Our garden requires a LOT of compost to enrich the heavy clay soil in our area. Before I came to the farm, the system of making compost was fairly random with all the kitchen and garden scraps and grass cuttings simply thrown onto a large pile and left to decompose. There probably was some good stuff right at the bottom, but it was impossible to get to and there wasn’t enough of it. More problematic, was the fact that anything green, including weeds was thrown into the mix, which naturally was a disaster as there wasn’t enough heat to destroy the seeds. As a result, the garden still has a big weed problem.
Last summer I put a system in place to ensure that we recycle our garden, kitchen and office waste more efficiently. We built four stone enclosures and with the help of lots of information on the internet, I showed my gardener, Tseliso how to create a well-balanced compost pile without weeds. The piles get watered and turned weekly and the ready compost is sifted and stored in bags. Making our own compost saves a lot of money and it helps us with waste management. This summer Tseliso made almost a tonne of compost! That sounds like a lot, but we could use double that with all the new beds in the vegetable garden and elsewhere. The sand stone enclosures have worked really well, but if we had to build them again we would make the passage between them narrower (one meter instead of two) to make it easier to turn the piles and move the waste around. We would also have six bins instead of four!
The pace of compost-making slows down dramatically in winter, not only because there’s less garden waste, but also because it’s so cold! With this in mind we’ve started a little experiment to see if making the compost in an old chest freezer helps to insulate it. A friend of mine suggested this to me a while ago when I was complaining about all the old chest freezers standing around in our store rooms. He sent me this link showing how it’s done. I had a particularly bad moment one day when three of them packed up at the same time filled with meat and various things that had been put there years ago by other people and forgotten. It was really gross cleaning everything out and I’m determined not to get into that situation again! I now only use two of the freezers and label everything clearly in fabric shopping bags that are easy to pull out when needed. Quentin was reluctant to give me one of the freezers to use for compost, but the other day another one packed up for good and I grabbed the opportunity!
After finding a good place for it we drilled holes in the bottom for drainage. Yes, I was drilling too, but I also had to take the photos! We removed the freezer element and then started layering – sticks at the bottom, followed by garden waste, paper, and horse manure freshly supplied by Sonny and Beauty. There was plenty of fresh garden waste from the recently mowed lawn and all the summer vegetables that have been cleared away. Tseliso finished it all off with a sprinkling of water.
And voilà, the final product! We placed a stone on the lid to keep it tightly closed and will check up on progress in a week. Hopefully it will cook nicely through winter and along with the piles that are already in progress we’ll have enough compost by the end of winter for our expanded spring veggie garden.