Monday, 16 July 2007


After reading the lead story in a recent edition of my favourite newspaper (no, not the Derry Journal), I got a bee in my bonnet about how we, as a society, deal with our waste. As I’m sure you are aware, most landfill sites are now filling up and it is becoming increasingly difficult to find new, suitable sites. Up to 30% of our domestic rubbish is organic kitchen and garden waste, which could be composted. When our old potato peelings and grass clippings are dumped in landfill sites they rot down and create vast amounts of methane gas, which causes long-term environmental problems. So I thought I would like to do my bit for the community and perhaps set up a scheme where I could supply and demonstrate the use of compost bins. There is nothing like compost for healthy gardens and plants! However, Donegal County Council is one step ahead of me. It already provides good quality bins at a heavily subsidised price of around ten pounds, although at the moment you have to travel to Lifford to get one. They are organising local “sale days which will include demonstrations on how to compost waste from both the kitchen and garden. Compost bins will be on sale as well as worm bins (including worms) and soil activators! The Council sale days will be advertised in all the local papers. The first one is in Stranorlar on Thursday 26th of July at 4 pm, then Letterkenny on the 27th at 4pm. The sale will be hitting Inishowen when they come to the community school in Carndonagh on the 28th July at 1pm.

Most kitchen or garden waste will rot down eventually, even if it just put in a pile at the bottom of the garden. The art of good composting is to speed up the process, this is where the containers come in, with the use of an activator to heat the compost, you can have a soil like compost ready for the garden in as little as six weeks in summer!

What to compost
It is possible to compost most organic matter, but in practice you may need to be more selective, as our weather isn’t always favourable for getting hot compost bins.

Do compost
Kitchen waste, such as vegetable peelings, eggshells and tea leaves.
Twiggy prunings but chop or shred them first.
Grass clippings (not too many at any one time)
Dead and discarded plants.
Most weeds.except for perennials such as docks.
Small quantities of shredded newspaper.
Wood ash.

Don’t compost
Inorganic material, such as plastic, glass or metal.
Diseased plant material.
Cooked meat or fish, which can attract vermin.
Thorny prunings, which are unpleasant to handle.
Woody and evergreen prunings, unless shredded first, as they rot slowly.
Roots of perennial weeds, which can survive.
Vacuum cleaner dust; it can contain harmful chemicals.
Glossy and coloured paper, which may contain chemicals.

Common problems
Weeds appear after applying compost A heap needs to reach at least 55o C (131oF) to kill off any seeds within it. Only the largest and best managed are ever likely to reach this temperature, so it is probably wiser to leave out weeds that have set seed.

There are large quantities of unrotted matter The most likely reason is that you haven’t included enough sappy material. If you need more, try a greengrocer for vegetable waste, or use a nitrogen- rich activator such as dried blood. Turning the heap should help.

The heap becomes smelly and offensive This is probably because it is too wet or too much soft waste has been added without mixing it up with fibrous material. Keep the bin covered. Adding cooked food can also cause nasty smells.

Wormeries and leaf bins
Even if you have no garden, you can still compost kitchen refuse using a wormery. This relies on brandling worms to digest the waste. The bin can be kept inside or on a patio and organic debris added in small quantities as it arises. A rich liquid is drawn off which makes an excellent houseplant feed, leaving a small amount of fine compost. If you have a lot of trees in your garden and collect a large amount of dead leaves in autumn, then it is best to compost these separately as they rot down more slowly. Round them up in a wire mesh cage, chicken wire is ideal, water in dry weather and two years later you will have leaf mould, suitable for conditioning soil and for enriching potting composts.


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