Compost Success

Do you remember the story about my attempt to compost? In that post, I mentioned that I had built a ‘soil factory’ in a bin on my balcony, in the hope of producing usable compost for potted plants, all made from our own kitchen waste. The bin was plagued by flies, however, and over the winter I had doubts about whether anything good would come of it. But by mid-January I was ready to dig in and start planting some early seeds, so I investigated my compost.

First of all, here is the soil factory in all its glory. It really was never more than a tub of layered dirt, compost and leaves. You could call it underwhelming, or perhaps, if such a simple mechanism enables decomposition, you could call it rather impressive.

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But of course, the question is, did anything actually decompose? Well, an interesting test case was a scrap of fabric I threw in. Natural fibers should biodegrade in compost, and my fabric was about 95% viscose, a wood-pulp based fiber. The other 5% was spandex, a synthetic. When I finally dug it up again, after 3 or 4 months, here is what was left: a mesh of little spandex threads. The texture is like a fine nylon stocking. The viscose literally composted off and left only the spandex behind.

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As I dug around in my bin of ‘compost’, still sceptical, I did observe that it smelled pleasant: musty and rich. Although it was rather bulky compost, still full of blackened chunks, not much was identifiable.

But the proof of the compost should be in the plants that grow in it. And so:

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I’ve got carrots on one side (not ready to eat yet) and lettuce and salad greens on the other, apparently loving life. I’m actually amazed.

The planter was also a reuse/recycle project: it’s a big plastic storage bin I pilfered from the dumpster, with holes savagely punched in the bottom for drainage. I turned it into a self-irrigating planter by sinking a terracotta pot (from the thrift store) in the soil in the middle, like a mini pond, and plugging its drainage hole with a cork (also from the dumpster). I fill the pot with water, which slowly moistens the soil through the terracotta. On top of the pot I put a plate (thrift store) held down with rocks, to keep bugs from taking hold in the water reservoir. I promise not everything I own came from the dumpster…but this makeshift planter has done quite well.

Every three days or so, I pick a few salad leaves for dinner. They are really delicious: totally unblemished, sweet, and I’m presuming they are full of vitamins. The same vitamins that were in the food scraps I threw away in the autumn!

Elsewhere, I have some pots growing parsley, collard greens, and more carrots. I tried a very sophisticated watering method for my parsley: upside-down cider bottle. I was surprised how well it worked, draining water slowly over several days, and depositing the moisture below the soil surface to avoid losing so much to evaporation. I’ve been trying these irrigation methods after realising that many of my gardening failures are due to the dry climate.

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All this is to say, that despite my unpromising beginning(s) with composting, it seems to have worked in the end.

3 thoughts on “Compost Success

  1. I’ve used bokashi bins before but also didn’t have anywhere to take the stuff once it was full. I did surreptitiously empty the “compost tea” into public parks a few times, but always felt kind of bad doing it because it was smelly. I think it was probably not a bad thing for the trees and plants though? In the end I gave it up because Taipei started collecting compost with the garbage collection. In fact we now collect compost (raw foods) and pig swill (any sort of cooked food scrap) which is boiled and used as feed…

    1. I emptied my compost tea somewhere in a flower bed once, but also felt bad because of the smell. It is good for plants, so I don’t believe it did any harm, but it’s pretty pungent.
      I think city collection is the only realistic option in a lot of cases. Our set up isn’t ideal, and I soon realised that one household produces quite a lot of compost; without a big garden you couldn’t deal with it for very long ‘in house’. It’s great that you have collection service available now!

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