Follow your nose to sniff out problems

Bean and pea shells for composting. Picture by Tom Pattinson.
Bean and pea shells for composting. Picture by Tom Pattinson.

Compost heap – compound or bin?

Whichever you choose, site it to receive sunlight at some part of the day. Stand it on soil to allow for earthworm entry and natural filtering of excess liquids. Placing fine mesh wire netting at the base helps deter rodents.

The traditional heap has openings to encourage air passage and is constructed in layers. The difficult part comes in turning everything over with a fork at the half-way stage to encourage airflow and decomposition.

Composting bins are neater and easier to manage, but only produce limited amounts at a time. The great improvement on this is the Hot Bin, a totally enclosed system developed locally by Tony Callaghan.

It will take cooked kitchen waste, such as chicken bones, and the temperature maintained over winter keeps the whole process moving.

You can tell at a sniff if the system is working. When there’s a hint of rotten eggs and you find a mushy mess, plus fruit flies, you’ve overdone the green material. Empty the bin, get carbon-rich brown into the mix, and refill.

Given the prolonged drought of recent times, and the prospect of global warming, recycling of household and garden waste becomes so important.

The end-product is tactile to handle and doubles up as a soil conditioner. Add a base fertiliser and gritty sand and it’s fine for potting or seed sowing. With perlite or vermiculite you have an open medium for propagating.

Friend George asked at a recent garden club meeting what to do about the bumblebees’ nest in his ready-to-empty composting bin. Leave them until autumn, I advised, they need all the help they can get to survive as a species.