Composting: How to make the most of your waste!

Compost!

What is it?

Compost is essentially decayed and decomposed organic matter which can be applied to plants in your garden/allotment/patch. Composting is a natural process of recycling organic material into a nutrient rich soil improver. By composting your organic waste you are returning nutrients back into the soil in order for the cycle of life to continue.

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Compost from my compost bin

Why is it important?

Compost is brilliant at improving the structure and water retention of the soil, it can act as a mulch around plants locking the moisture in the ground and is great at suppressing weeds. It also brings a healthy balance to your existing soil by adding beneficial microbes and fungi which can be essential for proper root and plant development.  It is the ultimate recycling machine and the most environmentally friendly way to deal with kitchen and biodegradable waste!

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My strawberries were mulched with a layer of compost to suppress weeds and feed the plant.

How do we compost?

The site and the bin!

The first thing to consider when composting is what you will compost in. There are an abundance of composting bins which are available to gardeners to buy. You can make your own out of old wood or you can simply for go a composting container or just pile the materials in a heap in your garden. You also have to consider where you will place your compost bin/area. Ideally, the heap should be sited where it won’t be subject to extremes of temperature. You don’t want it baking in the sun one day and then being exposed to cold windy conditions the next. The processes at work in your compost bin i.e. the bacteria and fungi are susceptible to these extremes and would prefer to work in a constant temperature. Most people find it more convenient to site their compost heap in a  shady unused area of the garden. My own compost bins are sited at the back of the plot where I would have been unlikely to be able to cultivate anything other than weeds!

Preferably, the compost bin should be open-bottomed, i.e. exposed to the soil underneath. This allows worms and other beneficial insects like woodlice, access to your compost bin where they aid the composting process. However, if your site has hard ground, i.e. concrete, you can get fully enclosed bins. If you go for either an open-ended of full enclosed bin when you have hard ground, then add a layer of compost at the bottom of the bin to kick-start the composting process!

The types of compost bins styles range from plastic round open-bottomed bins, to large square 3-bin composting systems, to hot-composting style rotating bins. Everyone will have a personal preference of what style compost bins they use. For the small garden, a single round compost bin or small heap is normally sufficient. I myself use the large three bin system for my allotment, which my partner and I built ourselves out of old used wooden pallets. If you want to have a look at the different styles of bins and their advantages/disadvantage these websites offer excellent comparisons and help to find the type that would best suit you!

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My 3-bin compost system. All garden and organic waste goes into the bin on the left and then it is periodically turned into the next bin and then turned again into the final bin where I will end up with the finished product.

http://www.planetnatural.com/composting-101/composters-bins/

http://www.diynetwork.com/how-to/outdoors/gardening/how-to-compost-and-the-different-types-of-compost-bins

The Ingredients!

When it comes to what you can and can’t put in your compost bin, there a few hard and fast rules!

  1. Do not put in meat, bones, fish, fats, dairy and cat and dog poo. Cat and dog poo can harbour dangerous diseases and the meat, bones fish and dairy will stink and attract pests such as rats.
  2. Do not put in most diseased plant material (those that won’t be destroyed by the composting process). This is  sure fire way of spreading the disease further. Diseased plant material should be burnt!
  3. Do not add anything inorganic such as plastic, metals etc. These are generally not biodegradable and are made up of chemicals you wouldn’t want in your soil. Throw them in a rubbish bin!
  4. Do not add invasive perennial weeds (such as bind weeds and knotweeds). These weeds and it’s seeds can sometime survive the composting process (if it is not done properly) and then you end up spreading them around when you add it to your soil.
  5. Do make sure you have a mixture of brown and green material. Your compost heap should contain between 25-30% green material and the rest brown material.
  6. Green material (high in nitrogen) includes; kitchen vegetable waste, grass clippings/hay, dying (not diseased – see above) plant material, seaweed, annual weeds, manure, coffee grounds.
  7. Brown material (high in carbon) includes; wood (not coal) ashes, cardboard, straw, leaves, newspaper, sticks and twigs (preferably put through a chipper first) and sawdust.
  8. Whenever you add a layer of green material, try and add some brown material at the same time.
  9. Turn the pile often!
  10. Keep it moist! This is normally only a problem in really dry hot weather but if your compost bins look a little dry then chuck a can full of water on it. The organisms that break down your compost like it humid in there!
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Image from : Survivalathome.com

The organisms!

We have already said that the organisms within your compost that breakdown the waste into crumbly black soil goodness need a relatively constant temperature and not subject to extremes of temperature and also require moisture. They also require good aeration. Oxygen is part of the processes that break down your waste. This is called aerobic decomposition. If there is no oxygen, you will get anaerobic decomposition which is slower and produces quite a slimy, stinky pile. It will compost down eventually but will take a long time. If you want compost much more quickly it is important to aerate the pile. This mostly means turning the pile with a fork or for those with rotating bins, a quick rotation to jumble the pile up and get oxygen between the materials. With our three bin system we turn the pile by transferring it from the first bin to the second to the third where we then have the finished product ready for use!

compostcycle

This aerobic decomposition also creates heat which helps to speed up the composting process. The micro-organisms create the heat and can heat the pile up quite quickly with temperatures up to 50-70C which is high enough to kill weed seeds and stop them from germinating. This heat does actually deter worms but as the heap cools down worms and other insects involved in decomp will return to finish the job.

The finished product!

When your organic material has undergone the processes illustrated above you will be left with lovely crumbly black soil full of goodness and water retention properties! Use it to mulch your plants and feed them.

So there you have it! Now you know how to make a good compost heap to supply your garden/allotment with nutrient rich compost all year long!

 

 

 

 

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Recycling, Re-using and Re-purposing: Toilet roll tubes and egg cartons

Carrying on from my previous post ‘How to be a millionnaire‘, this post focuses on how we can re-use toilet roll tubes and egg cartons.

Hopefully, at the very least, you all recycle your toilet roll tubes and egg cartons every week so that they can be taken away and recycled into something else! However, there is a value in these little items that could help you save some money if you decide to keep them!

Making compost

compost

It is important to note that both toilet roll tubes and egg cartons (not the plastic ones) are biodegradable which is actually a handy attribute! This means that they can be added to your compost bin, providing ‘brown waste’ which will mix well with your green waste to provide a wholesome compost for your garden. You should have at least a mix of 50/50 green and brown waste. Do remember to take off any shiny paper (which can often be found on egg cartons – the shiny paper can be put into the paper recycling bin!). If ever I find I have collected too many toilet rolls or egg cartons, the excess always ends up on the compost heap! So instead of chucking these little items in the recycling bin, pop them in your compost. Remember the more compost you can make yourself – the less you have to buy!

Chitting potatoes

Most of you probably know that egg cartons are very useful for chitting potatoes. The individual holders hold each potato the right way up to allow strong shoots to grow from the tubers. Once you have placed your tubers in the egg cartons, place them in a light, cool and dry place. In a few weeks you will have potatoes ready for planting. I always save a stash of egg cartons for this purpose and after I have planted my potatoes, I can either re-use the cartons further or chuck them in the compost bin. I don’t recommend using plastic egg cartons for this as the tuber could get a bit sweaty (yuk!) and rot so stick with the cardboard ones.

Plant pots

Both toilet roll tubes and egg cartons can be used as plant pots. As they are biodegradable, the plant, once ready to be put into it’s final growing place, can be planted whole with  the tube or carton attached. The cardboard will decompose in the soil and minimise root disturbance for the plants. This is especially useful for plants like sweetcorn and beans who don’t like have their roots disturbed.

I use toilet roll tubes in two ways; firstly I cut them in half, fill them with a multipurpose compost and push onion sets into them. This gets the onions off to a good start before planting out. When the sets have a good root system and green shoots, I plant them out with the tube to their final growing position. This allows me to only plant out the onions which are showing signs of growth meaning that there won’t be gaps in my planting.

Secondly, I use the whole tube for beans, sweetcorn and sometimes squash or any plant that needs to develop long roots. This replaces my need for root trainers! Another saving made! I cut four slits in the bottom half of the tube and bend the cardboard over to form a bottom to the tube which will stop the soil from falling out. I then push the seed into the tube and cover with more compost. The whole tube is planted out when the plant is ready avoiding root disturbance. The roots will tend to grow through the cardboard. Again, this helps me to avoid gaps in my planting, rather than sowing direct and hoping all the seeds will germinate. I also use these tubes for pricking out seedlings that have gotten leggy. I plant the seedling deeper in the tube so that the compost firms the plant in and gives the plant more stability.

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I use egg cartons for those plants that don’t need root depth. Peas are the main crop that I plant into egg cartons, one pea to each station. Then when the peas are ready to be planted out, I cut up the egg carton into individual sections and plant straight into the soil. I also use this method for brassicas and headed lettuces such as iceberg and little gem.I have had great difficulty in the past with pak choi being sown directly, so this year I am going to try starting them off in egg cartons.

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Protection from pests

Toilet roll tubes can also be used as protective barriers to stop pests from eating your crop. If you sow seed directly where the plants are to crop, then as seedlings emerge you can cover  them with the tubes. Just gently push the tube into the ground around the seedlings to avoid slugs and snails. I myself have not tried this as I often use homemade plastic cloches but if anyone does try this them please let me know if this works for you!

Decorative Lanterns

toilet roll lanterns

For the more arty/crafty of us, you can turn your toilet roll tubes into decorative lanterns. String them together and put the up around the allotment, garden or home. This is also a good activity for kids. You can find the full article here. This is definitely something I shall be doing! You can find the instructions here and a quick google search will also find other styles of decorative lanterns!

Gift and Favour boxes

If you are looking for a cheap way to make favour boxes for yours or somebody else’s wedding or need some cheap gift packaging then check out this article which will show you how to turn your toilet roll tubes into pretty boxes!

gift and favour box

http://www.popsugar.com/smart-living/DIY-Upcycled-Wedding-Favor-Container-34625100

Bird Feeders

If, like me, you are encouraging wildlife into your garden/allotment then these lovely little bird feeders are a great way to use up your toilet roll tubes.

bird feeder

You can find the article for this here!

Fire Starters

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I don’t have a fireplace or a wood burning stove at home, and often the only fire I start is the bonfire at the allotment. Now on a day that has even the slightest breeze it can be a right pain in the backside to get a fire started so why not use toilet roll tubes and egg cartons as dry flammable material to start your bonfire or your fire at home. Or you can make them even more flammable by following the instructions in this article.

Packing material

If you chop up egg cartons into there individual sections, they make a great packing material in place of polystyrene chips! Toilet rolls can also be cut up or ‘unwound’ to produce a springy packing material! There also more environmental friendly because after you finished with them you can chuck them on your compost heap! So, if you know you are going to move soon save up those egg cartons and toilet roll tubes. Better than sending all those polystyrene chips to the landfill!

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Storing eggs

There is a really obvious use to your egg cartons – storing eggs. If you have your only chickens (lucky you) you may need egg cartons to either store your eggs or pack them up to give away.

Flower wreath

Both egg cartons and toilet roll tubes can be used to make some spectacular flower wreath decorations. You will find the links to these creations and others like it at the bottom of the page!

Making ice cubes – plastic cartons only

As you can also get plastic egg cartons, there is a good use for them to – use them as ice cube trays!. This only applies to the plastic cartons as otherwise your cardboard ones will get soggy! And there will probably be a mess to clear up!

Paint palates

Whether you have crafty kids or like to dabble in a bit of art yourself, plastic egg cartons can be re-used as paint palates – and they can be washed out and re-used time and time again. I would suggest this would also be a cheap and easy way to furnish your child’s primary school with paint palates! You can also use the cardboard cartons but probably can’t wash these ones out!

Hamster toys

I have had a few hamsters in my time and they are an animal that likes to chew! They do this to keep their teeth short and will gnaw on most things. Pop a toilet roll tube in there and the little thing will happily gnaw away shredding the tube into tiny pieces. The toilet roll tube is harmless to them so you don’t need to worry about there safety and saves you a few quid on chew toys!

hamster toilet roll

I also noticed with one of my hamsters, that instead of chewing them, he liked to use the toilet roll tubes as an assault course. I would often set up a little pen for him with a few tubes and treats and he would happily run around, run through and climb over the tubes – until he found a way out of the pen that is!

Or you can get really creative like this person (HamsterCentral.com), not only using toilet roll tubes but egg cartons and cardboard boxes too! I wonder how much they saved on hamster toys?

hamster central

Some of these ideas I already do myself but other ideas have been found via research on the web. If you are interested in any further reading I have used the following sites in this article:

http://www.treehugger.com/slideshows/green-home/7-ways-reuse-egg-cartons/

http://www.canadianfamily.ca/activities/crafts/25-fun-and-easy-crafts/slide/25-fun-and-easy-crafts_78478/

http://www.buzzfeed.com/swelldesigner/22-kids-crafts-you-can-make-from-toilet-paper-tube-22zb#.ph4qr5yRGj

http://www.homegrownfun.com/rotting-gallery/

http://recreatedesigncompany.com/creative-toilet-roll-recycling/

If you have any other fun things to do with egg cartons or toilet roll tubes then feel free to post them below!

How to be a millionnaire…

So the way I see it, there are several ways in which I could become a millionnaire…

  1. Win the lottery! lottery
  2. Hitting it big on the stockmarket! Stock Traders Trading Stocks and Securities
  3. Invent a useful gardening product and go on Dragons Den. dragons den
  4. Earn money and don’t spend any of it! scrooge

I guess it’s option Number 4 for me…

So there is a purpose to this post,the catchy title was just to get your attention! It’s about recycling, reusing and repurposing, not only to save me valuable cash but to live a more sustainable way of life. As we saw in a previous post, my carbon footprint is excessively high and I am trying to reduce this in whatever way I can which includes making more out of waste! Like they say, one man’s waste is another man’s treasure!

When I got an allotment, I thought it would be a cheap alternative to buying from the supermarket but that is not strictly true. I think the benefits of growing your own far outweighs shopping at a supermarket but it is not necessarily cheaper, certainly not in the first few years. However, one thing I have learnt over the last three years of having an allotment is how innovative us gardeners and allotmenteers can be when it comes to stretching our cash.

Around my allotment you can already see where I have re-used or re-purposed items into allotment beds and walkways such as using bottles to make a bed, re-using old bookcases and doors and using old carpet to for walkways and weed control!

But it doesn’t end there! So over the next few months, I will be posting about innovative (or not so innovative) ways to re-use or re-purpose  your ‘waste’ that will increase your sustainability and also (hopefully) save you a bit of cash!

Who knows how much money you could end up saving?

‘Rodney, this time next year we’ll be millionnaires!’

only fools