Compost in barrels – composting in barrels?

What is compost anyway? Can you throw some veggie scraps and dry leaves in a barrel and call it compost? Will appropriate composting processes occur in the revolutionary new composting device that is a barrel with some holes drilled in it?? The answers to all these questions and more below (sort of), but first I’ll update on what’s been going on around the HCC heap.

Some people might tell you that composting is easy and compost doesn’t smell. While those things are true, they come with some caveats. I like to keep this blog light and to celebrate all the good things coming out of the HCC but it’s not always sunshine and things smelling like roses. On and off this summer the HCC heap has been releasing some unpleasant odours and my poor neighbours have been bearing the brunt of this. This is a very serious issue and I need to manage it otherwise the HCC heaps will need to relocate. That’s not good as I know that the current location is very convenient to many members. And I’m very committed to the idea of dealing with these waste materials in our own local community. It works, we just need to get a few things right.

No meat and cheese please!

The main thing that results in odours in the heap is when the wrong stuff goes in. Mostly members are putting the right stuff in the buckets (although I have seen some fish, cheese and even a whole piece of steak once, these are all no no’s). But sometimes even the right stuff can go a little wrong, when a bucket is left to sit too long. Any break down of materials in the collection buckets is not composting, it’s much more likely to result in fermentation or anaerobic decomposition. If veggie scraps in particular start to break down in the buckets they release a lot of water. That water can be handy in the compost heap (saves me having to water the heap) but in the bucket it sinks to the bottom and gets pretty gross if it doesn’t have access to air. Fear not though, I will accept a bucket in any state! If the occasional bucket gets forgotten about and left to rot then I can mix its contents into the heap and the ‘baddies’ producing the smells will quickly be vanquished by the change in conditions and hopefully also overwhelmed by the ‘goodies’ (the aerobic decomposers). But if too much stinky, slimy material comes into HCC then I might need to take additional measures.

Making microplastics, these were all collected on the tarp and sent to landfill though, unlike the good stuff that will now go in these barrels

I tried out a new tactic lately with the help of some barrels that I had been meaning to experiment with anyhow. These barrels were only going to be discarded before I rescued them so it was worth a shot putting them to work! I’ve actually had them in mind for a while, they may help extend the HCC network by acting as mini composting hubs. In the meantime, I transferred the stinky part of the compost to them and then also added fresh scraps to the barrels to give the main compost heap a bit of a break. This worked insofar as the compost in the wooden bays returned to the pleasant, earthy smell that it should be (as noted at the open day last weekend). But it did mean a lot of extra (and extra heavy) handling. And while the barrels were great in terms of containing any smells generated, they also amplified them due to not enough fresh air entering the barrels. So they are definitely not a long term solution, nor as good at composting as the wooden bays that Scott built.

luckily the pitchfork fits in, just

The barrels did generate a little heat though, when filled with a combination of half-composted materials, some dry leaves and some fresh scraps. So some composting was probably occurring. In which case, can they perhaps work as effective composting mini hubs, or at least appropriate holding bays for scraps?

Introducing the ‘host a barrel scheme’! The idea is to supply a barrel (with air holes for ‘breathing’) with a layer of dry leaves in the bottom, followed by a handful or so of half-composted materials to activate. Then the barrel can have scraps added to it gradually over the course of a month from a single, or a few households. This will work best if the scraps are layered with dry leaves (I should be able to supply these too, if needed) and the whole barrel can occasionally be rolled on the ground to give it all a good mix. One thing that could be a problem is if the barrels get overfilled, mostly because then I won’t be able to lift them!

I’ve since learnt that giving the barrels a gentle kick to roll them along is much more ergonomic than pushing!

Possible benefits of the scheme include getting the scraps into a compost-like environment before they have a chance to ferment on their own, as well as being easier for collections logistics, as I should only need to collect the barrel once a month. And this would also mean that they could operate in areas outside of the current collection area, maybe even Belconnen or Gungahlin! (South side would still be a bit of a trek, sorry).

So if you’d like to host a barrel send me a quick email and I can fill you in on the full details. In the meantime I’ll be maintaining the main heap and keeping it smelling sweet. I’ll keep an eagle eye out for any meat or fish (and leave it out for the currawongs) and if there is slime in the bottom of a bucket I might have to drain it and dry the contents before adding to the heap! Oh and I’m not going to put the larger buckets out front anymore, to encourage more frequent drop offs for those who drop straight to HCC headquarters (my place).

As usual, plenty to keep me busy. As long as I can keep composting then I’m happy with that 🙂


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