Tag Archives: compost

IMO* Green waste

My Sunday mornings with Tony Murrell on Radio Live’s Home and Garden Show have moved to the more civilised hour of 7.45am. This was just as well this morning with our land line down. Because we live in a mobile black spot, I headed out across the property under an umbrella (it was spitting), to the point where I know I can get at least one and sometimes two bars on my mobile phone. I was committed to speak on my concern of the week – green waste and the ubiquitous wheelie bins.

“Go forth and multiply” – the rise and rise of the wheelie bin

When the directive came to “go forth and multiply”, I cannot think that it was ever meant to apply to wheelie bins. But that is the case. We live in the country and for years we took responsibility for our own waste disposal. When the local council extended rubbish collection to many rural areas, it was undoubtedly convenient but it came with a hefty price tag. We now have a wheelie bin for recyclables and an inconveniently shaped bin for glass which needs to be transferred to a wheelbarrow to transport it out to the roadside. But wait, there is to be more. Plans are afoot for another wheelie bin to take the non-recyclable rubbish, another for green waste and I am not sure where the plans are to give us a fifth small bin to sit upon the kitchen bench to take the green waste before we transfer it out to the wheelie bin.  Plastic, plastic and more plastic.

As I said, we live in the country. Everybody I know who lives in the country has some sort of composting system. There is no need to charge us for removing our green waste and increasing its carbon footprint further by transporting it to a central depot.

Wheelie bins of London. I have seen British gardening shows showing strategies for concealing your wheelie bins in little enclosures with “living roofs”

What worries me the most is that this new drive to collect everything from the gate actually fosters an “out of sight, out of mind” mentality. And these great thunking wheelie bins encourage people to put yet more rubbish out. Councils such as ours can espouse “zero waste by 2040” sentiments all they like, but these are aspirational only when their actions are geared to hoping residents will sort their rubbish at home before they wheel it out for collection. It is still predicated on ratepayers paying a levy for somebody else to cart away their rubbish and to deal with it. The feel good factor without actually achieving much at all.

Wheelie bins of Coogee to the right

Our Sydney daughter lives in a third floor apartment and has a worm farm. She alerted me to Compost Revolution, an organisation that works with Sydney councils to encourage residents to take responsibility for their own green waste and to deal with it at home. Attend a two hour course and you get either a free or heavily subsidised composting option – Bokashi, worm farm or bin, whichever is best suited to your circumstances. That is a constructive model that gets ‘buy-in’ from participants and changes long term behaviour. Green waste can account for around half of household waste. So it is a huge reduction in volume if it can be dealt with on the home site and a big reduction in carbon footprint if it is not being carted away for recycling. It is interesting that Compost Revolution appears to have worked on solutions applicable to high density urban living.

Centralised waste collection in Tivoli

I was impressed by the European models I saw of centralised collection points where people sorted to the appropriate bins as they dropped off their rubbish. In a densely populated, old town like Tivoli, individual household collection would be near impossible. These collection points were emptied each day and the area swept. There was nothing offensive about them, even in very hot weather. Everything about this model encourages a reduction in volume and individual responsibility.

Rural waste collection in Camembert, France

Rubbish disposal, New Zild style, near where I live. 

In France near Camembert was this smart and tidy collection point for community refuse. It remained tidy for the several days we stayed nearby. Sometimes I despair at home. Prior to the collection of our refuse from the gate, Council tried a local collection point down the road from us. People treated it like a roadside tip. Literally. It was revolting. Don’t worry about how the system works. Just hiff your rubbish out from your vehicle whenever you want. Sometimes we seem so backward and uncivilised in this country I love and never more so than on household rubbish. Out of sight, out of mind.

Don’t, just don’t pile up your lawn clippings around the street trees. This is likely to kill them. Mount Eden, Auckland

At the very least, next time you replace your lawnmower, get a mulcher mower. It chomps the clippings so finely that they reintegrate with the turf. This means you do not need to collect them and then find some means of disposing of them. It also means you never have to feed your lawn because you are not stripping all the nutrients off. And look at other ways you can deal with the majority of your green waste on site rather than paying somebody else to remove it and to take responsibility for your waste. It matters.

Should you wish to do a bit of DIY compost, I have in the past posted step by step instructions on


*IMO – in my opinion. The Radio Live Home and Garden Show opinion pieces each Sunday may translate to a new series of posts here.

Making cold compost step by step (part 3 of 3)

Part one – low tech, low input means of dealing with green waste.
Part two – making a hot compost mix.

1) In an earlier Classroom, we looked at making hot compost where heat helps the breakdown. Cold compost, where the work is done by worms, is by far the most common form of home compost. You don’t need special facilities – a pile on the ground, compost bins or a netting ring are all fine. It needs to sit on dirt so the worms can move in. You are aiming to build up about a cubic metre of composting material at a time.

2) The ingredients and ratios are the same as for hot compost but because cold compost is not usually turned, it is better to build it in layers. Nitrogen comes from green waste (fresh leaves, vegetable scraps, lawn clippings etc) and this can be up to 60% of your mix. Carbon comes from dried leaves and stalky vegetation along with all the twiggy bits and this should comprise 40 to 50% of the mix. The carbon also traps air in the mixture and stops it turning to a sludgy mess.

3) Do not put in seed heads or diseased foliage or plants. Without heat, the seeds and diseases will survive and when you spread your compost, you will be spreading them throughout the garden.

4) The usual advice is that citrus peel and egg shells should not be added but we ignore that because we have large quantities of citrus peel to dispose of. The worms ignore it and it rots down of its own accord. However it pays not to add meat which will attract dogs, cats and rats. If you are adding newspaper, scrunch it up first or it comes out at the end of the process pretty much as it went in. Newspaper counts as carbon content.

5) The compost worms will arrive of their own accord. Striped tiger worms are the most common. If you are worried, you can buy them or transfer them from a worm farm but it is not necessary. If your compost pile gets sludgy and smelly, you do not have enough carbon content and it may have insufficient air (oxygen).

6) When you have about a cubic metre of layered mix, cover the heap or bin. Some people use old woollen carpet. Other options are heavy duty plastic, boards or corrugated iron. We use old weedmat weighed down so it does not blow off. With cold compost, it will take at least six months before it is ready to use and it may take longer over the colder months of the year. But at the end of that, you should have a clean mix which is easy to handle and nutritious in the garden. It is usually best to work with a row of compost heaps, or at least three – one you are building, one that is maturing and one that is being used.

In the garden 02/01/2009

Not so much In the Garden This Week as New Year’s resolution time for the garden this year. You may like to resolve all or some of the following:

  1. Keep a garden diary. They are genuinely useful to refer to in the future and the more detailed, the more use they are in avoiding repeating mistakes and in getting timing right.
  2. Stay on top of weeds and prevent them getting large enough to seed. One year’s seeding really can lead to the next seven years of weeding.
  3. Curtail the routine use of chemical sprays and fertilisers and only resort to these when absolutely necessary. Replace plants which you have to spray regularly to keep looking good.
  4. Plant at least one good long term tree or gift same to somebody with more space if it is not practicable for you. Planting many good long term trees is better, but one is a start.
  5. Plant a fruit tree at home for both yourself and future residents.
  6. Compost your own green waste at home. Spare the landfill, save money and enrich your soil with your own compost.
  7. Resolve to lay mulch on your garden this year to nourish the soil and to reduce water loss.
  • If you have yet to try your hand at vegetable gardening and are wondering where to start, now is the time to prepare a patch for sowing winter crops. Make sure you have an area with maximum sunshine all year, good drainage and preferably not too exposed to wind. Start digging. If it is currently in grass, you need to remove the layer of turf completely (you can compost it) or all the grass will just grow again and choke out your little vegetable seedlings. Once it is dug over, push hoe all the first flushes of weed seeds which will germinate rapidly. Don’t rush this first stage of soil preparation. If you have a well cultivated patch to plant in to with at least some of the weed seeds dealt to, your chances of success are much greater and you still have plenty of time to get winter veg in.
  • There is time to sow seed of summer annuals for late summer and autumn colour. You will have more success if you sow the seed in trays and keep watered for planting out in a few weeks time when they have some size. Gaily broadcasting dry seed onto the garden beds is much easier but generally a waste of time.
  • If you have a problem with thrips on rhododendrons (the leaf sucking critters which turn leaves silver), you can get a really good hit rate by spraying now. If you use a systemic insecticide, the plant sucks it in so you do not need saturation coverage. If you use a contact insecticide, you need to get good coverage underneath the leaves where the thrips hide because it will only kill where it touches.

To close, some advice from Anne Raven:

Don’t wear perfume in the garden – unless you want to be pollinated by bees.

Demystifying compost and muck

The news that there may be a permanent ban on outdoor fires in Taranaki has had me thinking. At first I thought it must only apply to urban areas but there was no mention of that in the early statements from Regional Council. Letter writers to the editor, who applauded the proposal and commented that with the increasingly efficient kerbside recycling services this should not be a problem for people, clearly lived in the city. And I would hazard a guess that they don’t have large gardens.

This is not to say that I am opposed to the idea of discouraging the burning of organic waste, but I am not sure that a blanket ban is the way to go. In a large garden with many trees, we have constant debris. Anything that can be, is composted through our series of compost mounds. Tree branches larger than about 10cm are cut up for firewood but there is all the twiggy stuff in between which up until recently we have dumped on the burning heap in a paddock. Our latest acquisition here is a good solid mulcher bought second hand on Trade Me (and voted by the one who uses it here as his second most favourite piece of machinery). This should eliminate the need for our annual bonfire but, like the chainsaw, mulchers have a petrol powered carbon footprint and are noisy. And mulchers are not going to suit all home gardeners. Nor does the mulcher solve the problem of rose clippings which I still incinerate.

But we would all be foolish not to heed the rumblings. The times they are a-changing and we had better start to think around some of the practices which are becoming increasingly unacceptable.

At the most basic level, the only people I consider justified in putting food scraps out in the rubbish are those who live in apartments with no outside garden. There is not a lot of point in loading landfills with plastic wrapped food en masse when it is very easy to dispose of at home.

So herewith the compost guide for beginners. The very mention of compost arouses passions in some, believe it or not. There are entire books and websites devoted to the topic and they can go into extraordinary technical detail requiring adherence to recipes, a strict timetable of rotation and turning, along with the construction of aerated bins. If you already manage compost in this manner, you do not need to be reading further.

But for beginners, there is compost and there is rotting. Compost is dryish, light, full of air and does not smell. It has been naturally heat treated. Rotting is often pongy, sludgy and heavy. It has not generated heat.

Rotting is fine in some cases and easy to manage. Rather than (horror of horrors) raking up the autumn leaves and burning them, to the detriment of neighbours’ washing and the environment, you can rake them back under the bushes and let them break down naturally. After a few months, you have what is called leaf litter and it is inoffensive, fertile and fine for raking back over the garden beds as mulch.

Kitchen waste is often rotted, rather than composted. In fact the simplest method can be to start a trench in the vegetable garden and bury the scraps, covering them with the soil from the next part of the trench as you work your way along. The worms will then break down the food and it doesn’t take long before you can use the row for planting. The major disadvantage is dogs and you don’t want to be burying meat.

While we have a row of proper compost mounds, they are some distance from the kitchen so we use one of those useful black bins with no bottom in it for food scraps. It looks tidy in the vegetable garden and keeps the dogs out though rats can burrow beneath. We refer to it as the compost bin but in fact the contents are rotted, not composted. We avoid putting any weeds which are seeding in there or any diseased vegetable waste because rotting alone does not kill seeds and fungi. Leaf litter would be fine in one of these black bins if you like to keep the garden tidy. Mark rakes out the contents into the vegetable garden from time to time. Rotting does not have to be unhygienic and in fact you can encourage your own worm farm to do the breaking down for you.

Proper compost is something else entirely. In smaller gardens it is tidier to work on constructed compost bins so you start in one bin, fork it into the second bin (this is aerating it), adding nitrogen if required, and then into the third bin from where you use it for the garden after a few months. We have a large amount of green waste here and sufficient space to manage free form mounds which get turned by the front end loader on the tractor but in days gone by, (before the advent of our baby tractor) Mark used to fork it all over as required. If you are past forking compost, there are more expensive rotating bins on the market.

The whole principle of composting is to generate aerobic action and heat which is what purifies the compost. We all know about grass clippings heating up and steaming but without the addition of air, roughage and carbon you are actually creating something more akin to smelly, fermented ensilage.

Compost aficionados have recipes, not unlike cooking, but we have never felt the need to be so regimented. We pile all the waste into heap number one, grass clippings and all. When the heap is large enough, it gets turned and sprinkled with nitrogen in granular form. If you have chickens, this is the point at which you add chicken manure as a natural source of nitrogen. If you have a lot of grass clippings, they also provide natural nitrogen. Some people like to bring in seaweed or other animal manure at this time but we have quite enough of our own waste, thank you, without needing to gather it up from other sources. The nitrogen is important because that is what starts the aerobic action and the heat which is the all important part to kill the unwanted greeblies. It is now heap number two.

Ideally number two should be turned a second time a week later to keep the composting action in full swing. We turn each mix several times but twice is the minimum. We then cover it with black plastic and leave it for a couple of months before using it, mostly as a garden mulch but also to add goodness and a lighter texture when planting trees and shrubs. We favour a pretty dry mix here. Done properly, it is weed free and clean to handle.

Apparently around 40% of what goes to urban landfill is green waste. If you can deal with it in your own garden, you will certainly be reducing your carbon footprint. Separating out green waste for recycling may be one step better than throwing it in with the polystyrene, plastic and tin but it still requires energy input for it to be collected or delivered and composted at the landfill before you then drive your vehicle to go and buy compost (often in plastic bags) to return to your garden. If you are serious about saving the planet, cut out the middle man and start working out ways to deal with your own green waste at home.