OK, So Maybe TWO More Bins will Fix it

August 11, 2022

When it comes to composting, I’ve found, there are a number of camps: those who make a rough bin out of pallets, those who swear by the compost daleks, and those who prefer the high-tech compost tumbler approach. And then there’s our garden, in which we are now resorting to all three in a bid to somehow be able to compost plant material faster than the garden can produce it.*

In the past couple of months, the tumbler has not been keeping up with the mowing and the daleks have not been keeping up with the weeding, after a bit too much neglect in spring meant the weeds have been even more rampant than usual (perhaps its compost Tardises we need). The resulting emergency piles of vegetation left lying around the garden were beginning to take on an air of permanence so the other half has cracked and repurposed some pallets and doors in time-honoured fashion to add more capacity to compost corner:

Composting space in the garden with compost bins, tumbler and two new heaps made with pallets and old doors

Any illusion we might have had that this might be a permanent solution was dispelled by a morning’s work (although to be fair that was mostly moving the giant haystack of weeded material off the back patio into its new home). Hopefully it will bed down a bit before the next bout of weeding so we don’t have to start the second bay prematurely. But I’m ruling nothing out.

Composting bays with one already filled.

* Visiting last month, my cousin estimated that if we turned over two-thirds of the garden to compost management, the resulting loss of weed-growing capacity would mean we might just about break even.

Stand By

June 17, 2021

It’s hard to believe but I have finally found myself out the other side of the enormous pile of work I’ve been buried under for the last three months, and I’ve actually arranged with myself to take the next few weeks off (so apologies now if anyone was hoping for a fine summer …).

There’s now basically a three month backlog of gardening to get through, which I made a start on today. Step one was going to be turning all the compost in the compost daleks and emptying one so that I can fill them again but this was scuppered when I lifted up the bin that was ready to be emptied and discovered a tiny pink baby mouse snuggled up in what had been a cosy den up until that point. I’m generally fairly ruthless about mice but this one was looked too helpless and naked to survive eviction, so I hastily (but carefully) put the bin back down over the compost and had to make do with turning the others. I wonder how long it takes baby mice to grow up?

Vegetable patch in progress

Anyway, there has been gardening done and there will be time to do more, and hopefully there will a few more interesting things to blog about to boot. Starting with a bit of a bike-related adventure…

Watch this space.

Rotting to the Core

June 4, 2019

Yesterday saw me at home, waiting for some work to arrive, knowing it was going to be a ridiculously short deadline when it did arrive, unable to go anywhere because it could arrive at any moment but with no actual work (work work, that is) to do until it came …

It’s in situations like this that a garden comes into its own, because once you’ve started there’s no end to the pottering that can be done in one. It wasn’t particularly convincing gardening weather, being June which means our summer is effectively over and our ‘green winter’* has begun. Still the rain held off and – in between nipping in to check my emails – I managed to plant out the rest of the Swiss chard and two kinds of kale, tie up my peas, water the greenhouse, cut back the grass around the raised beds and (if you squint a bit and choose your angles carefully) generally make the garden look as if I knew what I was doing.

Vegetable garden looking tidy

Even the peas (well, one pea plant) were behaving themselves – I believe this may be the first time in my pea-growing history that one has actually attached itself to the support provided.

pea tendril attached to cane

Come lunchtime, with the work still not in evidence, I had to get a bit creative. Time to empty the compost tumbler and start a new batch. We’ve been turning the current batch for a few weeks and while it never really heated up that much, it has turned into something resembling compost in less than two months. It’s certainly turned into something that resembles compost more closely than what was in either of the two working daleks – one of which has been sitting there since *looks at the pieces of newspaper miraculously preserved in perfectly readable condition at the bottom* mid February without noticeably composting anything at all but which had acquired a working wasps’ nest (sorry mama wasp).

compost in tumbler

Compost tumbler day one – watch this space. Literally, as I’m quite capable of making this into a timelapse sequence and inflicting it on you

By the time the other half came home from work I had the tumbler filled with one and half daleks’ worth of compostable material and we then spent a happy half hour feeding a pile of brassica stalks into the shredder to add to the mix. We’ve got a way to go before we’ve fine-tuned our composting operations – without worms (and wasps) to do some of the work as you get with a traditional heap, getting everything finely chopped up and getting the balance of carbon and nitrogen (and moisture) right is a bit more crucial, but at least I could head back in to check my emails one last time, confident that the tumbler is doing better than our previous arrangements (even if not *how much!?* better) … only to discover that the work I’d been waiting for had actually arrived three hours ago.

* The months of June, July and August when the weather’s not that much nicer than actual winter, but people look at you funny if you wear your winter clothes.

Seven Fat Years

June 1, 2018

wheelbarrow full of compost

OK, so I promised you a post about compost and you were all keen so now I’ve actually got to write one. Naturally, this is the point where I realise that I have nothing really very interesting to say about compost except that it turns out to be much harder than it used to be when I had access to our old landlord’s vast composting infrastructure which consisted of seven huge bays, each of which took a year’s worth of garden waste, were topped off with well-rotted cow manure, covered, and left to mature for seven years until they came round again on the calendar. I can confirm that this method makes lovely compost, but is not much use when you only have a small plastic dalek army and don’t have the luxury of seven years to wait for them to get to work because you have raised beds to fill…

So the fantasy version of compost making with these dalek bins is that you put a nicely judged mixture of weeks, lawn clippings, kitchen scraps and additional *ahem* accelerator* in at the top, and then after some time you open the little hatch and scoop lovely crumbly compost out of the bottom:

compost and compost bin

Unfortunately because (a) the little hatch is useless and (b) the contents of the dalek are actually likely to be a mix of lovely crumbly compost, some minging slimy stuff you don’t really want to think about, weeds which are emphatically not dead yet, and clumps of vegetation which has managed to sit in the compost apparently unscathed for months, the reality is more like this:

overturned compost bin

The first picture is of compost that I had previously emptied out of a dalek (and then put back in without all the stuff I should have shredded first) a couple of months ago. The second picture is the dalek that we had been filling undisturbed for almost a year. So it seems that the secret to compost seems to be to periodically dump it out, turn it, and stick it back in the dalek until you need it. Think of it as an excellent upper-body workout. Or just buy another four daleks and wait.

I still have vague plans to set up a proper composting corner, which at least would make turning the compost easier even if we don’t have room for seven bays. But given my slow gardening progress, it’s likely that by the time that happens I will actually be in possession of seven compost daleks. And an enviably well-defined upper body … or a very bad back.

* If you want to see a discussion escalate quickly over something you thought was innocuous, and are bored about asking cyclist about helmets, it turns out that peeing on the compost heap is a gender issue, and not just because of the practicalities. Who knew?


October 13, 2017

What’s that lumbering towards the wall?

dalek invasion

We appear to be having a dalek invasion.

compost daleks

Oh, okay, we have ordered a couple of new compost bins, hopefully more Tardis-like than Dalek-like, given that they are already dwarfed by the pile-o’-stuff waiting to go into them.

When we moved here, we (I) had big plans for a corner where we could do extensive and Proper Composting, and while those plans have been maturing* the pile of grass clippings, strimmings, weeds and other material which will ultimately feed this proper compost has steadily grown as the other half gets on with actual gardening as opposed to dreaming, talking and blogging about it. The original Dalek is full of kitchen and garden waste and although it never actually fills up, nor has it yet turned the bottom layer into compost. Meanwhile, I suspect that towards the bottom of the pile-o’-stuff some good organic matter might lurk but first I need somewhere to put the top of the pile.

Clearly, while a Proper Composting Solution is still ultimately the goal, we were in increasing need of a temporary solution. I’m always reluctant to bring new plastic into the world, but it turns out compost Daleks are generally made of recycled plastic, and besides there was a buy-one get-one-half-price offer on the go.

And obviously, just because we’ve tripled our emergency composting capacity, I won’t now relax and wait until Dalek No. 3 is bulging at the seams before starting work in the Proper Composting Solution. Of course not. What do you take me for?

* they have developed sliding-block-puzzle tendencies in the process, as first we need to check the septic tank is all in good order, then move the pile of woodchips that were left in the wrong place, dig out the very nice soil underneath the woodchips where the old compost heap clearly was and put it to good use, get hold of materials for composting bays, actually build the composting bays, get hold of some more manure, which involves sourcing a trailer that nobody minds us putting horse poo into, build a trellis to hide the composting bays, find something nice to grow on the trellis …

As Winter Approaches…

November 28, 2016

… the bones of the garden are beginning to emerge.

shed in summer

This was the old chicken shed in summer

shed before clearing

As the nettles died back, we’ve been able to hack our way through and start to remove the fencing around the old enclosure

shed after
The interior of the shed makes me feel a bit sad for the hens that used to live here, although it’s all good stuff for the fertility of the soil, ultimately.

shed interior

“You can be in charge of getting that spade out and cleaning it up”, says the other half generously

First, though, we have to work out where to put the compost bins and then we have to fill them. Oh, and find out exactly where our septic tank is and make sure it’s still working …

compost bins

I don’t think that little dalek is going to cut it

That may be a subject for a whole other post


Unintended Consequences

May 20, 2009

I was chatting with someone the other day about the joy of compost (I know, I know) and specifically the smug happiness you get when turning all your kitchen waste into something useful instead of landfill.

‘I’m not really all that into gardening,’ he said. ‘But I really do like putting stuff into the compost. In fact, I’ve started choosing my food on the basis of how much compostable waste it’s going to generate …’