By Kelly Gillespie
Head Gardener, Fawkner Food Bowls
Imagine if instead of sending your plastic packaging off to landfill or for recycling, you could tip it into a tub in the backyard, leave it for a month or two and have fuel come out. How amazing would that be?
We’re not quite there yet with plastic, but doing this with kitchen scraps is one of the best ways to increase the health of your garden and provide food for your plants.
When organic material decays and breaks down into smaller units, nutrients are released. By creating the correct conditions in a composting system, we can help this process to happen to our advantage.
Bacteria in soil
There are a range of organisms – from tiny bacteria all the way up to small mammals and birds – that can help to carry out the process, and we can encourage and help them by feeding them what they like to eat, giving them the right amount of water, and allowing them to be as cool, warm, or even hot as they like.
Starting with the smallest, bacteria living in our soils and in compost piles are incredibly efficient at breaking down organic material.
They do particularly well with recently deceased plant material (kitchen and garden scraps) and in a hot composting system, can reduce recognisable fruit and vegetables into a pile of fresh, dark, ready to use compost in a matter of weeks.
Water and oxygen
To do this they need a balance of green (high in nitrogen) and brown (high in carbon) material, water and oxygen. Without water, the bacteria shut down and stop activity, and without oxygen, anaerobic bacteria take over producing methane and its accompanying smell.
When your food scraps go to landfill, they are compressed, eliminating oxygen and allowing these bacteria to take over creating and releasing methane into the atmosphere.
Up the food chain, another superstar in the field of composting is the worm. Commercially produced composting worms (Tiger Worms) breed and eat quickly. A healthy worm farm can easily process litres of scraps per week.
Worms add a level of decomposition through chewing material before it passes through their gut where bacteria (again!) break down the material further.
The resultant worm castings (a polite word for poo) and liquid run-off from the worm farm (worm wee/tea) are both excellent fertilisers, and also act as a soil conditioner by inoculating the soil with good bacteria.
These are just two examples of ways that we can utilise resources that we all have in our homes, reduce the amount of waste material and gaseous waste we’re generating, and care for our plants and gardens sustainably while getting in touch with the ecosystems immediately surrounding us.
If you’re interested in learning more about composting at home, or would like to learn about our composting systems at Fawkner Food Bowls, come to our Introduction to Composting workshop on the 11th of May.