A mix of ingredients will put your compost on the top of the heap
GARDENING guru and landscape architect Costa Georgiadis can’t get enough vegie scraps. To feed his chooks and worms, and his compost pile, he imports peelings from neighbours.
“I’ve got a bin at the front and another one on the side street and my neighbours drop their scraps in them,” he says. “It’s a wonderful resource and everyone has it.”
Today marks the start of International Composting Awareness Week. To celebrate, Cultivating Community and Yarra City Council are holding a ‘Composter’s Composium’ next Saturday, May 7, at Smith Reserve in Fitzroy, from 11 am. The event will be a humus-inducing extravaganza, complete with live music, a workshop by Mr Georgiadis and (nearly) every kind of composting contraption known to urban living.
Lisa Coffa, senior waste officer at the council, says organic waste still comprises over half the kerbside collection, by weight. “It imposes great demands on our infrastructure and requires a lot of resources to pick up,” she says.
But that’s not all – every tonne of green waste in landfill causes about a tonne of greenhouse gas emissions. Ms Coffa says composting is a low cost, low-tech, local solution. Most councils, including Yarra, offer residents a discount on worm farms and bins, as well as advice on how to do it right.
“For most people, it’s very easy to convert green waste into something productive,” she says. “If you’re composting, you are better connected to your food source. It makes the link between what you purchase and what you throw away.”
For his part, Mr Georgiadis likens composting to cooking. “When you make compost, you transform the ingredients into something edible, with the help of microbes and worms and plants. You’re actually a chef, cooking your own chemical-free elixir.”
His first tip is to prepare well. “Compost gets a bad wrap when people do it half-heartedly,” he says. “You need to have the ingredients on hand, otherwise you’ll end up with a lasagne that only has pasta in it – and then it will become a seething, smelly, gooey mess.”
In the kitchen, get yourself a sealable container to stop vinegar flies from invading. In the garden, choose a shady spot and set up dedicated, covered spaces for several materials. You’ll need to mix the nitrogen-rich kitchen scraps with carbon-rich brown stuff, such as dried leaves, straw, shredded paper and cardboard.
Other items on Mr Georgiadis’ recipe include manure, green garden clippings, rock minerals and soil. Make sure you’ve also got a watering can handy and a corkscrew-style aerator (about $20) or garden fork for turning the heap.
“The key to any composting system is diversity, so every time you add something, add some of the other elements as well. Water it, turn it, cover it and let it do its thing,” he says.
Once the bin is full, you’ll need to leave it for about two months (but keep turning it every week) while you start a second batch.
When it’s done, to test if your mix is right, Mr Georgiadis suggests grabbing a handful. “If you squeeze firmly, you should see a little liquid running along the bottom of your pinky. If a whole lot of juice comes out, you need more carbon material; if nothing comes out, you need more water.”