Tag Archives: #organicgardening

The Beauties of Composting

The last few days have been super busy, organising soil and compost for my new vegetable gardens and my sisters new gardens. I have been asked quite a few times recently about composting, the do’s and don’ts and different variations of composting for smaller urban lots. So today I thought I would write a post to help provide a little more insight into whats going on inside your compost heap and how to make great nutrient rich compost for your plants.

How a Compost Pile Works.

When thinking about starting a garden of any kind the most important thing is soil health, and the health of your soil is directly related to the life that lives within the soil. Within your soil there are billions and I do mean billions of microscopic bacterial and fungal elements along with insects, worms, spiders and other vertebrae. These microorganisms are key players in the decomposition process that turns that big steaming pile of whatever you threw in there to become the nutrient rich all you can eat buffet for plants, that we call compost, or what I like to call, Black Gold! There are four main elements needed in order for the decomposition process to be complete.

  1. Micro-organisms; The aforementioned superstars that get way too little credit for the amount of work they do. These little guys eat up all your scraps and then poop them out. (I know how hard is it to eat and poop all day?) but this isn’t just any poop, this is super concentrated nutrient rich plant food poop.
  2. Heat; This comes from the sun and is stored by the thermal mass (dense materials that hold heat for long periods of time) of your compost pile
  3. Oxygen; The compost pile is a living ‘breathing’ organism and it needs access to oxygen in order for everything inside to breakdown properly. This is where turning your pile comes in.
  4. Water; Just as any living thing needs water to survive, so too does a compost pile, otherwise it would just remain a dry heap of decaying weeds, food scraps and poop.
Composting Critters

So What Do You Put In Your Compost Pile?

Okay so we’ve spoken a little bit about how the system itself works but what do you actually put in it? Compostable materials are classified into two categories which provide nitrogen and carbon for your compost; Green waste which are the nitrogen components and Brown waste which are the carbon components. These materials are best to be added in layers to your pile with a ratio of 60% brown waste – 40% green waste.

Brown Waste, Carbon Rich;

  • Dry leaves
  • Hay or straw
  • Newspaper and non glossy paper (shredded)
  • Pine needles and pine cones
  • Cardboard; egg cartons and old boxes (shredded, not painted or inked)
  • Chopped up twigs and sticks
  • Wood ash
  • Dryer Lint
  • Nail clippings
  • Chopped up prunings from trees and shrubs (no thicker than 1 inch)
  • Corn cobs and stalks
  • Egg shells
  • Sawdust
  • Nutrient deficient soil (clay and sand)
  • Wood chips

Green Waste, Nitrogen Rich;

  • Grass clippings
  • Fruit and Vegetable scraps
  • Tea leaves and bags (used, remove strings and staples)
  • Coffee Grounds (used)
  • Weeds pulled from the garden (avoid weeds that have gone to seed)
  • Fresh cut leaves (Banana leaves, comfrey leaves and other chop and drop style leaves)
  • Flower cuttings
  • Table scraps (no meat)
  • Herbivore Manure (chickens, horses, cows, goats, sheep, ducks, rabbits etc.)
  • Seaweed and kelp
  • Pet fur and the hair from your brush

What Not To Add;

  • Dog, cat or human manure
  • Meat and bones
  • Citrus peels (some can be added but too many will make the pile very acidic.. Not great for plants except blueberries)
  • Dairy products
  • Diseased plants
  • Oils and fats

Building Your Compost Pile

When starting a compost pile I like to build two large boxes (three is ideal but two will work fine for a smaller area) side by side about 1m cubed each with the front only built half way up but with removable panels. You can also use the large black composting bins sold at nurseries and other outdoor specialist stores if space is an issue. Once construction is complete it’s time to start adding materials, I have a small compost bucket in my kitchen where I add all my kitchen scraps and fill it pretty much daily. Every time I empty this bucket onto the pile I fill it with water to clean it and then pour that onto the pile as well. Once a nice layer of Green waste is added I cover it with a layer of brown waste, water it again and then repeat, I cover it over with an old cardboard box in between additions. The box is to retain moisture, trap heat inside and to keep the dogs and birds out. When the first box is about half full i get out my pitchfork and turn it over into the second box, this allows oxygen into the pile which is necessary for decomposition. When it’s full i turn it again back to the first box, water it again and cover it over to sit. Then I start filling the second box. By the time the second box is full (around 2-3 months) the first box should be broken down into beautiful nutrient rich black gold and ready to use. Spread the compost into your gardens and mix it through the existing soil and then repeat the process.

Compost in action

Don’t Have a Backyard?

If you live in an apartment or town house and grow all of your plants on a balcony, don’t worry you can still make compost on a smaller scale for your potted up babies. One very popular method for super small space composting is the Bokashi Bucket System.

Bokashi Buckets

Bokashi bucket systems can be bought online for around $50 -$100 or you can try your hand at making your own. The system works Anaerobically (without oxygen). This method is great because it only uses a single 5 -10 gallon bucket with a tap attached to the base, a tight lid and inoculated bran, rice or sawdust. You can even add meat and dairy products. The inoculated additives are how the system works, it uses bacteria that thrive in acidic oxygen starved environments to breakdown materials quickly. However the bucket itself only completes half of the decomposition cycle. The contents of the bucket after 10-12 days will need to be dug into the ground and left for 1 month before it can be added to your garden. Which can be a challenge if you have absolutely no backyard, but not to worry what you can do is buy a bag of soil, empty half of it out and add the contents of your bucket to the bag, mix it through and leave it to sit.

What To Do

  • Lightly coat any kitchen scraps with Inoculated bran, rice or sawdust (you can make your own by adding yeast and molasses to your host substance and then soak for 1 week, allowing the bacteria to grow. Then dry dry it out and bag it in an airtight bag) (I have not tried this but thats the basics of how it works)
  • Add coated scraps to the bucket, cover with another layer of bran and then press it down with a plate and put the lid on.
  • Repeat this process until the bucket is full
  • Once the bucket is full leave it to sit for 10-12 days. Inside the bucket a liquid called Leachate is created, using the tap drain this liquid out every second day and discard. (it is an inevitable byproduct of anaerobic composting).
  • After 12 days bury the contents of the bucket in soil to allow the decomposition process to complete. After one month it will be safe to use on the garden or in your pots.

Composting is a really incredible way to see natures full cycle, in a forest ecosystem ‘compost’ is called Humus and is a naturally occurring process of life, death and rebirth. To fully understand this cycle is one of lifes greatest lessons as it teaches respect of all things and how nothing should ever go to waste because even in death, naturally occurring elements are still useful, that includes you!

There are many different forms of composting, I only really covered two of them today, so this week I will try to write another post that covers Vermi-composting and how to make compost teas. Thank you again for reading and my apologies for the amount of times I said ‘poop’ in this post. I hope this has been helpful to anyone with questions about composting. If you enjoyed this one please check out my other posts by clicking one of the links below 🙂

Yo solo quiero poner mi manos en la tierra

My favourite sentence I learnt in Spanish. “I just want to put my hands on the earth”

How and Why I Started My Backyard Nursery

My Backyard Nursery

I have been home from my travels in Costa Rica for a little over 3 weeks now, I don’t have what most would call “a real job” at the moment. I have pretty much just been playing with plants in my mums backyard. In my last post http://how-to-permaculture-a-journey-of-growth.net/2019/07/31/five-ways-to-propagate-plants/ I spoke about different ways to propagate plants and briefly mentioned my backyard nursery. This is a story of how this came to fruition. In my last job at TGB Outdoor designs based in the Macedon Ranges in Victoria, Australia. I began learning about plants and I got the pleasure of taking care of my bosses own backyard nursery as a part of my job. I would Organise pots, water and prune the plants and trees and potted up new and potbound plants. I loved working in the nursery and it helped to start me on my path. I finished up work in Victoria in December last year, I then went on to travel in Costa Rica for 5 months and Canada for 1 month. In Costa Rica, one of the greenest countries in the world my education in the field and my passion for teaching grew exponentially. I have learned a lot about growing food organically, building soil health, propagation, designing and building eco friendly structures, plant medicines, how to care for plants and so much more through these experiences. I have had some really amazing teachers but most importantly I learned to believe in myself and my true potential.

A short history of the land.

The section of my mums backyard that now houses over 300 freshly propagated plants has had an interesting history. It started out as just another boring old patch of grass littered with lovely holes dug by our family dogs Meeka and Pheobie.

Yes… You’re innocent when I have treats for you.
Not a pretty site…

A few years ago we decided to turn this space into an outdoor entertaining area, and for a while there it looked really good! But over time all of us kids flew the coup… and then returned and then flew again, and again. The influx of residents in this house is constantly changing but I swear mum is always happy to have us home. After a while the outdoor entertaining area too fell victim to the dogs and the weeds.

When the entertaining area looked nice. and my first ever attempt at landscaping

Okay, now for the point of this post.

By the time I got home from overseas I knew I wanted to work with plants in one way or another for the rest of my life, I booked myself in for my Permaculture Design Certification at Noosa Forest Retreat which I will be starting next week and it didn’t seem worth it to find a job just yet, so I decided I would start myself a nursery to keep myself busy, continue my learning and to make a little bit of money. So far I have spent $300 and it has generated… $0 but i’m not advertising the plants yet. The amazing thing though, is that in just 3 short weeks I have turned this dilapidated piece of land into a tiny potted up jungle with over 300 plants and around 150 seeds planted, with a potential profit margin of $2500, and that is still at guaranteed lower prices than any nursery.

Day 2 of being home from Costa Rica

So how did I get that many plants for virtually nothing? Well to be completely honest with you none of the money went on the plants themselves, I spent money on pots, soil and small bottle of organic plant food. I bought the soil in bulk from a landscape supply shop, I bought the pots in bulk from a landscaper who had them up for sale on facebook of all places. The pallets i have had for years but I picked them up for free from an industrial estate. The plants I collected from family members gardens. My dad was thinning out his garden and needed help, I offered my landscaping services and my considerably younger body (no offence dad) to do the hard work in exchange for the plants that were coming out. I also visited my uncle who is also a massive plant lover and he helped me out too, and just this morning my neighbour had cut down a super healthy and beautiful ornamental tree and was going to take it to the tip but I managed to take 40 cuttings off it to turn into more trees.

Day 8 of being home from Costa Rica
Day 21

Now some of you may not be as lucky as I was for the plants to just fall into your lap, but this is a great lesson on how to obtain free plants, if you look on facebook and gumtree (or your relevant ‘buy swap and sell’ site) people are always offering free plants if you come and remove them yourself. If a backyard nursery isn’t your goal you don’t need to collect on this scale but if you love plants and want to save money, a little bit of hard work goes a really long way for very few dollars.

This morning plant score

One mans trash, is another mans treasure.

Once again thank you all for reading, I know this one was overly informational but I figured if you are going to read my posts, you may as well know a bit more about me too. If you enjoyed this one please check out my other posts by clicking one of the links below and feel free to follow along or sign up for email alerts. I hope you all have a wonderful day and happy planting 🙂

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