It’s been a neighbourly effort with making my compost. My sweet neighbour quite close to our house mows our kids footy pitch and his back yard including the autumn leaves that have been falling, then dumps the mix off to me right next to my compost bin. What a guy! Since I love cooking so much then it is probably no surprise that I love cooking up outside too with layered compost made from mixed material to give my veges and ornamentals a high health boost in the garden. I often get asked “how do I get my compost to do something?”. This question came up again this week with a friend who is building a barn who came to see our barn conversion. They will be living in a glamorous set up off the grid near their beautiful waterfall. Too often people give up composting with attempts that went wrong; and in the early days, yes I had those too, until I committed to collecting all of my material and then building the whole bin at a time in one hit. Then without fail, composting has become so easy.
The next question I typically hear is, “can I create enough to sustain my whole garden?”. Yes you can create beautiful dark compost quickly and enough to sustain your entire garden needs if you can give up enough space, which can often easily be found even in an urban yard. In saying this, I still like to add a small amount of commercially made compost that reaches different heat temperatures in a thin last layer on my garden beds, which I sow seeds into and use a handful per seedling to plant out with. Right now is the best time to be direct sowing peas, carrots and potatoes in frost free areas as well as beetroot, rocket, bok choy and mesculin just to name a few of my favourites. You can see here in my garden a lovely dark coating of Palmers compost which I think makes my garden look even more beautiful with baby plants like these peas and bok choy popping through. The layer of commercial composts also acts as a mulch to keep down the weeds while the seeds are germinating. Once the seedlings are up and strong, I will thin the bok choy to spacing of 20cm each; eat the thinnings as mesculin in salads and mulch around the remaining plants to retain warmth during winter.
In my garden here in Kerikeri, I have taken up one area where most of my animal manure collection can happen in the one place. Much like how my vegetable and herb gardens are near my house for easy harvesting, I have kept the manure producing animals – chickens and rabbits – in one area far away from the house so we don’t get fly’s and smell wafting in. In a smaller sized property like we had in urban Auckland, I created a division from the house with quick growing hedging. You can use either griselinia littoralis as a green screen or feijoa as a fruiting divider as an idea to visually section off a small area to keep poo producing pets away from the house. This can also be helpful during their molt times where both rabbits and chickens loose feathers and fur which can end up everywhere!
The chook run was built first here on our farmlet in Kerikeri, and then backing onto that was the first pallet compost bin located next to the bunnies’ hutches. I constructed the first compost bin from the same pallets I had used as our single bin in Auckland. Pallets are ideal, since once tied together to make four sides; they give the necessary 1m² area to generate quick compost. The reason why this size works well is surface area allows the compost to heat up quickly when the right materials are layered. Making compost fast is all about generating enough heat to get it cooking well.
This weekend I added on another pallet bin and next weekend when dear husband picks up another 9 pallets I will add on another three bins. In total I will create 7 bins to give me around 4 cubic meters of compost every few months. Since rabbits need cool shade during summer to be at their happiest, I am creating the compost bins to feature as an ‘L’ shape which will pass in front of their three hutches. The hay and poo collected from the three bunnies make a wonderful weekly layer of dry and muck combined to add to the compost bins as they are created.
In December last year I made my first compost pile here within one week of moving in. It was ready in 6 weeks thanks to our super hot climate. The composting process with this method usually takes 8 – 10 weeks. Thankfully, I have had no trouble with weed seeds in my veggie gardens which I was dreading since my first cubic meter of soil I produced was made from using a bale of meadow hay in the composting mix. Using meadow hay is a suggested no-no in gardening circles, but with stocks out for lucerne hay at the local farm supply store, I took the punt and used a bale of meadow hay. The cubic metre pallet method must have become hot enough here to have killed the weed seeds which is great news to me, as the rabbits do best on meadow hay for munching on. With my planting plan in hand, I will need all of this compost I am making to sustainably generate enough material to plant and maintain our growing gardens. We have a focus in mind to live as sustainably as possible here at our house to take care of our little space as well as teach our Tweens (Mr 11 and 12) how to make ‘something out of nothing’ (my tag line since we’ve been here). So far, we are doing really well and it is much easier for this city chick than I originally thought it would be.
DIY: No Turn Pallet Compost
- 4 pallets
- 6 pieces of plastic/synthetic twine approximately 60cm long
- 2 x 2 inch 1.2 m long stakes
- Piles of material ready to fill the bins
I use an equal mix of each green waste material; enough to fill your large bin.
- Grass clippings
- Autumn leaves
- Seaweed from the local beach
- Tree and hedge trimmings (not pine or macrocarpa trees)
- Hay from the rabbit hutches
- Sawdust from a local untreated mill
A couple of shovels in each layer of
- Horse poo collected from the farmers gate
- Sheep dags and poo from a shearing shed or use steralised sheep pellets available at your local Palmers store
- Uneaten food and poo scrapings from the chook pen.
- Kitchen waste scraps that do not contain meat or fish
A handful of
- Dolomite lime
- Coffee grounds from a local café
A slosh of
- Tie your bins together with the twine to create an open box shape of four sides. It is important to use synthetic twine which will prevent rotting of the string. Your compost bin may fall apart if cotton material is used.
- Push your stakes vertically into the centre area of your compost bin.
- In 10cm layers add green waste material. In between each layer of green waste add a scoop of manure based material, a handful per layer of dolomite lime and coffee grounds and a drink of water to make the fill wet but not soggy. Continue this method until the compost frame is full to the top.
- The layering of materials works really well to generate variety in your compost as well as encouraging enough heat to get your compost cooking quickly without the need to turn the heap. Once the heap has reduced in height by ½ (usually within two weeks) which is a great sign of composting happening, remove the long stakes to allow air to penetrate to the base of the heap which will help accelerate the remaining compost maturation.
- Your compost is ready when no identifiable pieces of waste can be found, other than some egg shell. It should be dark and have no smell and can be used when planting both edible and ornamental food, shrubs and trees. Worms will populate the heap once it is cooked and cooled off. Adding worms to your heap is not necessary.
- During the cooking process, check the heap occasionally to see if it is too dry. Water as needed to maintain a damp mix that is not sodden.