Traditional Composting

Want to know how to compost?  Here is a great guide written by Kate, the Compost Queen, which she has kindly shared with us.

Be warned this ‘How To: Compost’ guide is so hot & steamy it’s almost NSFW. It gives you step‑by‑step instructions of how to set up & use a hot compost system at home. I’ve also included some persuasive arguments & motivating information for you to use to win over your compost‑averse pals at your next soirée.

If you have any unanswered questions once you’ve read the guide, don’t be too shy to talk dirty to me, DM me all of your compost questions, concerns or comments. I want you all to experience the sizzling sensation of hot compost success. 🔥

Just like worms munching through your scraps, there is a lot here to digest, so remember to SAVE this guide so you can finish reading it at your leisure. Also, DM this guide to anyone who needs compost help, or SHARE to your STORIES, as the more people composting the better. ♻️🪱💩 The plants & the planet say thank you.

Brown is Best, Then Chuck in the Rest

When I talk compost with people I often hear horror stories of slimy, smelly, cockroach ridden, anaerobic messes. These tales of woe are quite easily fixed by adding carbon materials (aka browns – dried leaves, newspaper), along with your regular inputs of nitrogen (aka greens – food scraps, plant clippings) into your compost system. Your Mum used to talk about the importance of eating your greens. Let’s flip that on its head & discuss the importance of feeding browns to your bin.

Adding browns is the secret to making good compost, so that’s why I’m starting this guide on this topic. It helps to create structure & bulk in your pile, which means more compost. It makes the finished product far more moisture retentive. It feeds the fungus like bacteria called actinomycetes which helps to heat up & break down your pile. Carbon also creates air pockets in your pile so your bin won’t stink. I can hear your neighbours cheering.

Don’t be scared off by any overly scientific composting mumbo jumbo. Prescribing to precise compost ratios can become a stumbling block to actually just giving it a go. How much brown to green? What does 25:1 actually look like? I don’t follow percentages, ratios or rules when it comes to composting. I just give it a crack & follow my mantra ‘brown is best, then chuck in the rest.’ I experience the sweet smell of successful compost every time.

Sorry people, but there is no excuse for not having enough brown matter on hand. Honestly, just look around‑ there are literally piles of the stuff everywhere.

Leaves piled high in gutters - 

dunny rolls & coffee filters – ✅

torn newspaper – ✅

napkins, paper straws, paper bags & cardboard takeaway containers – ✅

used tissues & paper towel – ✅

ripped cardboard boxes & egg cartons – ✅

...I could go on & on. Most of what you put in your paper recycling bin could instead be put in your compost bin. I just avoid highly coloured or glossy paper & give it a rip.

Carbon is often the missing link in helping to create well‑balanced compost that is full of life, a rich deep brown colour & has a deliciously distinctive earthy scent. So repeat after me: ‘brown is best, then chuck in the rest.'

 

 

Compost is Colour Blind

Compost is colour blind

We all know that garden prunings, seaweed, grass clippings, weeds, Granny Smith apples, spinach & lettuce are green.

But did you know that your compost also treats the following as GREENS too?

Coffee grinds, lentil vindaloo curry, cow manure, & all other herbivores’💩 are GREENS

Oranges, carrots, & rockmelon are GREENS

Strawberries, tomatoes, & watermelon are GREENS

Lemons, bananas, & golden kiwis are GREENS

Get it?

Regardless of the colour, greens are the inputs into your compost that are generally lush & juicy, due to their high water content. They’re full of nitrogen (this helps plants grow) & they’re readily available to anyone who gardens, cooks, eats & shops for food & is left with garden waste, kitchen scraps & leftovers.

Why not just chuck all this green waste in the rubbish? Food waste thrown away in plastic bags breaks down at a rate far slower than you might think. Bagged scraps limit exposure to oxygen & bugs, the two factors that make short work of food waste in a compost. Instead, in this dark, smelly, anaerobic environment, decomposition happens very slowly, & that innocent apple core, or broccoli stem, releases huge volumes of methane as they slowly mummify.

Deprived of oxygen, this food waste barely breaks down. “At the bottom of old landfills you'll find close to pristine heads of lettuce & bread rolls that look good enough to make a sandwich.” The embalmed‑food phenomenon in landfills produces enormous amounts of methane, a greenhouse gas that contributes disproportionately to global warming. A well managed compost bin does not produce any methane as food scraps decompose.

So, let’s keep mummies in horror stories & food waste in our compost.

References from “In Today’s Landfills, Food Is Embalmed for Decades at a Time”, Vice.com, 28/01/14

It’s Getting Hot, Hot, Hot

Oh hi there 👋, so you’re back to take another deep dive into my next 3 hot composting tips, are you?

4/ Aerate – Just like us, your compost baby needs to breathe. Aeration is super important, as it fuels the fire of your compost. You can use a compost turner (looks like a giant corkscrew). I use mine if I can muster up the strength, as it can get heavy, but they are effective. An aerating hack I more commonly use is wiggling a star picket (metal garden stake) through the mass of compost, all the way down to the bottom of the bin. I wiggle & make 4 or more holes, once a week. This gets things smoking (well, steaming) as air can move through all the layers. The star picket can also help to break up carbon that is a little too thick. Flick over to my Reels page to watch how I do this. The reel is called ‘Get hot & steamy with me’ & be warned Snoop Dog helps too.

5/ Don’t get gushy – Speaking of moisture, be careful not to over‑wet the contents of your bin, as the compost will lump & not aerate properly. Overly wet compost will become anaerobic, start to stink & slow down in decomposing. Dry carbon is an important addition to balance out your food waste, if things become a little slimy. Conversely, a dry bin will just sit there doing nothing. It does take trial & error to work out correct moisture levels. Grab a handful of compost & give it a squeeze. You only want a couple of drops to come out. It should feel like a wrung out sponge.

6/ Harness the power of good bacteria & fermentation – The only additional water I give my bins is the water I use to clean out a Bokashi bin, once I have emptied the fermented food into the compost. This water is full of the good bacteria called EM & this allows the good bugs to seep through the contents of my bin, which really gets things going. Try & use rainwater, as chlorine from tap water may kill the good bugs. Just a heads up, Bokashi bins are awesome for speeding up your compost, flick over to my ‘How To: Bokashi’ guide to learn about these badass bins.


 

It’s Getting Hot, Hot, Hot

Oh hi there 👋, so you’re back to take another deep dive into my next 3 hot composting tips, are you?

4/ Aerate – Just like us, your compost baby needs to breathe. Aeration is super important, as it fuels the fire of your compost. You can use a compost turner (looks like a giant corkscrew). I use mine if I can muster up the strength, as it can get heavy, but they are effective. An aerating hack I more commonly use is wiggling a star picket (metal garden stake) through the mass of compost, all the way down to the bottom of the bin. I wiggle & make 4 or more holes, once a week. This gets things smoking (well, steaming) as air can move through all the layers. The star picket can also help to break up carbon that is a little too thick. Flick over to my Reels page to watch how I do this. The reel is called ‘Get hot & steamy with me’ & be warned Snoop Dog helps too.

5/ Don’t get gushy – Speaking of moisture, be careful not to over‑wet the contents of your bin, as the compost will lump & not aerate properly. Overly wet compost will become anaerobic, start to stink & slow down in decomposing. Dry carbon is an important addition to balance out your food waste, if things become a little slimy. Conversely, a dry bin will just sit there doing nothing. It does take trial & error to work out correct moisture levels. Grab a handful of compost & give it a squeeze. You only want a couple of drops to come out. It should feel like a wrung out sponge.

6/ Harness the power of good bacteria & fermentation – The only additional water I give my bins is the water I use to clean out a Bokashi bin, once I have emptied the fermented food into the compost. This water is full of the good bacteria called EM & this allows the good bugs to seep through the contents of my bin, which really gets things going. Try & use rainwater, as chlorine from tap water may kill the good bugs. Just a heads up, Bokashi bins are awesome for speeding up your compost, flick over to my ‘How To: Bokashi’ guide to learn about these badass bins.

Don’t miss out on the next tips below in this guide, as they’re my secret tricks to a steaming success...

 

Talk Dirty to Me

It’s getting hot in here! Read on for my next 2 tricks to get your compost roaring along.

7/ Encourage bug buddies – It takes a village to raise a child & an insect army to eat your waste. I welcome my composting mates like worms, solider fly larvae, mites, slaters, isopods, & beetles into my bins. These are the good guys in your pile & I love seeing a multicultural mix in my bins. A well‑managed compost system will promote good bug action to help with efficient processing of your waste. Adding soft carbon (newspaper, egg cartons etc.) is important for bugs, as it creates little habitat areas for them to hang out in. (Who wants to sleep where you eat?) The vigorous appetites of hungry insects help to aerate your compost; just like worms, bugs tunnel as they eat, leaving behind air pockets. So don’t freak out if you see other creepy crawlies in your bin, aside from well loved wormies, as a mixed‑bag of bugs will boost the population of bacteria & fungus in compost through their excretions (fancy word for poo!) which then speeds up the composting process. Love those little legends!

8/ Take the path of least resistance – In terms of composting soft browns (ew! sorry, gross term) like toilet rolls, or newspaper, I’m pretty lazy & don’t bother ripping them up. I do scrunch newspaper, as this creates air pockets & prevents it from matting together & stopping airflow. I find that once your bin is running hot, it can handle carbon on the chunkier side. I tend not to dampen my carbon, as many people suggest to do, as I find the greens (nitrogen) release enough water when they break down & that way they do the job for me. A win for the lazy & water conscious composter.

The final two hot tips are coming in the next post of this guide.

 

Be Like Oprah

You made it, you little ripper. I can feel the heat coming off your compost from here. Hope these tips have set your bin & heart alight with my composting passion. 💃🏼🔥❤️ Okay. Enough hyperbole, let’s do this.

9/ The end is nigh – Think about the process of compost removal before you start. If you maintain a full bin, like we do, by topping it up regularly, you’ll be producing, removing & using a near constant supply of compost. But really, who doesn’t want more compost? Something to consider, however, is how you will remove the finished compost. I like compost bins with a trapdoor at the bottom for easy removal, as this means you don’t need to empty the whole bin to get to the black gold. A three bay compost set up is wonderful too, if you have the space, as this allows for easy removal of the finished compost. If you go with a bin, don’t get hung up on brands, just chose the most solid, & remember to check on Gumtree etc, or a council clean up, for a secondhand bin first.

(Speaking of composting rig, in my humble opinion compost tumblers suck. Can I say that? 🤭 Tumblers are physically disconnected from the soil food‑web due to their raised legs, which discourages beneficial insects & bugs from easy migration into your bin. The contents tends to lump & not aerate properly within the tumbling chamber too. It’s a pain to remove the finished compost due to the crazy single barrel style, which means you’re mixing new food waste with finished compost. Don’t let me mention those tiny doors. Ah! The worst. We have road tested this style in the past & found that it could not handle the amount of compost we produced. The tumbler we tested also never heated up sufficiently, as it didn’t have the volume required to keep compost cooking.)

10/ Be like Oprah – My final tip should be shouted out at an Oprah level of enthusiasm “JUST GIVE IT A GO!” There is no such thing as perfect compost. Striving for compost perfection may mean you might not even start, or if failure occurs, you might give up. Just give it a crack & enjoy the learning process. Your plants will thank you.

 

Let’s get Fired Up 🔥

Let’s get fired up about compost activators that heat up your bin or pile.

We all want to make compost that’s the best it can be, & compost activators give your bin or pile an extra glow‑up & sass in its step. A compost activator’s job is to inject the organic matter in your compost with nutrients & high levels of nitrogen, giving it a serious boost & fuelling its fire. Activators feed the microbes present in your compost, allowing them to multiply & fire up your bin.

Activators come in a number of different forms including:

🔥Bokashi compost is the bee’s knees of compost activators. It’s jam‑packed with nutrients, nitrogen & best of all it’s heaving with good bacteria & microbes that will inoculate the organic matter in your compost, helping it all to break down far more quickly. Even just a small handful of bokashi will significantly increase the microbial populations in your compost & make things hot & steamy (especially if you’re adding meat scraps to this system);

🔥Plants with high levels of key minerals (comfrey leaves are king, but dandelion, yarrow leaves, stinging nettle, tansy leaves are great too);

🔥Manure from horses, cows, sheep, rabbits & chickens (some manure, especially horse, carries weed seeds, so it’s important that your compost reaches 60 degrees for at least 7 days straight to stop them from germinating). For urban gardeners, pelletised chicken manure, Dynamic Lifter or Blood ‘n Bone are useful additions when added sparingly;

🔥Finished & matured compost, which is loaded with good bugs & bacteria, can be added back into your new organic matter in your compost system to heat things up;

🔥A handful of healthy & humus rich garden soil will also do the job;

🔥Other wacky yet effective activators (if you’re brave) include: burying road kill in the centre of your compost, harvesting human urine (stinky but powerful) & using fish scraps… these are like a hot choccy on a cold day for your compost.

 

Burn Baby Burn

Want to see the heat I’m packing?

An ideal temperature for hot compost is 60°C (140°F) because hotter temperatures kill beneficial microbes. We love our microbial mates, so I’ll give them a hand. As you can see in the post above my compost was currently just over 65°C (150°F), so to help it cool a little I aerated it & added a modest splash of water.

It’s best to avoid temperatures over 65°C to maintain a diverse population of microbes. Mesophilic & Thermophilic microbes are the main ballbreakers in your hot compost, but other microscopic life joins the party at different temperature ranges. Having a mix of microbes ensures a rapid decomposition of all your waste.

You may be wondering why the top surface of my compost looks white, well it’s formed by a fungus like bacteria called actinomycetes. It may not look it, but it’s a great sign if your hot compost bin or pile grows a white fluffy mould on its surface. So don’t freak out! This indicates that actinomycetes are actively digesting & breaking down tough & woody plant material.

I fill my compost bins once a week & this current bin hasn’t been opened in the last 7 days. It’s clear that I have very active thermophilic microbes munching on our scraps, as they thrive at temperatures between 45°C to 70°C.

The benefits of hot compost are impressive as
pathogenic microorganisms die off, weed seeds are destroyed & the eggs of fruit flies & parasites are killed when your compost reaches 60°C & stays at this temperature for at least 7 days. No wonder why I get excited when I see all that steam billowing out of my bins.

Burn baby burn. 🔥♻️

 

The Wonder of Worms

The presence of red wrigglers & other compost worms eating through my food scraps in our aerobin makes me fist pump the air. You won’t find worms in the top of your hot compost systems, as it’s too warm there for them to survive. You’ll find these guys lower down where it’s cooled dow, eating waste that has already partially decomposed through the earlier efforts of heat loving microbes like actinomycetes. No worm can resist some deliciously decomposed leftovers.

Squirmy worms act like a litmus test of the health of your compost system’s microbiome. Where there are worms, there will likely be other micro organisms munching through your food scraps too like fungi, protozoa, nematodes & my personal favourite; actinomycetes; all very important for compost creation & for adding life to your soil post compost production. Many of these composting buddies are sneaky little suckers, as they’re completely invisible to the naked eye, so the worm becomes the compost maker’s clinical yardstick.

(References from “You don’t need a fancy bin': hard‑won lessons from farming worms” The Guardian 11/4/20).

 

Carbon Addict

I’m never going to kick my carbon addiction when it’s being peddled on every street corner. 🍂🍁

What can you use street leaves for?

🍂Fallen brown leaves are the perfect source of free carbon/browns for your compost. Remember you need an equal balance of green to brown to allow your compost to heat up

🍂They’re an excellent bedding material for worm farms

🍂Leaves can be partially composted in a pile or bag & used as mulch on your garden beds or pots

🍂Leaves can be turned into leaf mould & then made into homemade potting mix

Street leaves aka gutter gold. 🍁🏆

 

Sex, Drugs & Soil

Go the full Monty, strip off those gardening gloves, & get your bare hands down & dirty in the soil, your brain will thank you for it.

You might have worked it out that I’m a certified compost addict. Peak moments of gardening happiness occur when I’m digging out finished compost & grabbing lush handfuls of this garden gold to spread on my thankful plants.

I’ve always felt there must be a bit of magic in the dirt & now I’ve learnt that scientists have confirmed the mood boosting effect of soil on humans. Mycobacterium vaccae, a soil bacteria that resides in your compost, acts like a mind‑altering drug once it enters the human body. Gardeners inhale the bacteria, have topical contact with it & get it into their bloodstream through a nick to the skin. According to research this bacteria boosts your mood by triggering the release of serotonin in the brain, making you feel happy & relaxed.

Between the bushfires & covid, the last 18 months have been a doozy & it has taken its toll on our collective mental health. If you’re feeling down in the dumps, why not try taking a deep sniff of the evocatively earthy scent of well made compost.

Scientists call it geosmin, cooks call it terroir. The regional microbes, in the soil & air, impart their particular notes & earthy taste to our homegrown veggies & bread. It’s what makes sourdough bread taste so different when made at our place compared to the sourdough my Aunty makes in the Bega Valley, even though we originally used the same starter. It's the flavour of life. I love science you can smell & taste. Who needs a dopamine hit from sex or drugs, when instead you can have a sniff of soil. Sexy!

(References from ‘How to Get High on Soil’ The Atlantic 31/01/12)

 

We Grind...

Can’t live without a daily caffeine fix? I can’t & neither can my worms.

A simple hot compost recipe for transforming spent coffee grinds into garden gold is – equal volume of street leaves (carbon) to coffee grinds (nitrogen), a bucket or two of veggie scraps (nitrogen) & a generous splash of bokashi juice to inoculate your waste with good microbes (this hooch really gets the bacterial party started 🦠🎉).

Some people fret about the high levels of acid in coffee grinds & worry that their worms will turn up their noses (snouts? I need to get up to speed on my worm anatomy) & think the worms won’t digest the grinds. I have never found this to be a problem; perhaps my worms are coffee junkies like me? Nonetheless, to help neutralise the grinds I do sprinkle a very modest amount of a calcium carbonate rich ingredient like wood ash (when available during winter) or lime to balance out the pH & it also adds more phosphorous to my finished compost.

You can see in this reel that the unfinished compost is heaving with worms. It’s pretty incredible to observe this many worms in my compost, as the top of this pile was 65°C (150°F). It’s much cooler for the worms at the bottom of my bin but it’s clear they can’t live without a flat white (or 2) a day either.

We grind... ☕️♻️

 

It’s Not Waste Until It’s Wasted

Every little bit counts. It’s not waste, until it’s wasted. Each scrap might seem small, but collectively it makes a difference. Compost matters.