Composting Events and news
Once the waste generated by Halloween has been cleared away we start planning for Christmas, a festival which results in even more food waste. In the UK it is estimated that nearly 10 per cent of every festive meal is wasted. This is valued at about £64million. About a third of diners admit to wasting some of their Christmas dinner .
We waste the equivalent to 263,000 turkeys, 17.2 million Brussels sprouts and 740,000 Christmas puddings. Some estimates put the figures even higher at two million turkeys and five million Christmas puddings not forgetting 74 million mince pies. The festival is completed by discarding 250 tonnes of Christmas Trees in January but we will look at this in a later blog.
Plan now for Christmas food waste composting
The key message to reduce Christmas food waste is Reduce, Reuse and Recycle but as a
composting website our message is that if you should have ate it compost it. This covers all “unavoidable” food waste including cooked food. Now is the time to plan to extend the range of food waste that we can compost by
adding a food compost bin to our Christmas list or by buying one as a December treat. Depending on your needs and resources one of the following three bins can take your cooked food waste including bones, garden waste and even pet waste if
operated at 40-60°C. Composting Food
I have used a Green Johanna, both at home and on our Demonstration sites, for eight or nine years. All Christmas food waste can be composted as well as garden waste. A winter jacket can be purchased separately to keep it working when the average outdoor temperature drops below 5°C but I tend to wrap mine in several layers of bubble wrap. Price approx £120
I have two Hotbins in use at the Demonstration site using them mainly to compost waste food from the cafe. They are well insulated so ideal for winter use and it is relatively easy to maintain a compost temperature of 40-55C provided they are fed regularly. I use woodchip as the main bulking agent but also add shredded paper to help absorb the moisture. Approx price £185
The Joraform compost tumblers are the expensive but are excellent for food composting being quick and easy of use. I use mine to compost waste food from the Demonstration site cafe. They have a rust proof galvanized steel construction insulated with polyethylene. Wood pellets or wood shavings are recommended as a bulking agent but I use wood chip which is available for free locally. I have used one of these bins for about seven years. Being a tombola drum shaped tumbler system they are easy to aerate. Approx price £349
Other systems that can be used for food waste
The Green Cone consists of a with a double skinned cone on top a food container that resembles a “laundry basket’ buried in the ground. It requires the regular use of an activator which is added to the waste with the nutrients from the waste draining away into the surrounding soil. It needs a well drained soil and should not be filled above ground level. The concept is simple but I have found that many users, ignore the instructions, and treat the Cone as a compost bin by filling it to the very top and then find that it does not work. Price £100 approx
Bokashi, is an indoor system using anaerobic fermentation to compost food waste without attracting vermin. It produces a liquid that can be used to deodorise drains and a solid waste can be either buried in the garden or added to a dalek composter or similar. It is ideal for use in flats and where relatively small quantities of food waste are produced. Price from £24.99 for a twin pack
Single chamber or stacking womeries will take most food waste and can be used by those in flats (there are now quite smart indoor wormeries in both plastic and stainless steel) , apartments, balconies or small gardens. Single chamber £39 -£80, stacking £54 - £150
November is not to late to apply compost as a mulch it can be applied both to established beds and around specimen plants. Compost can be used as mulch to top dress the lawn in the autumn when people are less likely to spend time in the garden and may not worry about the look of compost on the lawn.
If using an open pile or New Zealand bin and it has not been covered yet there is still time to do so using carpet, tarpaulin or a compost duvet.
There should still plenty of material available to feed the compost heap with more becoming available as plants in the flower bed catch the frost. If it is not practical to start a second bin, store the extra material it in a covered pile or plastic sack It is important to keep the pile dry, as dry material will heat up in a bin more quickly than wet. Material being saved in the autumn for use as bulking agent in food composting e.g. sawdust or composted wood chip used should also be kept dry. (I keep mine in plastic dustbins)
The tops and trimmers of root vegetables will continue to be available for composting on the allotment and their peelings from the kitchen. Plants with discoloured and blotchy leaves are safe to compost as the organisms causing the blotches will be broken down in during the composting process. Carved pumpkins can be composted after Halloween Composting Pumpkins chopped and composted.
It is helpful to turn the compost bin, to mix the new material and aerate it to encourage the composting processes before the onset of winter.
Towards the end of the month it is advisable to check the consistency and moisture level of the contents. If the material is too dry more greens can be added e.g. nettles and annual weeds along with water or the sludge from compost tea. If too wet scrumpled cardboard shredded paper, woodchip or sawdust can be added.
Wormeries should be moved into a shed or outbuilding or if they are to be left outside during the winter the bin should be insulated so that the contents and worms are not frozen, I have round that a triple layer of bubble wrap makes an excellent insulating material which does not absorb water, is clean and easy to reuse. The worms will still need feeding during the winter, although at a reduced rate, so a removable bubble wrap lid should be included.
Bag autumn leaves for leaf mould or as a carbon-rich winter source of Browns for the compost bin on the allotment where cardboard or shredded paper will not be available. The autumn leaves can also be used immediately in the compost bin layering them with grass clippings, kitchen waste and other plant material but remember that the leaves tend to be slow to decompose, so this may not be the method of choice (see Leaf mould). Some leaves can be set aside to add to the compost bin during the winter months to provide a source of Browns when most of the other material being added is kitchen waste.
While a pile of leaves left in the corner of the garden will eventually be broken down by fungi to form leafmould a considerable proportion of them will be spread across the garden by the wind. To avoid this situation the leaves have traditionally been contained in a wire netting cage or wooden compost bin. As with composting larger bins work best so try to make your container at least metre square. Simply fix the chicken wire to four posts with galvanised fencing staples available from any builder’s merchants or DIY store
For best results the pile should be checked during hot or dry periods and watered if necessary to keep leaves damp sand the moisture content high enough to help decomposition. Turning the pile occasionally to aerate it will also help.
Plastic “cages” are also available but the simplest form of plastic container in which to make leafmould is a large plastic sack. The leaves are soaked; the rain will normally do this for you, and placed in a bag, which is then stabbed with a garden fork. The bags are left in a corner of the garden for two years and the leaves magically turn to a rich dark leafmould. I would recommend using old compost or rubble bags as the thin black plastic bag left in the garden is likely to become brittle and disintegrate before the leafmould is ready. The use of a porous builders bag/container with its handles tied together has been recommended by John Walker writing in the Daily Telegraph.
Shredding and urine accelerator
Shredding the leaves using a garden vacuum will reduce the size of the leaves and speed up the composting process. An alternative means of shredding is to spread the leaves on the lawn and mow them (and the grass). This provides a carbon (leaves) and nitrogen (grass) mix which further reduces the time taken to compost. Grass can also be added to the leaves shredded using the garden vacuum to speed up the decomposition
Urine makes an effective accelerator and can be applied directly by men or for the more discretely collected indoors and taken to the bin or bag.
Coffee grounds as an additive for leafmould
One of the reasons that we normally make leafmould separately from compost is that the leaves are a Brown being high in carbon. It is possible to speed up the decomposition process by adding, nitrogen rich, and grass using the technique of shredding the leaves by mowing them on the lawn which will speed up decomposition of the leaves.
An alternative method of speeding up the process is, if you have access to a local coffee shop, restaurant or cafe, is to add used coffee grounds to the leaves. Coffee grounds contain about 1.45% nitrogen making them a useful Green which can also be added to wormeries and the compost bin.
Many coffee chains now bag and give away used grounds to composters. While some outlets might limit the number of bags each composter can take it is quite likely that an arrangement can be reached to have a regular bulk supply and a local independent outlet may be happy to have a source that will to take their whole supply.
Comfrey enriched Leafmould
Comfrey can be used to make leafmould with additional nutrients. Comfrey is added to two year old leafmould two or three months before it is to be used. This is best done by transferring the leafmould to a new container with a layer of comfrey leaves added every 10cm/4inches. Although it requires some effort it produces a relative consistent product.
An easier method is to mix comfrey with the leaves as the leafmould bag or container is being filled in the autumn.
All leaves are not the same and the type of leaf available may influence the choice between composting and making leafmould.
Ash, cherry, linden, maple, popular and willow are categorised as “good leaves” by Ken Thompson in "Compost" composting down in about a year being relatively low in lignin and relatively high in nitrogen and calcium. He classifies beech, birch, oak and sweet chestnut as bad leaves being higher in lignin and lower in nitrogen and calcium and taking at least two years to compost. More information on the types of leaves can be found here Leafmould
An alternative to adding the leaves to a compost bin is to make a leaf/grass sandwich using alternative layers of grass and leaves as if you were Grass Boarding substituting the leaves for the cardboard that would be used in a grass board heap. A variation on this technique is to use a mower to shred the leaves on the lawn when the grass need cutting so that there are about equal quantities of grass and shredded leaves.
Compost made using Pine needles is acidic and as consequence their compost is recommended for acid-loving plants such as strawberries, raspberries, and rhododendrons. However the leaves take longer to decompose than most other types so should be composted separately. I would always recommend shredding them first.
If you only have space for one compost bin pine needles can mixed with the normal compostable waste but I would recommend that they do not exceed 10 percent of the content. However the composting leaves in a conventional heap or bin can be a slow process.
Hot composting using a Hotbin composter provides a quick and effective means of composting shredded Leylandii and pine needles producing compost in about 3 months if the temperature is maintained.
Alicia Bodine in a Home Guide by Demand Media recommends the following composting method. Starting with an empty compost bin fill approximately 8 inches grass clippings, or any other green waste from plants in the garden. Water until moist but not sopping wet. Add a 3-inch layer of pine needles, repeat the watering and then add a 1 inch layer of horse, cow or chicken manure. Water again. This layering of grass, pine needles and manure is repeated until the bin is full. The bin should be watered to keep it moist and the compost mixed to aerate it once every two weeks. The compost should be ready for use in about two to four months.
Bokashi leaf compost
There is a variation on making leaf mould using plastic sacks this involves adding the contents of the Bokashi bin to the plastic leaf mould sack containing dry leaves during the winter months. This is reported to produce leaf compost during the coming spring and summer. I have not tried this but further details are on Jenny`s Bokashi Blog.
Collect autumn leaf fall into old plastic compost sacks or bags as normal but do not soak the leaves as would normally be the case if leaf mould is being made .The use of dry leaves in the Bokashi leave composting system is said to avoid the bags smelling during the composting process.. Seal the bags with a tie or clip which can be released and resealed during the following months. During the winter open the bags and add the contents of the Bokashi bins as they become available. If the leaves in the bag are damp, add newspaper or shredded paper to absorb the moisture
During the spring, the sacks should be moved to a sunny part of the garden or be moved to the greenhouse so that the warmth will encourage activity of the microbes in the Bokashi and the original autumn leaves. The
This will produce a mulch for use early in the season or a more useful compost mix after a later in the summer. At this stage, the bags can be stabbed with a fork to create air holes and entry points for worms. These holes will also provide drainage.
The food from the cafe at Bradgate park, Leicestershire is well underway. The amount of food waste is kept to the minimum. these eight 5l kitchen cadies were filled over last weekend. Two the compost bins being used, in this case Hotbins, are also shown. The bins are currently running at 44-46C. Wood chip from the park is being used as a bulking agent.
While leaves can be composted at anytime, and green summer leaves usually are, large quantities of leaves resulting from the autumn fall presents a challenge calling for the use of different techniques and over the next few blogs I will cinsider some of them.
Even a cool compost bin will generates heat, in part, due to the activity of bacteria breaking down its contents. The process of producing leafmould generally relies on fungal action rather than bacterial activity and occurs at lower temperatures so that while compost takes a few weeks, or months depending on the process being used , leafmould usually takes a year or two.
The autumn leaves are an excellent source of carbon but are very slow to compost using conventional techniques. Leaves can take a long time to compost. They are “Browns” being high in carbon, with a C/N ratio averaging at about 60 but ranging from 20-100. So if they are to be composted they will need to be accompanied by a good source of nitrogen to keep the balance in the bin. The amount of lignin, calcium and nitrogen in the leaves will also affect the time it takes for them to breakdown. In general as leaves take a long time to compost and have a tendency to mat, this may result in anaerobic fermentation.
Leafmould can be used as a mulch, soil conditioner, in a potting mix or seed compost. It has an earthy, dark brown texture and the smell will remind you of a woodland floor in spring or early summer. It is excellent at water retention and improving soil structure.
It can be used after a year, when the leaves are beginning to break down and the material is easily crumbled, as a soil improver or mulch around shrubs, and in ther flower or vegetable garden. It can also be used as a lawn top dressing in the Autumn.
However it is best kept for two years or more until it is dark brown in colour, crumbly with no real trace of original leaves visible. At this stage it can be used to make a compost suitable for sowing seeds mixed with equal parts sharp sand and garden compost or to make a Potting compost using equal parts well rotted leafmould, sharp sand, loam and garden compost. See the my page on these at www. carryoncompsting.com Compost Mixes
It is also a good idea to bag and save some dry shredded leaves for use as a source of browns when composting during the winter when there is less garden waste available and the main addition to the compost bin is kitchen food waste.
In the next leafmould blog I will start looking at different techniques. This blog is taken from the leafmould page at www.carryoncomposting.com