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For human hair, there is conditioner. For the natural environment, there is compost. Compost is one of the most basic, natural ingredients formed out of recycling organic matter (i.e any living thing) that enhances soil, and consequently all plants grown from this soil.
Many gardeners and compost enthusiasts call compost, ‘black gold’ simply because it is waste turned wondrous that encourages soil fertility and eliminates food wastage. However, there are often many concerns about the upkeep of compost that turn people off from starting it in the first place.
In March 2020, at the height of the pandemic, I skipped out on sourdough and banana bread trends and started making my own compost in an old plastic bottle. Three months later, I had a big bottle of dark, wet matter that was home to some pests and exuded odours that made my housemates think I had c onverted the garden into a zoo.
But, the good news is I managed to fix all of that, and it isn’t that bad or that hard. It just required the same consistent attention and ritual, as my plant’s watering schedule. Drawing up a routine of tasks to be done at the start and end of the day that is distributed amongst kids and the members of the house will form a healthy cycle around the composting experience.
Piling: This is the most common way of leaving your organic material out in an open garden patch.
Compost Tumbling Bin: If you’d like a neater and more organised approach, you can opt to buy a composting bin or a tumbling composter which is usually a barrel-shaped container that can be turned to mix the compost on a daily basis. Getting a covered or lidded one will prevent any pests or creepy crawlies from entering.
Budget Option: Drill a few holes at the bottom of an old pail or sturdy plastic container. Wipe it dry and fill it up with a dry base made from soil, paper, dried leaves, and cardboard.
Worm Composting Bin: If your backyard is crowded, bring your composting indoors. Set up a vermicompost bin in the kitchen. This is an option that will yield much faster results as the worms speed us the process by eating and pooping organic material.
The magic about compost is that almost all material from the kitchen and the garden can go into the bin.
Getting children involved at this step is critical and easy because they can become in charge of the items that go into the compost. You could suggest for your child prepare dinner with you and start introducing the different elements that go into the bin.
The ‘yes’ list for composting can fall into the following categories:
Carbon-Rich or Brown Coloured Items: Dead matter from the garden like stems, branches, dried leaves, flowers, old wood, soil, old paper bags, newspapers, coffee and tea grounds, egg shells, etc.
Nitrogen-Rich or Green Coloured Items: These are usually by-products of fruits or vegetables like fruit peels, seeds, stems, hair or fur and grass clippings.
However, there are some exceptions that should not be included such as:
For the compost to function on its own, it needs the following five elements know as CONMM — carbon, nitrogen, moisture, oxygen and micro-organisms. Everything else not listed above can go in to the bin. A general guide is to chop up or cut up all the big items as small items decompose faster.
Scientists encourage following a rough ratio of three part carbon to one part nitrogen to keep the decomposition consistent and the funky smells off. If there is too much nitrogen i.e fleshy matter, there might be a strong odour similar to fertiliser or dung, and if there is too much carbon, the decomposition will slow down.
Interacting with your compost is one way to keep it fresh and in working shape. Children may sometimes be uncomfortable at this stage but you could encourage them to observe how the compost changes over time. Start by taking photos and writing down notes about the changes in the carbon and nitrogen matter anytime between one week to one month.
If your compost is outdoors, turn your compost once every three days to make sure that items within are getting aerated and fresh air enters the system. For indoor composting bins, as it is not as humid, you could use a metal shovel or rubber gloves to mix the items in the compost box once every two weeks.
Look out for tell-tale signs of your compost — what colour is it, how does it smell, and feel to your hands?
A good and healthy pile of compost should look like it’s ready to be added to your plants as a soil conditioner. This means it is rich, deep brown, smells like soil, and crumbles when you squeeze it without excess water dripping out. Some signs that it may not be ready or need some fixing would be wet texture or food matter that has yet to be decomposed.
There is no one direct and only way of composting and it usually takes a lot of trial and error depending on what is eaten in your home and what is in your garden. My first attempt at compost almost exploded because I forgot to put holes at the bottom of my pail.
Don’t sweat it, let the bacteria do the hard work once you’ve sorted out the trash! Simply start by sorting out your kitchen scraps, and then progressing to the next step. Every small action counts, and composting will become second nature.
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