How to compost 101

on 11/06/2017

COMPOSTING, WHY NOT?

Homemade composting is simple, efficient, sustainable, can help save money and even become fun!

Last year I was in Corfu and saw how the trash can become a huge problem on this beautiful island. There was a strike, trash was not being collected for several weeks and huge piles of stinking garbage formed around and on top of the garbage containers.

I researched several solutions and one that seems very interesting is composting. This will not solve the problem 100% but it will help a lot, especially with the smell that is created when too much organic material is left to rot under the sun in plastic bags, in or outside a trash bin.

I spent some time creating a compost area in my garden, which is working very well and providing fertilised earth for plants and vegetables beds, and making a research to share with others through this article. Composting can be a good start in solving the trash and smell problems that emerge if the garbage is not picked up regularly. Many Mediterranean places share this problem, and many of them are starting composting campaigns.

Interest in compost is growing, and not only from private individuals, but also from businesses that create a lot of organic waste, like restaurants. That’s why there is a special section for restaurants at the bottom of the article. One of my dreams is to contribute and to see people becoming more involved in a sustainable and ecological way of life, so I am thankful to share this research with whomever is interested.

What is compost?

Compost is a natural organic fertiliser which adds nutrients to the soil and improves soil structure. It is the product of natural recycling, through decomposition, of organic waste from the kitchen and garden.

Why is it important to compost?

Compost is decomposed organic material, such as leaves, grass clippings, and kitchen waste. It provides many essential nutrients for plant growth and therefore is often used as fertiliser.

Compost also improves soil structure so that soil can easily hold the correct amount of moisture, nutrients and air.

Composting provides a partial solution to an issue of great concern in many communities. All around the world, landfills are filling up, garbage incineration is becoming increasingly unpopular, and other waste disposal options are becoming ever harder to find.

Composting provides a way not only of reducing the amount of waste that needs to be disposed of, but also of converting it into a product that is useful for gardening, landscaping, or house plants.

What can I make it from?

Dry leaves and grasses, withered flowers, annual weeds, finely chopped or shredded prunings from the garden (and grass cuttings from the lawn mower if you have a lawn), as well as fruit and vegetable peel of all kinds, coffee grounds and tea leaves from the kitchen and wood ash from the fireplace. Paper and cardboard can also be composted; in the mediterranean climate it is best to shred and moisten these before adding them. ‘Brown material’ – i.e. shredded prunings – and ‘green material’ – i.e. vegetable peel or lawn cuttings – need to be evenly mixed.

What should I not put on the compost pile?

Cooked food containing meat, fats or oil; the excrement of dogs and cats.

Can compost be made in a hot, dry climate?

Yes, although you will need to remember to keep it moist during the summer. It is a good idea to cover your compost (with, for example, a tarpaulin, a thick layer of damp newspaper or a bit of old carpet) to conserve moisture in summer and to prevent it from becoming waterlogged in winter.

Where do I make compost?

Compost can be made in well-drained pits about one metre deep, in boxes at least one metre square made of wooden slats or boards, or in one of the many types of compost bin available on the market. You may also use four wooden posts and chicken wire to make your compost container. In all cases, the front should be easily removable, both to facilitate regular turning of the compost and to enable you to take it out when it is ready. Do not make your compost on a concrete slab: not only does this prevent good drainage but it also prevents access by beneficial earthworms and soil micro-organisms. Whereas in temperate climates compost containers usually ensure good aeration by having air holes or spaces between the slats, in the mediterranean climate these tend to cause the outer layers of the compost to dry out too much. In hot, dry climates it is a good idea to line the sides of the compost container with cardboard from old cartons or thick layers of newspaper as you build up the material: this helps to retain moisture and the internal heat necessary for decomposition. It is a good idea to have at least two pits or bins, so that you are adding material to the second while the first is in the process of decomposing into a rich, crumbly, brown, odour-free ‘soil’.

Flies and grubs

To avoid attracting flies, it is a good idea when you add kitchen waste to the compost to cover it at once with a layer of shredded prunings or garden weeds. In the Mediterranean, the larvae of the rose chafer beetle are often found in compost (large, fat, unattractive pinkish-white grubs). These are not generally harmful to the garden but you should avoid introducing them to the soil of plants grown in pots, whose roots they may damage.

  • To decompose properly, compost needs:
  • Oxygen: The maturing compost must be aerated by regular turning, about once a month, with e.g. a pitchfork. Some commercially available compost bins are set on an axis and can be ‘tumbled’ to aerate them.
  • Water: in hot dry summers the compost needs to be kept moist (though not sodden). If you make your compost in a pit, you must make sure that it is well drained.
  • Nitrogen: nitrogen is present in the plant material being composted. However, a little rotted manure can be added to start the decomposition process. Urine is also a good source of nitrogen (easier for male gardeners to supply than for females).
  • Compost accelerators may also be used: for example the leaves of seaweed, nettle, dandelion, borage or comfrey, or the liquid produced by soaking these leaves for two weeks in a bucket of water. Commercial compost accelerators are available.

How long will it take?

About three months if there is a good mix of materials, turned once a month and kept moist (not too dry and not too soggy). With a correct balance of material but with no turning it will take from six months to a year. With a poor mix of materials and no intervention it will take longer. The more finely shredded the material is and the better mixed, the faster its decomposition.

How do I use it?

Compost can be dug into the soil before planting. It can also be mixed with garden soil to form a potting medium.

If you experience all the benefits of composting and creating more earth for your plants, you may also want to learn more about mulching, especially in the Mediterranean.

But it is a process of trial and error to see how much mulch your land needs, because when it’s too humid the layer of mulch can become moldy.

Mulching

Mulching is one of the most beneficial procedures in organic gardening which can be undertaken throughout the year. A mulch is simply an organic layer placed around plants and can comprise of compost, straw or leaves. The benefits of mulching are: it helps keep weeds at bay if thickly applied; it keeps the soil cooler on very hot days; adds nutrients to your soil and conserves moisture by reducing rapid drying. Apply mulching material which is partly decayed to avoid soil nitrogen loss during decomposition.

Restaurant Composting

Do you want your restaurant to become more environmentally friendly or more involved with the local community? Even if you just want to give your establishment’s marketing plan a boost, restaurant composting might be a great solution. According to studies, 60-80% of garbage produced by restaurants was food waste. By composting you can reduce your environmental impact by keeping waste out of the landfill, lower your waste hauling and disposal costs, and find a whole new way to connect with the people in your community!

Benefits of Composting

According to a restaurant food waste study conducted by the Business for Social Responsibility, about 84% of food waste ends up being thrown in the trash. Not only does composting prevent this percentage from growing, but it also has environmental benefits. The biggest environmental benefit is the absence of synthetic chemical fertilisers in compost. When these chemicals are used in soil to grow fruits and veggies, we end up ingesting them. Synthetic fertilisers also run off during rainstorms and affect local wildlife. Using compost instead of chemical fertilisers yields healthier produce and has a less negative effect on the environment. If your restaurant grows its own produce, then you can use your compost instead of purchasing expensive fertiliser.

Composting in Mediterranean Touristic areas

Composting is being chosen by agro-touristic regions in towns and villages of France, Spain, Italy, Palestine, Malta. One of these projects is called SCOW and it’s easy to find on the internet.

Corfu could benefit from joining this kind of projects to preserve its territory. It all usually starts from a small group of people who get informed and engage in making a better present and future.

A successful experiment in India was initiated in the town of Alappuzha, where composting bins have been put in several places of the village. Read more on this fascinating story here: https://www.zerowasteeurope.eu/tag/community-composting/

Sources for this article:

http://www.mediterraneangardensociety.org/compost.html

http://www.biowaste-scow.eu/Manifesto-for-food-waste-managment

http://www.mediterraneangardensociety.org/compost.html

http://www.cyprusgardener.co.uk

Written by Arianna Artioli, member of Artemis Grove, on June 1st 2017

INFO: [email protected] or +30 690 7530762

And here is a great video for compost beginners!