The work of microbes (bacteria, moulds, fungi, worms, insects etc) has been recognised as a fabulous way to convert waste into nutrient enriched mulch or soil conditioner, and composting is now quite an industry in the garden. Because of the volume of waste we are generating, particularly in our attempts to beat the weeds, we have been keen to build large-scale composting areas that do not require a lot of labour intensive turning; to this end we have been using a moderately hot composting model for the communal composting bays.
The new compost bay area is coming along. It builds on practices we have found successful and will further develop the effectiveness of organic waste treatment. The build was started by Masters but a small group of gardeners, using building material predominantly supplied by Masters has been, with real aplomb, finishing the job.
Gardeners have developed ideas for sorting the different plant material based on the decomposition times involved. Different bays and bins plus different ‘dressing’ practices to promote faster decomposition are delivering greater volumes of compost. We are learning not to put inorganic weed mat, plastic labels, the cellotape off cardboard boxes, and the like, in these bays. Our new compost facilities, now in place, are allowing us to build on the knowledge we have gained, strike up relationships with our neighbours and local businesses, and create more fertile soils.
THE THREE COMMUNAL WASTE CONVERTING SYSTEMS IN OPERATION
1. Weed composting bays, employing the moderately hot method of composting, are now in operation. The old compost bays, built with great enthusiasm and ingenuity, have fostered an interest in the art of microbe management. They were carefully monitored and tended by some, learning how best to convert weed (particularly couch and buffalo) into useful garden material.
We have learned that the weed bays have to be regularly dressed with appropriate ratios of animal manure and carboniferous materials (dry leaves, screwed up or shredded paper, pieces of egg cartons or cardboard, hay etc), kept moist and given from 4-6 months for “curing” (depending on the season) before the material is inert enough, in the seed/runner department, to use in the communal garden beds. We have had some great successes, producing good, friable weed-free material, where we have had time and space to allow total decomposition.
Where we have had to turn some material out early, as when we have run out of bays, we have had to sift grass runners from the mix before spreading it on beds.
2. Waste vegetable material taken from the plots is put in a dedicated bay (without weeds) for treating. We are learning to cut up our old vegetable plant material into hand-size pieces and provided it is pathogen or disease free before adding it to the appropriate bay. This material, layered with suitable volumes of carboniferous and animal manure at appropriate intervals, breaks down faster than weeds. Given that the garden does not have council rubbish collection, any diseased material should be sealed in a plastic bag, taken home by the gardener and put out with household rubbish.
3. A dedicated bin and baths, for dealing with table scraps or kitchen waste, are also in operation. These composting arrangements are functioning more as worm farms, the worm-casts and worm juice also being sought. The kitchen waste breaks down faster than either the weeds or the vegetable material from plots, but because of its high water content and sometimes more complex chemical structures, the mix can become anaerobic and smelly.
We have found that it is very important that we add at least three times the volume of carboniferous materials to both allow oxygen though the mix and increase the surface area for greater microbe activity.
The worm farm bin inside the gate is being used for table scraps that local residents leave in the bucket outside the gate or gardeners bring from their homes, and the new bath installations are used for local business table scraps.
Because there is a lot of work involved in this venture, to evaluate the quality of the organic material available from outside the garden, as well as organise the collection, stowing, and management of the scraps, we are keen to appropriately pace the full implementation of the bath facilities.