The Witches Cauldron – A Tale of Compost Bins and Composting Tips
I think of my compost bins as being reminiscent of a witches cauldron. You put a motley assortment of ingredients in, stir it a few times and out comes a magic potion for your garden.
Most things can be composted, although it is not recommended that you add eye of newt, frogs legs or little children to your compost bins!
In fact, all meat and animal products, along with invasive weeds should not be dumped into the compost bin. And, like with witches, there are a lot of myths and misconceptions about composting and worm farming.
I’ve always been a fan of composting. Why wouldn’t you take all this waste, normally discarded and turn it into something useful? It’s your own homegrown soil improver. I love my compost bins and worm farms. Worm tubes.are another great option, especially to avoid rodents and to compost dog poo (Can you compost dog poop?)
So what are the various options?
There are compost bins and compost heaps. They can be differentiated by describing a compost heap as “hot” compost, while a compost bin is generally “cold” composting. I tend to stick to cold composting. And I have three compost bins that I use to compost grass clippings, leaves and garden clippings and food scraps. Compost bins are less of an option if you have a small yard. And they are not viable at all if you have no yard, so are gardening in a townhouse or unit balcony. Hot composting is even less of an option for many gardeners. Either they don’t have enough space for a hot compost heap. Or they don’t generate enough garden waste at one time to set up a heap.
Tumble bins are a type of compost bin. I know a lot of people swear by their tumble bins, but I have found them to be hard work. They need to be tumbled very regularly and can break fairly easily, leaving you with a non-tumbling compost bin!
Worm farms are easy to establish and consist of two or more layers. On the bottom layer is the worm wee thats generated as food scraps are digested and broken down in the worm farm and worm tea is a great tonic for your plants! The second and third layers of the worm farm are where you place the worms and the food scraps that you want them to eat. Compost worms have great appetites and eat up to 10 times their weight in food scraps every week.
A similar concept to worm farms, worm tubes are a great addition to your garden. Simply bury a long tube or pipe in the garden, place composting worms in the bottom and keep topping it up with food scraps. Commercial worm tubes have holes drilled in the side, but you can make a worm tube from polypipe and drill the holes yourself. The tube needs a lid and some ventilation holes in the sides to allow water and worms in. And it allows the worm juice and enriched compost out to the surrounding garden. These worm tubes are great for small gardens. And they are also useful for composting weed seeds and stuff you don’t want to spread across your garden. Plus they help ensure vermin such as mice and rats aren’t attracted to your compost.
Bokashi bins are great alternatives for small yards and units. The Bokashi bin is basically a bucket with lid and tap which you place on, or under your kitchen bench. You place the food scraps and peelings from your food preparation in the bin. When you’ve completed your food preparation you cover the scraps with the Bokashi mix. The mix contains bacteria which help the food to break down. When the bin is full, the mix can be buried in the garden where it will feed your plants.
Chickens are the ultimate composters. They will eat pretty much anything and turn it into waste, in this case, chook poo. However, chickens take up space so they are not an option for small gardens, balconies or townhouses. They also take time to care for properly.
Myths and misconceptions of composting
As I said previously, there are a lot of myths and misconceptions about composting.
Some of these myths and misconceptions include:
1st Myth: A Compost bin smells! A well cared for compost bin does not smell bad! It should smell earthy, like good soil but it shouldn’t stink. If your compost bin stinks then it’s either too wet or has become acidic. When it’s too wet, it means all the good bacteria have been killed and this allows the nasty, anaerobic bacteria to take over. The other possible reason for a compost bin to smell is that non-compostable’s like meat or dairy products have been added.
2nd Myth: Composting attracts vermin: When you care for your compost bin and don’t overload it with too much of any one item, you should not have a problem with mice, rats or cockroaches. It also helps to turn it regularly to speed up the process.
Compost bins should not smell or attract Vermin!!
3rd Myth: Compost bins take up valuable real estate: My compost bin is in a shady part of the garden where very little will grow. I find that the compost bin works well here. As a bonus it saves me having to find a shade-loving, dry-tolerant plant to fill the space. However, if real estate is an issue you could try the worm tubes or worm farms.
4th Myth: Composting takes too long to break down: If you add lots of big, woody items and leave it to slowly decompose, then it will take time to make your beautiful soil. By chopping up scraps, twigs and even larger leaves into small pieces you significantly speed up the process. There are also compost accelerators you can buy which speeds up the process by giving your compost bin a big hit of microbes. And if you turn your compost regularly using a spiral compost turner or fork, you speed up the process massively.
There are things you can’t add to compost bins
While there are some things that cannot be added to compost bins, the list is actually pretty small!
Meat, fish or dairy products, can’t be added to compost bins, mostly because these will stink as they decompose and they may attract vermin. Thinking logically though, is there any situation where you would want meat or prawn heads decomposing in the open in your yard?
You also must not add seed heads from weeds and invasive plants like wandering jew, unless you want to spread the weed through your garden when you use the compost. However, you can treat the seed heads either by drowning them for a few days in water or baking them in the sun before adding them to the bin.
Dog poo and animal poo can’t be added to compost bins. This is mostly due to fear of pathogens. However, I have established a dog poo composting system using a worm tube that works really well.
Finally, people keep saying the worms don’t like citrus peel or onion skins. I find both these are fine to add to the compost in moderation as composting is about bacterial decomposition, not about worms digesting the food scraps.
Worm farms and compost bins cost money and take effort
Worm farms or compost bins don’t cost a lot of money to set up. All you need is an old bin or bucket or broccoli box from you local vegetable shop and a handful of worms. These do cost money as compost worms are different from your normal garden variety worm. However, most gardeners are happy to provide beginners with some worm castings from their worm farms for little or no cost!
Happy gardening 🙂
Rohanne, your Personal Gardening Expert