‘To Compost Or Not To Compost’

Compost Girl

‘Deck the Bin with Loads of Compost’

savouring-jackfruitIt’s that time of year when a lot of our best food is thrown in the bin. [A staggering 20% of food is thrown out annually.]  Thousands of dollars in nutrient wealth is lost by humanity and the environment.

The best use of left-over food is to eat it next day (hence the term ‘giving someone the cold shoulder’). The second best use is to make it into something different (meat-loaf, curries, lasagne etc). Third best use is to preserve it (freeze it, pickle it etc).  The next best use is to feed happy domestic natural recyclers chickens, worms or soldier-fly farms]. But if the food is off, the question of finding the best composting technique arises.

Healthy Compost – Good For Everyone

earth_repair_kitWho cares about the state of our soils? Most soils in urban areas are compacted, depleted, polluted and lifeless dust. Recreation areas, streets and water ways can be rich in heavy metals and pollutants. Healthy soil means healthier living for everyone.

There’s no doubt that compost is the best tool for healthy soil. It holds moisture, gives nutrients, and brings dead materials to life, it can break down many types of pollutants and correct acidity.

One cup of compost can eventually renew a whole garden.  It demonstrates the paradox of life – it can replicate itself. But very slowing, especially if you tread on it, take food or ‘weeds’ or grass clippings away or limit it’s food source (leaf litter, food scraps etc). Compost is one of those rare resource that we can’t have too much of.

Compost is also a fabulous way to reduce the amount of waste going to landfill.  When food scraps are sent to landfill, they are covered up and this causes anaerobic decomposition. “Eventually this releases methane, a greenhouse gas that is 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide”. A similar process can occur in neglected compost bins in the home.

Why the hot debate? Let’s dump the tragic stinky compost image and brush up on this life-enriching practice.

Better Compost Techniques

umbrella-fungi-North-America-badgerset-farmIn the forest, the composting system works slow and steady. On the farm, nutrients are being shipped off to market and need to be replaced quickly. In urban gardens and garbage bins, the compost is often sweating, choked by layers of random debris including deadly plastic.

In the forest, the fruits are eaten by birds, bats or other wildlife. Their manure feeds the forest plants and fungi.  A permaculture food forest that is supplying healthy food for a community needs to be managed so there is enough food for people as well as the forest and the wildlife.

In a Permaculture food forest, we aim to:

  1. cockatoo dropping a macadamia nut
    cockatoo dropping a macadamia nut

    grow fruit that is less likely to attract pests and disease. We can invest in hardy varieties by not giving the weak varieties special treatment. Mark Shephard uses this breed-them-tough attitude at New Forest Farm.  This doesn’t mean we have to abandon rare varieties, quite the opposite. We can try rare fruits and may stumble across one that suits our bio-region well and tastes great. We need to allow for losses due to experimentation in the permaculture plans.

  2. avoid composting methods that feed pests, rodents and disease. In Australia there is an indigenous pest that is spreading rapidly with climate change. The Aussie fruit maggots destroys fruit as it ripens. It has now spread south into the traditional agricultural fruit-belt of the nation. There are hundreds of food plants that do not get fruit fly – invest in these. Try something different for lunch.

Good Thermal Composting

Thermal composting kills weed seeds, has bacteria that break down many oils and synthetic chemicals including anti-worming medicines that may be found in horse manure. Hot compost hosts natural bacteria to break down the material into accessible nutrients. We need to monitor the compost temperature well to check that it is ready. If we use it when it is still too hot it will not only cook your plants it will rob them of nutrients. The plants can go yellow and look sickly. [You can perk them up with some liquid manure or worm-farm waste]. Essentially, try to keep your compost in piles while they are hot. Let the pile get burning hot and wait until it cools down before putting applying it around fruit trees.

Double The Value Of Your Compost!

Recycled Tarpauline Gardening
Healthy Gardening without chemicals

Let’s apply the Permaculture principle of multiple uses for each element in the design.  We know the compost pile can get really hot so, we can use this heat to kill a weedy patch. Hot compost can even provide some hot water. If you don’t want any of the rich nutrients to escape you can put your hot compost pile onto a recycled tarpaulin, then when it has cooled off, remove the tarp and plant into the rich soil below.

The easiest ways to compost without worry are to use a worm-farm, soldier-fly farm or sealed drum that you can rotate.

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Permaculture Community Garden Design

have a giving spirit

Permaculture Design For Community Garden by A. Sampson-KellyBuilding Blocks of Permaculture

There are two basic goals in a permaculture site plan: Use natural energies to increase our productivity and make the key features serve multiple functions. A permaculture design for a community garden would address some key steps to build resilience and long term success of the community garden:

  1.  Choose a site with a good position. Check there is a gentle slope.  A slope that greets the morning sun can provide lots of growing time. If there is too much sun, shade plants will help to reduce the glare.
  2. Ensure the entry has good visibility. Make signs and gates that look welcoming.
  3. Plan and implement good water filtration and re-use.
  4. Include strategically placed perennial food plants for windbreaks, privacy screens and shade in hot summer months.  A typical western community garden has a lot of annual plants. Aim to include carbon-sequestering perennials. Perennials need less maintenance. These food plants are good structural plants and last for several years and sometimes decades. The space will mature and be enhanced as it ages.
  5. Native animals and insects would be encouraged to help with pest control and increase biodiversity. Position some big trees on the far corners of the sun-less side of the site. These trees will trap condensation. They will also provide tinder for cooking, mulch for the garden, sticks for small trellises or plant ti-pis, a shady corner for nursery plants and habitat for wildlife.
  6. Encourage participants to learn to cook and eat what grows easily rather than force the landscape and climate to grow what they are in the habit of eating.  The notion of re-educating our palette can be very helpful for us to cope with climate uncertainty.

Strengthening Community Heart

Include spaces to enhance the social unity in your community garden.
Create spaces to:

  • meet andHello there! exchange ideas (this can also be a stage) Northey Street City Farm has a small outdoor stage under a mature tree.  For decades this space has served as a great space to hangout day and night.
  • share tools and enjoy harvests together
  • Entertain one another and have fun. In our recent design here for a Permaculture community garden we have made the whole site in the shape of an amphitheater. This demonstrates the true creative spirit of permaculture – to serve many functions!

Stacking The Action

A multi-functional community space like this can run events throughout the seasons and at different times of the day. This is the stacking principle taught by Bill Mollison. When we stack different plants together we utilise the vertical space and when we put things into the space at different times of the day or year, we are utilising the 4th dimension – time.

 

 

 

Get Cracking On An Egg

What good is in an egg?

Are eggs good for us and for the planet? egg n sproutsThere is a lot of debate about this and there is evidence to show that even some medical practitioners are confused about the nutritional value of eggs.

Eggs are a nutritious food. They contain 11 different vitamins and minerals in good amounts…They are also one of the few food sources of vitamin D, a nutrient many of us lack – putting ourselves at increased risk of conditions ranging from brittle bones to cancers.”

Eggs  keep you fuller for longer. This helps us go to work with a contented tummy. Go to work on an egg was an advertising slogan used by the United Kingdom’s Egg Marketing Board during the 1950s as part of more than £12 million it spent on advertising. Lets put the advertising  aside and have a look inside the modern egg.

Don’t hens produce methane?

Most land-dwelling animals, including us humans (dare we say?), produce some methaneOver 60% of total CH4 emissions come from human-related activities. [1] old_chook_n_chicks
Most people blame the cows. But are chickens contributors too?

Cows don’t have teeth to break down their food.  Cows have hardened gums, they rip at their food, drink a lot of water and then ferment the grasses in their guts. They produce ferment in their gut to increase the nutritional value of their very fibrous food. They have 4 stomach chambers to be really sure that the ferments create nutrition for them before the food is wasted.  Cows burp a lot of methane. 

Cows are vegetarian whereas chickens are omnivores. Like cows, hens don’t have teeth either but they peck tiny, almost-readily digestible amounts of food every time. The hen has a stomach like a dinosaur – she eats a bit of grit and this helps grind up the food. Hens need less water per volume of dry-food than cows, so they have less ferment.  Hens love meat in their diet as easy protein and they love to be part of a rich web of life (bugs, ants, worms, beetles and more).

Poultry are not fussy ‘foodies’

Hens will eat food-waste, garden pests chicken reap Permaculture visionsand the less palatable proteins [yucky stuff].   Hens (if trained from early life) will eat most garden weeds, food scraps, snails, insects, small snakes and moths. Sadly, they will eat small frogs, worms and beneficial insects, so we need to fence them out of areas where you will be nurturing wildlife.

Permaculture Principle: ‘Integrate Not Segregate’

cartoon duck 003
ducks and chickens like to forage

Hens want to be integrated. Their natural habitat is not a hot shed with wire fencing. Through good design and management we can reduce our own work-load (chickens will clear and eat the weeds, distribute their fertiliser and focus where ever we drop a little food for them). Of course there is a delicate balance between protection and freedom. Protecting your chickens from dogs, hawks/eagles and foxes needs to be balanced against allowing them self-determination especially in severe weather events such as wild-fire, floods or high wind.  Through intelligent design, we can provide choices for the chickens. We can offer them several protective day-shelters, water sources and safe night-time housing.  Chickens are woodland creatures, they love to hide in dense scrub, eat berries as well as insects and make baths out of dry dusty soil at the base of large trees.

Not all eggs are the same.  eggsBut even the battery-laid fresh egg is still good protein. Not all hen lifestyles are the same.  In a permaculture design, the hen is a valuable tractor, pest controller, live entertainment an incubator and companion.

The hen in a permaculture design serves a lot more functions beyond egg-laying. When birds are not stressed by over-population, enjoy a healthy diet and feel secure, they can lay for years. Some birds have been known to lay eggs after decades.

Here is a way to integrate chickens into a complex web-of-life and suits a small garden.

chicken-weeds-worms-tower

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Worm Power Tin Towers

Our of our graduates Robyn Crosland developed a system she calls her ‘Tin Towers’. She has 3 old cooking oil tins stacked neatly on top of one another. each has holes in the base except the bottom on.  They all have the top cut out.  The top tin grows well nourished herbs and annuals, the next tin down is the worm farm and the next one down is liquid manure made from weeds and the bottom one has a tap.  It is all elevated to the tap can be accessed and the fertiliser that comes out is put back into the the top garden.

Robyn Crosland made her TIN TOWERS out of recycled restaurant cooking oil tins. The top pot is sitting in a worm farm, which is on top of a tin with liquid manure in it and there is a tap so you can take the fertile waters back up to water the plant on top. This is a very healthy crop of basil for Autumn! The closed loop solves the problem of taking nutrients to the plants from the worm farm. We think its a great DIY worm farm. See our fence made of towers.

worm fram tin towers