It took a little embarrassment to give me the inspiration to give our compost heap some rather over due tender loving care last week. It all started when I lifted the lid of our compost bin that we use at work during a recent workshop and saw, together with everyone else, the sorry state it was in.
The entire heap seemed to have shrunk in all directions creating a space between the bin and the sides of the heap. The top of the heap where you dump new waste in, as well as the sides, had formed a crust of mostly dried out tea bags and paper towels.
Thankfully I didn’t have to dig too deeply to find some nice compost to show but it was drier than usual and it got me thinking.
Back in Australia, I’d encourage people to turn over their compost heap and add in a little water/urine mix to ensure that the outer sides wouldn’t dry out from the heat. Here in England, it just didn’t seem necessary… until this summer! We’ve had a great summer this time around with lots of warm sunshine and not a lot of rain.
Due to the heat, the moisture within the heap had started to evaporate causing the contents of the compost bin to shrink and come away from the sides. As staff put more new scraps in they often didn’t sit on the top in a nice damp mound but fell away to the sides. Instead of retaining it’s moisture, these new additions, now thinly spread, would dry quickly and form a crust rather than break down quickly. It was time to give this normally moist compost heap some overdue TLC!
Our bin has removable side panels to gain easy access to the contents, so removing 2 of these, I first scraped off the outer dry crust from the top and the sides and kept this separate. I did the same for the next layer in, revealing the good stuff underneath – beautiful earth smelling rich compost.
At this point I realised how much ready to use compost we had and that we hadn’t utilised this lovely resource to it’s full potential – isn’t that half the reason why we compost? So with just 5 minutes of promotion, bags and bags of this gold were happily carried away by staff to use on their own gardens whilst most of it went onto the garden beds in the depot.
I kept some back to restore our dried up crust though. So here’s how I revived what I had left of the remaining heap:
What I had left:
Crust layer (5% of a bin’s worth)
Second layer in – quite dry but not crisp and semi broken down (10% of a bin’s worth)
Moist somewhat broken down materials (20% of a bin’s worth)
High quality compost (20% of a bin’s worth (45% of good compost was given away)
Taking out half of the high quality compost and putting it aside, I spread out the remaining compost inside the bin, ensuring that it reached the sides of the bin and was level.
Meanwhile, I filled a tub with the crusty outer layer and poured in a bucket of algae enriched water from our water butt to soak the dry materials. Not only would the water re-hydrate it, but the algae, full of nitrogen, would be great to speed up the breakdown process. Of course, if you need to do the same, tap water will do the job, and better still, pop some urine into the mix! I wasn’t too keen on getting staff members to volunteer their personal nitrogen source to our compost heap though, so rain water was fine by me!
I then mixed all the materials together by simply layering it back into the compost bin making sure that all the different grades were evenly mixed and watered from the soaking tub. Importantly, the upper most layers of soaked crusty materials were covered with a more broken down grade of compost so that they wouldn’t simply dry out again.
From here, we just go about putting our scraps in as usual. They now fall onto a level surface that’s moist and teeming with life. You should have seen the abundant critters as I was working on the heap – I’m sure they are glad that I’ll leave them alone now!