The Witches Cauldron – A Tale of Compost Bin and Composting Tips

I like to think of my compost bin as being reminiscent of a witches cauldron. You put a motley assortment of ingredients in, stir it a few times and out comes a magic potion for your garden.

Most things can be composted, although it is not recommended that you add eye of newt, frogs legs or little children to your compost bins!

In fact, all meat and animal products, along with invasive weeds should not be dumped into the compost bin. And, like with witches, there are a lot of myths and misconceptions about composting and worm farming.

Why Compost

I’ve always been a fan of composting. Why wouldn’t you take all this waste you normally discard and turn it into something useful? Like your own homegrown soil improver.

When we had the chickens it was difficult to generate enough waste on my little allotment to also keep the compost bin and worm farm going. Now that we are temporary without chooks, I’ve been working hard on the compost bins and worm farms. I have even tried a couple of worm tubes.

So what are the various options? 

Compost bins:

Composting Tips for your garden
Compost Bin

The main option that most people think of is the traditional compost bin or compost heap. They can be differentiated by describing a compost heap as “hot” compost, while a compost bin is generally “cold” composting. I tend to stick to cold composting. And I have two compost bins that I use to compost grass clippings, leaves and garden clippings and food scraps. Compost bins are less of an option if you have a small yard. They are not viable if you have no yard, and are gardening in a townhouse or unit balcony. Hot composting is even less of an option for many gardeners. Either they don’t have enough space for a compost heap. Or they don’t generate enough garden waste at one time to set up a heap.

Tumble bins are a type of compost bin. I know a lot of people swear by their tumble bins, but I have found them to be hard work. They need to be tumbled very regularly and can break fairly easily, leaving you with a non-tumbling compost bin!

Worm farms:

Composting Tips for your garden
Compost worms

Worm farms are easy to establish and generally consist of two or more layers. On the bottom layer is the worm wee that is generated as the food scraps are digested and broken down in the worm farm. Worm tea is a great tonic for your plants! The second and third layers of the worm farm are where you place the worms and the food scraps that you want them to eat. Compost worms have great appetites and can eat 10 times their weight in food scraps every week.

Worm tubes:

Composting Tips for your garden
Worm tube

Worm tubes are a similar concept to worm farms except that you bury a long tube in the garden. You place some worms in the bottom and keep topping it up with food scraps. The tube has a lid and some ventilation holes in the sides to allow water and worms in. It also allows the worm juice and enriched compost out to the surrounding garden. Worm tubes are great for small gardens. They are also useful for composting weed seeds and stuff that you don’t want to spread across your garden. And they help ensure that vermin like mice and cockroaches aren’t attracted to your compost.

Bokashi bins:

Bokashi bins are great alternatives for small yards and units. The Bokashi bin is basically a bucket with lid and tap which you place on, or under your kitchen bench. You place the food scraps and peelings from your food preparation in the bin. When you’ve completed your food preparation you cover the scraps with the Bokashi mix. The mix contains bacteria which help the food to break down. When the bin is full, the mix can be buried in the garden where it will feed your plants.

Chickens:

Chickens are the ultimate composters. They will eat pretty much anything and turn it into waste, in this case, chook poo. However, chickens take up space so they are not an option for small gardens, balconies or townhouses. They also take time to care for properly.

Myths and misconceptions of composting

As I said previously, there are a lot of myths and misconceptions about composting.

Some of these myths and misconceptions include:

Myth #1: Compost bins smell! A well cared for compost bin does not smell bad! It should smell earthy, like good soil but it shouldn’t reek. If your compost bin reeks then it’s either too wet or has become acidic. When it’s too wet, this has killed the good bacteria and allowed the nasty, anaerobic bacteria to take over. The other possible reason for a compost bin to smell is that non-compostable’s like meat or dairy products have been added.

Composting Tips for your garden
Vermin

Myth #2: Compost bins attract vermin: When you care for your compost bin and don’t overload it with too much of any one item, you should not have a problem with mice, rats or cockroaches. It also helps to turn it regularly to speed up the process.

Compost bins should not smell or attract Vermin!!

Myth #3: Compost bins take up valuable real estate: My compost bin is in a shady part of the garden where very little will grow. I find that the compost bin works well here. As a bonus it saves me having to find a shade-loving, dry-tolerant plant to fill the space. However, if real estate is an issue you could try the worm tubes or worm farms.

Myth #4: Composting takes too long to break down: If you add lots of big, woody items and leave it to slowly decompose, then it can take time to make your beautiful soil improver. By chopping up scraps, twigs and even larger leaves into small pieces you can significantly speed up the process. There are also compost accelerators that you can buy which give your compost bin a big hit of microbes and speeds up the process. And if you turn your compost regularly using a spiral compost turner or fork, you can speed up the process.

There are things you can’t add to the compost bin

While there are some things that cannot be added to compost bins, the list is actually pretty small!

Meat, fish or dairy products, can’t be added to compost bins, mostly because these will stink as they decompose and they may attract vermin. Thinking logically though, is there any situation where you would want meat or prawn heads decomposing in the open in your yard?

You also must not add seed heads from weeds and invasive plants like wandering jew, unless you want to spread the weed through your garden when you use the compost. However, you can treat the seed heads either by drowning them for a few days in water or baking them in the sun before adding them to the bin.

Dog poo and animal poo can’t be added to compost bins. This is mostly due to fear of pathogens. However, I have established a dog poo composting system using a worm tube that works really well.

Compost Bins: Composting Tips for your garden
Citrus Peel

Finally, people keep saying the worms don’t like citrus peel or onion skins. I find both these are fine to add to the compost in moderation as composting is about bacterial decomposition, not about worms digesting the food scraps.

Worm farms and compost bins cost money and take effort

You can set up a worm farm or compost bin for little to no cash outlay. All you need is an old bin or bucket or broccoli box from you local vegetable shop and a handful of worms. These can cost money as compost worms are different from your normal garden variety worm. However, most gardeners are happy to provide beginners with some worm castings from their worm farms for little or no cost!

Happy gardening 🙂

Rohanne, your Personal Gardening Expert

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