The first thing to know about composting is just how much you can put in it. Pretty much anything that was once alive can be composted, whether that’s apple cores and orange peel or newspaper and tea bags.
Ben Bush has been a landscaper and gardener for 15 years and is known to Triple R listeners as Bushy, co-host of Tuesday night’s Greening the Apocalypse. He’s based in the Macedon Ranges and also teaches permaculture, which he describes as, “A way of designing anything – a garden, house or business – so all the elements connect to all other elements in a useful way.”
As Bush explains, the only trick with compost is to make sure you’re adding the right ingredients in the right order. Those ingredients are carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and moisture.
“Carbon’s your brown things – damp cardboard, autumn leaves, straw, shredded newspaper,” he says. “Nitrogen is fresh-food scraps, lawn clippings – stuff that’s green or colourful.”
One part nitrogen to 25 parts carbon is generally agreed to be the best ratio, which means your compost needs a lot more paper or leaves than food scraps. As Bush explains, if you have compost, there’s no need to recycle newspaper or envelopes. Just tear paper up and throw it in with your kitchen waste. As for the other two ingredients – if your compost looks dry, add water. Add oxygen by turning it over every now and then.
“You don’t have to be overly active. A couple of minutes a day or even once a week will help you keep on top of a compost heap,” says Bush.
Once compost gets humming it creates heat, which helps kill off weed seeds and disease-causing organisms. If you’ve got a lid you don’t need to worry about flies, and as for rats or mice, Bush reminds us that we attract rodents just by living the way we do. “We’re the perfect co-habitant for rats and mice, he says, “whether we have compost or not.”
For those who live in a flat, a small worm farm can sit either on a balcony or somewhere indoors. It will deal with your food scraps and shredded newspaper, turning it into liquid fertiliser and worm castings which can be used on pot plants.
“You get to a point where you understand compost pretty quickly, and you recognise it for what it is – a living organism,” Bush says. “Compost mimics a forest floor. The combination of worms and microbes that get in there and eat detritus functions the same way.”