Tag Archives: compost

All Schools Need Compost Systems

I’m in the process of applying for a grant so that my son’s high school will have the funds to build a compost system at their school. While it was always my plan to get one into the school it was actually my son who initiated the discussion. It was a proud parent moment to see him frown and think about throwing away the garden waste we are currently removing and announce we need a compost. But it’s not just this school that needs a compost. ALL schools (pre, primary and high) need a compost. A nice big compost. Here’s a few reasons why:

  • Reduce green house gas emissions – throwing organic waste into the general rubbish stream results in higher green house gas emissions. This is because when organic matter decomposes in landfill it decomposes anaerobically (without air) which releases methane gas. Methane is a potent green house gas and landfill is a significant contributor to its release into the environment. Composting allows this waste to decompose with air (aerobically) which reduces the amount of methane entering our atmosphere.
  • Turn Waste into Resource – the compost produced can be used in school grounds or passed on to people within the school community. Traditionally made compost is one of the best ways to get nutrients into soil and making it yourself reduces the need to buy it wrapped in plastic. Also soil that is rich in organic matter holds more water and traps carbon.
  • Community Composting is Cool – Not everyone likes composting at home so community composting is a good way to capture those that want to compost but don’t want to do it in their own back yard.
  • Compost is a Teaching Tool – The compost area is a great place to talk about a whole range of subjects from the science of global warming to the maths of temperature and cubic measurement to literacy of making ‘how to’ signs. I like to use the compost as a vehicle for anti littering discussions (no plastic does not break down in a compost – how did it get in there? what should we do with rubbish when we see it on the ground, even if it isn’t ours?), not to mention the inspection of insects and other creepy crawlies we find in there.
  • Compost is a way to connect with Local Business – school composts are a great way to get to know your local businesses, particularly the ones that produce organic waste. There’s nothing like a bucket or two of coffee grounds to heat up a compost and most cafes are more than happy to separate out their waste grounds for collection.

If your school doesn’t have a compost and you think it might like one, start the conversation. Or ask me how to get one going. There are also plenty of grants around to help you get started, like this one!

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In praise of the black soldier fly larvae

It’s compost turning time again but as the weather cools down I’m missing the black soldier fly (BSF) larvae. As the weather starts to warm again turning the compost becomes a hunt for the first BSF of the season.  If you’ve never seen one (and I apologise for the lack of pictures but I’ve never photographed one) they are quite large, long, thin flies, very different to your average blow fly. Google it. It’s good to know your friends in the garden and the soldier fly is one of them.

There’s lots of good reasons to get excited about seeing BSFs or their larvae.  First it’s a sign that the temperatures are warming up as BSF like days when it’s well over 20 degrees.  Second, chickens, quails and fish love to eat BSF larvae so I love gathering them for a feed (to chickens in particular who seem to like to discuss the flavour of what they are eating with their fellow feathered friends) knowing you are providing a protein packed sustainable treat.  Third, they are excellent composters and if you set up your breeding/composting container right they will self harvest.  This is because BSF larvae will crawl upwards when they are ready to change into a fly.  If you give them the right kind of ramp they will drop conveniently self harvest into a well placed bucket for you.  Convinced yet?

Maybe not.  I can understand that breeding larvae may not be to everyone’s taste even if they are quite well behaved and odourless.  But if you keep fish or feathered friends have a think about these creatures as a way to feed your pets.  There are some that advocate eating the larvae, I’m not sure I’d go that far, but encouraging them to help compost our food waste and getting a protein packed animal feed product out of it seems like a win win to me.

If you’d like to read more, here’s a blog dedicated to the BSF.

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Is bad compost still better than no compost?

Here’s the question – is it better to compost badly than not to compost at all?

This question has been on my mind lately. I haven’t had the time to get out to my own compost as much as I’d like and I’ve lost a valued helper at one of the schools so that compost isn’t getting the attention it used to get. So am I thinking I’m doing a good thing with my piles of organic waste when actually I’m not? If I’m not getting out there and getting air into the compost am I doing more harm than good?

The problem is this – when you are composting aerobically (with air) everything is fine. The problem with decomposing organic waste occurs when it decomposes anaerobically (without air) as is assumed to be the case when organics go to landfill. Anaerobic compost produces methane. Great if you’ve got some kind of method to capture the methane and use it as an energy source, bad if it’s heading on out into the atmosphere. Methane is a significant contributor to green house gas emissions. That’s why people object to methane producing cows and why some people object to composting.

So how can we make sure we are doing more good than bad? If you aren’t a regular compost turner then keep your compost simple and the balance right. Here’s what I’m thinking:

  • Don’t put in dinner leftovers, any meat, fats or bread.
  • Get a compost bin that has an open base to encourage worms in there to do the aerating for you.
  • Don’t let your bin dry out. Keep it moist, this will keep all the good bacteria alive and working.
  • Cover all of your kitchen scraps with dry leaves or shredded newspaper. This will keep your compost balanced.
  • Turn it when you can.

My conclusion is that it’s still better to compost badly than not to compost at all. When organics go to landfill we have nothing except more green house gas emissions. Even if we are a little lax with our composting we still end up with a nutrient rich compost at some point. And we encourage other kinds of soil life. What do you think?

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