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Talking Dirty

Composting—an activity guaranteed to scare both the newbie and the seasoned gardener. I’ve tried both methods, anaerobic (without air) and aerobic (with air), and most of the latest time-saving and no-smell gadgets.

At one stage I had a whole range of technologies happening at once. Grass clippings from my slowly disappearing lawn went into a plastic tumbler.

Food and kitchen waste went into a small bokashi bin, which was kept in my kitchen and then transferred into the plastic tumbler outside. Kitchen scraps were cut up small to help with quick breakdown. I also got cupfuls of liquid juice via a small tap on the bucket which was diluted and used for watering pot plants.

The bokashi bin seemed like a great idea until transfer time. My god, the stench. The flies arrived like jet pilots on a mission, prepared to die if necessary, diving deep into the bubbling dregs.

I decided there had to be a cleaner solution—worms. I bought a Can-O-Worms composter from the hardware store. I bought one thousand worms for a good, quick start and waited patiently for the castings and liquid wee.

Farming worms is no different to any other animal. They have the same basic requirements: darkness, coolness, moistness, lack of oxygen. They take a while to grow and multiply and get through the layers of food scraps. But you can basically just leave them alone to do their thing. I put them in a nice sunny spot, which was fine in winter, but, they looked like crumbed calamari in the summer.

It was back to the hardware store for another box. This time I put them under the shade of a tree and waited patiently for the spoils. Months later, disaster struck again in the form of ants. Ants just can’t coexist with anything can they? Remember all that talk about cockroaches surviving nuclear holocausts, well don’t forget about the good ole ant. They have few predators, they work in packs, they’re small enough to fit into any space, and they’re good at scavenging …

At this point my confidence was reduced. Negative self-talk began. Compost began to take on god-like status. I began to dream about it. I imagined it draped around my vegetable plants like black silk. I had to have it. I was having success with the compost tumblers with high nitrogen (grass clippings and low carbon value, some leaves and twigs, shredded paper). I asked myself the question: What makes a good compost?

The ratio of nitrogen to carbon matters but it’s not crucial. It’s about heat, air, and micro-organisms. So I returned to the dark ages and built a dual compost heap. It was tall and wide. If you can’t do wide in a small space, at least do tall. If you can’t bear the thought of a heap of rubbish in your garden, do the tumblers. You can get adequate compost from just lawn clippings alone in this system.

Into this space went clippings from garden clean-ups, always chopped up in a petrol-driven mulcher, and anything else that has an organic background: food waste from the kitchen and garden, and even wood ash from the fire. Now I have become part of the elitist group of compost producers, a clique of smug, overbearing dirt farmers with online forums all over the world. Won’t you join me?