Your Autumn garden tidy-up
Last year, in our Autumn composting blog, we focused on the steps you could take to ensure your compost heap keeps decomposing over the winter by converting your bin from a “cold” system into a hot composting system.
If you’re unsure about going down this DIY route to convert your existing bin, we can help you.
In December 2018, SoilFixer will begin customer testing of a new 1m3 “Super Composting System”. It’s based on European patent- pending technology and brings in the use of biochar and humification reagents within a specific set of composting conditions.
In essence, we’re making a home composting kit that replicates our large-scale process. This means that you’ll be able to make your own SF60!
If you’re interested in becoming a tester, please drop us a line and we’ll keep it on file ready for December.
Back to this Autumn…
Over the next few weeks, not only will you have piles of old plants from your vegetable plots and lots of hedge trimmings, you’re also likely to have a lot of fallen leaves.
A few tips
Carbon /nitrogen ratio
- Instead of focusing on getting a "10:1 C/N ratio", look at the items that compost in similar time frame and complement each other in terms of wetness and aeration.
For example: grass is high nitrogen, so you might think adding in wood chippings or sawdust (which are high in carbon) would be a good item to mix with them. However, wood is very hard to decay due to the lignin structure; it takes years. The carbon is not readily easily available. An alternative route is added shredded corrugated cardboard or shredded office paper; this is ‘delignified’ in the paper mill, leaving a cellulose. The microbes will break down these paper types in around 10 days making then a perfect complement to grass. Fresh grass clippings are wet and moist and shredded paper is very dry, so it’s a great compliment. Okay, some customers might not have a lot of shredded paper, but we’ve been surprised how many homes now have shredder for confidential letters! Also, many workplaces will allow you take home non-confidential shredded paper. Try it and you might get one or two more lawn mowing in before the year end.
Autumn hedge trimmings - What can we mix these with to get a good compost out?
If the branches are less than one centimetre in diameter and freshly cut, more often than not they’ll not be hard dry wood. If you can shred them into less than 10mm bits great; less than 6mm even better! This isn’t easy; it’s fine to use secateurs on a few stems but most gardens will generate a lot all in one go.
So why not:
Use a shredder. We like the idea of sharing a shredder with a neighbour rather than everyone having one and using it for one week each year. Bear in mind most shredders are actually wood chippers and good at chipping wood. Very few are good shredders of bendy and moist hedge stems!
Use your lawn mower. Make a pile of cuttings and run the mower over it. Pile it back up and do it again. This job is probably best left to heavy duty 2-4hp rotary mower units rather than small electric light duty mowers.
Use your hedge trimmer. If it’s already cut the stem once it can do it again. Pile the cuttings into a neat high stack. Use the cutter (carefully) at 45 degree to go up and down in a cross-hatch manner. Make sure you don’t hit any hard floorings as this will wreck your blades. I do my shredding on the lawn to reduce risk of damage. Pile and re-pile a few times; you should get five-centimetre bits fairly easily. These bits can be mixed into the heap as is. No need to think C/N, green/browns, they’re a bit of everything.
Autumn Leaf fall - composting leaves
Success depends on a few things.
If you collect them early as fresh green and yellow leaves than they can go into the heap. Ensure you mix rather than layer.
Brown, wet leaves tend to create issues if added straight into the heap. If you think of a diet having sugar that’s easy to digest and fibre that’s hard to digest, brown wet leaves have already lost most of the easy sugars; this leaves hard fibre. The brown leaves layer over each other, creating a matt through that moisture and heat can’t travel up. This hinders composting and when you come to empty the heap, you often find thin compressed layer of brown leaves in it.
Tip: shred your leaves – see the techniques above!
Tip: mix in with other waste and do not layer.
Tip: if you’re fortunate enough to have huge piles of leaves, store them in a wire mesh frame to hold them. You can then add them a few handfuls at a time. Come summer, shredded dry leaves are a great complement to moist grass mowing.
Composting kitchen waste over winter
Remember, almost all fruit, vegetable and food waste from the kitchen has a very high moisture level. It’s around 80% in an average kitchen caddy of peelings and so on.
The science of composting shows that there’s not enough calories to burn off this water as steam vapour. So, your compost is likely to become a wet mush that turns anaerobic.
Tip: especially in winter, ensure you add dry, shredded paper (or corrugated cardboard) with your vegetable and kitchen waste. I keep things simple; after emptying the kitchen caddy, I add a quarter of loose shredded paper into the base. This compresses down, stops the waste going mushy, wet or smelly and falling out of the compost bin.