3. Layering, Watering, and Turning the Compost Pile

Layering your Compost Materials

Yet another BH&G quote:

“The ideal way to build your compost pile is to fill your bin all at once, with a 15cm layer of one material, then a sprinkling of activator (blood and bone or poultry manure), a layer of something different, more activator and so on until you reach the top.

Water as you go to keep the material moist, but not soggy, then thatch the whole thing with a layer of straw.

Once it’s done, start a new pile.

You need about a cubic metre of material to achieve a critical mass.”

Well, we don’t have that much waste (and there’s no straw here at all, as far as I know), so I’m just adding to it as I can with whatever we have on the day.

Also, I don’t really want compost bins all over the place – not a good look in a small garden – one’s bad enough!

Unfortunately, I just lost my source of fallen leaves – the neighbours decided to prune their coeur-de-boeuf (corossol) tree, Mauritian-style – meaning they hacked at it with a machete:

Massacred treeAlong with the fallen leaves, the shade for the side bed disappeared, as did our privacy screen – from upstairs, we can see straight into their front yard, and they can see us right back – we now wave to each other a lot!

Oh well – it’ll grow back eventually!

Watering

The compost needs to be kept moist but not wet.

I’m giving it a light spray every couple of days – but may need to adjust this as the weather heats up.

Turning the Compost

Final quote:

“Turning compost mixes the ingredients, aerates the pile and speeds up the process.
For fast compost: Turn the pile every three days for two weeks, then leave the pile undisturbed for another week.

Hey presto! Compost in three weeks.
For lazy compost: Turn the pile every six weeks to three months. You’ll have compost in six months.

Don’t turn it more than suggested here, or the pile won’t rot at all.”

My Experience to Date

Initially, I was going with the lazy compost method, but I’ve decided 6 months is a bit too long to wait.

So I started turning the pile last week – the stuff at the bottom was black but very soggy, so I added more chopped-up dead banana leaves to compensate.

Turning the compostI’ve since added the chicken/horse manure blend, and mixed it through.

At one stage there were weird-looking mushrooms growing in it (not a good sign, I imagine), and it had an unpleasant rotting smell – I figured it was too wet, so added some sawdust and dry leaves, and the smell disappeared.

Another time, I think it was too dry, as a colony of red ants moved in – water got rid of them.

I still haven’t seen any worms – I’m starting to think that maybe there really aren’t any in Mauritius.

Anyway, no huge disasters so far – we’ll see what I end up with in a few weeks time.

Any and all tips are welcome!

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Shopping for Manure Mauritian-Style

We needed manure to add to the compost, so this morning we visited the Mont Choisy chicken farm, situated at the horse riding school, in the hope that they had some for sale.

Well, who would have guessed that buying manure would be such a nice experience – we had to wait for the woman in charge to come back to her office, so we took a little stroll through the grounds…

Main house

Entrance to the main house

Worker

She did smile at us afterwards – think she was just camera-shy!

Alf and a horse

You even get to pat a horse or two, and chat to the stablehands

We were sent off down a track to load the bags of manure into the car – we anticipated driving home with all the windows down, and our heads hanging out to escape the smell.

But instead we found ourselves surrounded by mounds of a well-composted horse and chicken manure mix – no smell at all.

Hills of poop!

Hills of poop!

Pre-packed bags

Pre-packed bags

Back at the shop/office, we grabbed a tray of eggs and some free-range chicken breasts, and home we went…

Lime kiln

…past an old lime kiln…

Driveway

…and through the banyan trees (I think) lining the driveway

On the way home, we stopped at our local beach for some seaweed, but there wasn’t any:

Trou aux Biches beach

A very clean Trou aux Biches beach

What a pleasant way to while away an hour – sure beats going to the hardware store!

La Ferme de Mont Choisy Opening Hours:

Mon, Tue, Wed, Fri: 8.30 – 11am and 12 – 3pm

Thu: 8.30 – 11am and 12.30 – 3pm

2. Compost Materials and Ratios

 For effective composting, you need a combination of dry and green waste.

Another direct quote from BH&G, Australia:

“There should be 25-30 times more carbon than nitrogen for it to work well.

What’s high in carbon? Woody prunings (chopped small), shredded paper, fallen leaves.

What’s high in nitrogen? Grass clippings, green plants, old flowers, manure, fruit and veggie scraps.”

Our green waste will include:

  • kitchen scraps
  • old bunches of flowers
  • fresh prunings and weeds from the garden
  • grass clippings (or, in our case, swathes of long grass)
  • seaweed to bulk out the green waste, as between the two of us, we don’t eat enough fruit and vegetables to have a lot of kitchen scraps (though with Alf being Irish, we always have a lot of potato peelings!)

And our dry waste:

  • torn newspaper
  • coffee grounds
  • dead banana leaves (but I won’t use the trunks as they’re too slimy)
  • fallen leaves from next door’s mango and Coeur de Boeuf trees
  • sawdust for extra “carbon”, if required
  • crushed eggshells (though if we don’t get worms in the compost, I don’t know whether they’ll break down, so I’m not sure yet if I will add them)

If you have access to it, animal manure (cow, chicken etc) makes an excellent addition, and speeds up the decomposition process, as will chopping everything up as small as possible.

I haven’t looked for chook (chicken) poo yet, but will start asking around – someone told me there’s an organic chicken farm in Mon Choisy, so I’ll make that my first stop (though if it’s fresh, the car might get rather stinky!).

(One thing I regret not doing back in Australia, was buying some Zoo Poo – the idea makes me laugh – spreading (well-rotted, not fresh!) elephant or giraffe poo around the garden! I love it!)

Ashes from wood fires is also good to add, but we don’t have any.

Things that DON’T go into the Compost

  • Diseased plants
  • Dog and cat poo
  • Meat, fish, dairy products
  • Fried foods and salads dressed with oil
  • Glossy magazines
  • excessive amounts of citrus peel or onions (though how much is too much?)

So, more trial and error ahead.

Hopefully, one day, I’ll actually know what I’m doing!

1. Introduction to Composting

I’ve gathered a fair bit of information, and while it’s not rocket science, it’s too boring to read all at once, so I’ll be posting it in three instalments.

And as I’ve never composted before, I’ll be learning as I go, so bear with me.

Why Compost?

We have a lot of garden waste, as well as smaller amounts of coffee grounds, kitchen scraps, and newspapers, and it seems “wasteful” to put it out for the bin men to cart away.

Also, I’m going to need a steady supply of compost for the vegetable bed.

As compost is fairly expensive to buy (which in turn, makes your home-grown veggies expensive), I’ve decided to try my hand at making my own.

Another thing that’s expensive is the compost bin, so I’m making one of those too.

I can’t see the point in spending a fortune making (let’s face it) soil.

Albeit nutritious soil.

Some people get very complicated when composting – but if that’s what you want, stop reading, because I’ve chosen the simplest route possible.

How Composting Works

This is a straight quote from the Better Homes & Gardens Australia website:

“Oxygen-breathing bacteria break down material in the compost heap and excrete nutrients such as phosphorus, potassium and nitrogen.

As the material rots, the compost pile heats up and rots away even more.

Actinomycetes (a cross between fungi and bacteria) live in cooler parts of the heap and leave a cobweb-like growth on the compost – but don’t worry, it’s healthy.

Worms also burrow away, converting rubbish into soil.

Your compost is ready when it’s black, just moist, and crumbly.”

Sounds good (and as I warned – boring!), but despite the huge amounts of digging that I’ve done over the past year, I have yet to see a single worm!

Does Mauritius even have worms?

Anyway…

Making the Bin

If you’ve got plenty of room and a lot of waste, you can make a simple compost bin out of wooden pallets and star pickets – see here for instructions.

But I don’t have either, so I’m making this one.

Basically, you cut a large hole in the base of a plastic rubbish bin:

Base removedThen you dig a hole 10-15cm deep, and a bit wider than the bin. Place the bin upside down directly on the soil, and backfill to keep it in place.

And then you start filling it with whatever material you have on hand, water it, and put the lid on to cover the hole.

The lid lets in air, but stops critters from getting in – around here, mice, rats, and shrews. Not that I ever see them – the only reason I know is that Tipsy the cat occasionally brings a dead (and mutilated) one home.

Yuk!

Alf – get rid of it please – she’s hidden it behind the couch!

I did see a tang, or tenrec (a type of hedgehog originally from Madagascar) once. They’re cute but very shy – I tried to take a photo, but it kept running away and hiding it’s head in piles of leaves.

Apparently it’s not just cute, but also delicious if you like that sort of thing.

Think we’ll just stick to steak – we’re definitely not throwing a tang on the BBQ!

Anyway, the bin’s a bit of an eyesore, so if the composting works, I’ll think up a way of disguising it.

I’ve decided that it won’t have a permanent spot in the garden – as the waste rots down, I presume the ground underneath benefits.

So I’ll move it around each time I empty it out and thereby spread the goodness around.

If, that is, I can actually turn waste into garden gold!

Ready to roll