Composting Events and news
Autumn is the best time to harvest compost made by cold composting techniques and is also a good time to apply compost as a mulch. Compost and manure were traditionally spread onto the plot and dug into the soil during November. However, it is easier and more common to spread compost on the plot, or as a layer over raised beds, andleave it for the worms to carry the organic material down into the soil. Compost can also be applied both to established beds and around specimen plants and fruit trees and bushes. Care must be taken not to cover the crowns of any perennials or take the compost right up to the trunks or stems of bushes or trees. It can also be used as mulch to top dress any grassed areas.
If harvesting a plastic Dalek type bin, it is easier to lift the bin off the compost than to try to remove the compost through the hatch provided.
As with every other season autumn is considered by some as the best time to start composting. It is certainly a time that, because of the tidying and cleaning up of the garden in readiness for winter, there should be plenty of material to compost and if undertaken early in the season the bin should have time get into its stride before the worst of the cold weather.
Whether starting a new bin, or operating an existing one, getting it actively decomposing throughout the autumn, when the weather is kind, will help to provide a good crop of compost in the spring. If an open pile or New Zealand bin is being used cover it, either with carpet, tarpaulin or a compost duvet, to prevent the material becoming water logged and aerate it to keep it working for as long as possible.
There is likely to be a considerable amount of compostable material available in
the autumn such as windfall fruit but much of it will be bulky such as pea or sweet pea vines. The volume can be reduced by shredding. Shredding increases the surface area of waste to the microbes in the compost. If a shredder is not available,
the waste can be spread on the lawn or a grass path and mowed using a rotary mower.
Even if the material added to the bin is not usually shredded during the rest of the year, it helps to do so with autumn waste to speed decomposition of the material before the start of the cold weather. If shredding is not possible the material should be cut into small pieces i.e. one- or two-inch lengths.
If the compost heap starts overflowing either start a new bin or store the material until the heap subsides and the waste can be added. The surplus material can be stored in a covered pile or buckets. It is important to keep the stored material dry, as dry material will heat up more quickly than wet. When added to the compost bin. Material being saved in the autumn for use as bulking agent in food composting e.g. sawdust or composted wood chip should also be kept dry. (I keep mine in plastic dustbins)
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 crumpled 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 found 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. If the allotment is to be left to over winter it might be advisable to take the wormery home so that it is not neglected over the coming months. On the other hand, checking the wormery weekly is a good way of keeping an eye on the plot over the winter months.
Bag autumn leaves for leafmould or as a carbon-rich winter source of Browns for the compost bin on the allotment where cardboard or shredded paper will not be readily available. In the UK the usual advice is that autumn leaves should be treated separately to make leafmould rather than being added to the compost as they can be slow to decompose but in America they are often one of the main composting ingredients and a key source of Browns during the winter if stored dry in a suitable container. The autumn leaves can also be used immediately in the compost bin layering them with grass clippings, the autumn plant material but remember that the leaves tend to be slow to decompose, so this may not be the method of choice.
More information is given at www.carryoncomposting.com
Feathers from poultry and game birds consist of about 90% protein by weight and contain approximately 15% Nitrogen. They can be home composted and are classified as a “Green”. The protein is in the form of keratin which is fibrous, insoluble and resistant to biodegradation, meaning that the nitrogen will not be available as a nitrogen source to plants without the keratinolytic activity of microorganisms. This is not a problem for the home composter as these microbes are widely distributed in the environment including the soil and some of them will be found in the composting material already in the bin.
There is an obvious appeal in composting feathers for those who keep home or backyard poultry as there will be regular supply as they moult. Those who shoot or beat for game birds will also have a regular need to dispose of feathers during the shooting season. In addition, there may be a less regular source of feathers from old down or feather pillows and cushions.
In a domestic compost bin bird feathers will break down within just a few months if mixed into an active compost bin with a good carbon source. The sawdust or wood shavings from the hen house, manured by the bird droppings, is ideal but other browns such as sawdust, wood chips and wood shavings will also act as a bulking agent to maintain the air flow into the within the bin pile while helping to maintain the temperature and prevent excessive heat loss.
Morte information at www.carryoncomposting.com composting feathers
Books and press reports often suggestthat home composters should collect waste coffee grounds from local coffee shops and hair from barbers and dog groomers. I have been asked whether I could clarify the position for both composters and the businesses that might pass their waste coffee and hair to an unlicensed carrier to compost in their unregistered home compost bins in their garden or allotments.
Several composting and waste organisations advise that businesses should only pass their waste to a registered carrier, should complete a transfer note and ensure that waste is disposed of legally and that home composters, being private individuals not businesses, should not be permitted to carry or dispose of such waste.
The Environmental Agency have been asked if this is indeed the case and whether home composters should register as waste carriers and whether a Lower Tier registration would be accepted even although the waste would not have been generated by them?
In the case of a local cafe the waste could be handed over a known composter making official transfer feasible but some of the large coffee shop chains just bag their waste grounds and leave it out for anyone to take.
The environmental Agency where asked to clarify the situation on 8th August and allow 10 working days to respond to enquiries. Watch this space
In recent months there has been much criticism of the use of plastic in teabags and the advice given is that where possible use loose tea, just in case the publicity has led to some deciding it is not worth the bother of composting tea. It is worth reemphasising just how good used tea can be as a nutrient for the garden. Lawrence Hills in Grow Your Own Fruit and Vegetables, first published in 1971 by Faber and Faber, made the case for adding tea to the compost heap and nothing has changed apart from the fact that if tea bags are composted they should either be plastic free, be torn open and emptied or the remains of plastic bags rescued after composting.
As with other kitchen waste it is best to collect the cooled tea leaves (or bags) after each pot or mug of tea, in a kitchen caddy along with other vegetable waste and only make the trip to the compost bin or worry when the caddy is full.
The leaves contain about half as much nitrogen as dried blood and more than poultry manure. Tea leaves contain approximately 4.4% nitrogen, along with, 0.24% phosphorus and 0.25% potassium the addition of tea to the compost heap will provide nutrients encouraging the decomposition process. All teas are not the same each variety of tea, black, green or red, will contain a different ratio of compounds but whichever you prefer they will make a useful addition to the compost bin particularly if collected in larger quantities from a local tea shop or café.
Tea leaves, and tea bags, can be added direct to the soil tea as mulch on the soil surface round the plants or to dig the leaves into the soil when preparing the plot. However, as a composter I would recommend composting rather than direct application as it saves time to treat the tea as any other compostable kitchen waste. One of the disadvantages in direct application is that the Tannic acid is in the tea can in some soils lower the pH, so it would be advisable to check the soil pH before the addition of tea leaves.
Allotment gardeners can now download a document providing an Introduction to Alloment Composting from the Allotment composting page.
Allotment Societies and similar groups may add their own loggo provided they retaining the authors name and the carryoncomposting web address.
It is hoped that this will encourage to allotment plot holders to start composting.