Turning crap into gold
In the era of Covid-19, we’ve had to move away from bring-your-own containers and reusable coffee cups – composting can help ease the burden
I have never laughed, cried and wanted to make brown butter apple cake more than now.
We don’t know how long it will be before we emerge from our chrysalises into the world again. But while we cant at home many of us seem to have paused to reflect on our consumption choices.
I hope we keep our newfound habits and do not fall back on old ones. The soul-benefiting DIY posts from around the world already feel like exactly what social media, in its best light, was built for.
Another realisation I’ve noticed in this quest for improvement is the process of literally dealing with one’s crap, whether it’s the spiritual, physical or organic variety.
It is the natural order of things, I suppose – when we go to ground we start to think more responsibly. We notice our waste and extend our thoughts to closing the loop as much as we can.
It’s important that we not let this Covid-19 isolation era interfere too much with our waste management practices before the pandemic. We were well on our way to living more of a plastic-free, bring-your-own coffee cup, straw and container existence. This reign of hand sanitisers and reversion to single-use coffee cups is absolutely necessary now, but we can counterbalance it.
Learning how to deal with your organic garbage is an excellent start.
Compost is decomposed organic material. Think newspapers, fruit and vegetable scraps, eggshells – anything that is made of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen. And the good news is, that’s a lot of things.
Once you start shopping with the premise of “can I put this in my compost bin”, it will affect your consumption choices dramatically. Once I started asking myself this question constantly, I cut the contents of household red bin garbage by three-quarters within a week. And when you’ve brought your compost-friendly purchases home, it will dramatically change the way you eat, too.
So how does one start a compost?
If you are in an apartment I highly recommend a bokashi system. You can get this online or at many gardening and hardware stores. You can use a fancy aerated lidded compost bin under your kitchen sink, or even a simple airtight bucket on your bench top.
The bokashi element you can make yourself but is just as easily bought. The main ingredient is EM (effective microbes), which are inoculated into a host like wheat bran and blackstrap molasses.
Layer it like a lasagne, thin and even. For every layer of scraps sprinkle on the bokashi. The only thing that you shouldn’t add are large animal bones. Unlike many other forms of kitchen bench top composting, it is generally OK to add spent citrus and even animal and vegetable fats and oils – though don’t go overboard and upset the balance. A good rule of thumb to help break organic matter down is to make sure there’s nothing too large in surface area. Chop it down a little.
The bokashi will hasten the waste to break down and also deodorise your waste very effectively. It should smell a little like pickles.
Think of it like this: it is akin to your sourdough starter, koji or kefir grains. Essentially you are going to ferment your kitchen scraps so they may be dug into your garden or put into a bigger compost heap. If you don’t have that, I encourage you to sneak out in the dark and bury it around the trees in your verge. The council can thank you later!
Which leads me to composting if you have a garden
No need for fancy compost barrels if you have the space. Find yourself a corner of your garden – a meter by a meter is a good enough size.
You can use an old drum, or knock up a little container from old picket fences. Make sure to leave a hollowed-out space down the bottom, so you can extract the composted soil after it has broken down, and become free of pathogens. A good method for this is to measure the temperature in the middle of your compost heap to make sure it reaches 54-75C, becoming thermophilic, after which point it will start to cool down. You can help this by aerating it with a pitch fork and watering it a little every day.
If it starts to get pongy, add more carbon material like newspaper or hay. Chuck in all your kitchen and garden waste like pruned branches, old crops that need to be pulled out, grass clipping and leaf litter.
Make sure to never use the compost on your garden when it is hot, as this will “burn” your crops. It needs time to break down and become readily made nutrients for your plants to access.
An avian compost heap
Another type of composting I love and use both at the farm and the city is backyard chooks. Who doesn’t love getting eggs from your kitchen scraps? No one.
Our hens exist pretty happily in a little coop called the “cock block” and gang up against the brush turkeys when they fly in to pinch their scraps.Chickens rule: why the backyard chook is the pet of the decadeRead more
I don’t even bother with a compost heap in the city as most of our scraps get fed to the chooks. In turn, we layer their lovely poop with hemp hay, which is scraped to the corner of their coop to break down so that when we start a new crop each season it is added to our vegetable beds. It is teeming with lovely juicy worms. Food production, compost, worm farm – not forgetting endless hours of entertainment from watching the girls – all in one.
There are so many resources on the phases and different types of composting. If you start self-educating now, I guarantee you that you will not have covered everything by the time this crisis is over.
The best solution for your living situation may not be the one you first start off with, but don’t give up. Like my first permaculture teacher, Michael, from Milkwood Permaculture, taught me, there are “multiple-pronged solutions to deal with every problem”. Which I think is a good mantra for life as well.
I encourage you to start where you can and see where it leads you. Who doesn’t want to close the loop? Imagine how amazing it would be if we could all produce some energy from our crap?
When life gives you lemons, make lemonade – just make sure you put it in the compost when you’re done.