrier bags that always seemed to be leaking coffee grounds on to the floor (most compost caddies are too small for a big family). Instead my husband put in a built-in bin for uncooked kitchen waste under the sink. The next breakthrough was the appearance of an old tin jug in the bathroom to catch the early morning wee. Our teenager, totally disgusted by the idea, refuses to contribute, and has no doubt roundly condemned his father on Facebook. But the seven-year-old is an early adopter, keen to do his part to accelerate the compost. He now understands that urine is full of nitrogen and that the ammonia produced when it ages helps to break down the matter in a pile, heating the whole thing up. A hot heap is a happy heap.

The next challenge for the compost 'steward' will be to sort out the compost bins at the allotment (we have 3 at home and plan for another 3 on the plot).  We use one to store brown materials which we have gathered up like bags of leaves and some paper,  the other two are used to build piles. When the 'brown' storage area becomes empty, we turn one of the piles into it, which exposes the pile to oxygen and helps to accelerate the cooking. Should I feel the need to accelerate matters further, a bucket in the shed will do nicely.

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Gardeners' World Web User 16/10/2009 at 17:42

I have 8, 8ft by 4ft compost bins made out of odd pieces of wood. I have a garden shredder (one of the most useful items of machinery I have) and shred all my hedge and shrub cuttings whic are mixed in with grass, uncooked kitchin waste, shredded paper etc. I fill each one up alternatly so that I can turn each one into the next one. The turning of the compost although heavy is the most useful thing I can do and inproves my compost no end. in addition i have just obtained a cone into which I can put cooked food, fish and bones etc. The challenge is deciding where to put it because its base must be sunk into the ground for about 2ft so that vermin can't get to it

Gardeners' World Web User 17/10/2009 at 07:25

I have 3 compost bins-2 for garden and uncooked household waste-the other just for leaves.The first do really well and are always heaving with little worms. One has a base, the other I dug a small hole and lined it with chicken wire and a piece of old carpet-this seems to keep vermin out. The leaf bin however seems to be taking an awfully long time to break down-how can I speed it up and where best to use the leaf mould?

Gardeners' World Web User 17/10/2009 at 09:04

I find the leaves take ages too unles you can chop them up in a lawn-mower. In fact I have decided to add the leaves to the compost hep now, just not too many at a time. I store them in old compost bags while they wait to be added. My problem is that I cannot seem to turn around my compost fast enough. I bought an organic accelerator that was meant to do it all in 4-6 weeks no turning. I have two heaps full, but not ready for use, the third is holding manure that is not ready for use and I have nowhere to start a third heap. I do it by the book, but I must be going wrong somewhere.

Gardeners' World Web User 17/10/2009 at 17:08

Vicarage, I'm impressed by your compost efforts. Would love you to post a bit more about the cone for cooked waste. Bokashi boxes are also good, though you need a kitchen big enough to store the buckets in. Wendy, 3 heaps are best, but if you don't have space it will take a little more work. Try to place your pile in the sun rather than shade, make sure everything is finely chopped, don't be afraid to use a little wee. What you then need to do is, as Vicarage says, turn your pile. Turn it out of the box onto the ground next to it, then put it back in again. The act of mixing and exposing to oxygen will speed things up no end. Don't forget to cover your heap with old carpet - the warmer the quicker the decomposition. Compost does take longer to make in the winter for this reason.

Gardeners' World Web User 17/10/2009 at 17:43

I have 3 bins. One is a wire cage for leaf mould, which i empty at this time of year and then fill up again with newly collected leaves. All i do with this bin is stir it a couple of times a year. The other two are for kitchen/garden waste etc. I am not able to turn my heap and the compost spikes for stirring don't seem to work either so i just fill one bin, and while that is rotting down (for a year) fill the second bin and then swop back and let the 2nd bin rot down. It is not the quickest method but it works and takes all my waste.

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