Wooden 3-bay composter, small garden bed, electric trike and tools

Composting in the time of Covid-19

Well, this blog post was going to be about the next step in our ‘Small Measures’ project, funded under the Community Zero Emissions grant program from ACTSmart (ACT govt.). I WILL talk about that below but first up I’ll share my thoughts (and feelings) in regard to the current pandemic. I must admit I’ve been delaying writing this blog post because I’ve been all too absorbed by keeping an eye on the unrolling tragedy. At first the uncertainty was a little overwhelming. But now it’s clear that there is going to be widespread ramifications, including (theoretically) avoidable deaths all over the world and huge economic upheaval. The apprehension has been replaced with grim determination, some gallows humour and a willingness to uphold a sense of community, albeit through digital means.

I am still collecting kitchen scraps, and still composting. Copied below is an email that I sent to all households contributing scraps via the collection service:

COVID19 Statement – bucket collections continue for now

Hi Everyone,

I’ll start by saying that I am hugely grateful for the dozens of full buckets left out for me already this week (and we haven’t even got to the Friday collections yet!). As you can all appreciate, running the compost collective and the climate action that it embodies is what drives me, in mind, body and soul. This past week has been a tough one for me emotionally. The lack of leadership, decisive action and clear communication among other things makes me despair somewhat that our society can cope, with the pandemic but also in adapting to (and mitigating??) climate change.

And I usually keep these communications upbeat! The good news is that while general life is going to get quite hard for the next while, in a myriad of ways, I will continue the scraps bucket collections for as long as possible. It will keep me sane. I’m already getting the sense that quite a few of you are bunkering down and doing a bit more home cooking. Perhaps that is keeping you sane in all this panic and disruption?

I always have the safety of our community at the forefront of my mind. It’s true that I will be touching everyone’s buckets while handing out fresh, clean ones. If you are concerned, please give the fresh bucket a wipe over with some dish detergent, and then a good rinse (residual detergent is no good for the compost). If it is helpful to anyone, I have a good understanding of microbial safety. I’m not a medical doctor but I do have a PhD in biochemistry and microbiology. I have helped advise on sterile technique with zero gravity bioreactors on a NASA project. Contamination of surfaces with this particular virus need not induce fear if we remember that the viral particles are destroyed with a little soap and water.

The real concern with this virus is sharing airspace with others. Luckily I can work my day jobs from my home office. From this week onwards I am no longer accepting compost visitors or volunteers or hosting community events. That will bring my sphere of human contact down to just Scott (my husband, wish him luck, haha!). If either of us notice any symptoms (fever, cough) then I will suspend bucket collections.

I would ask the same of all of you, that if you notice any symptoms and suspect Covid-19 then please let me know.

I know that getting into the good habit of leaving your bucket out for collection is just another thing to hold onto in our busy minds. So I really hope that if we have any disruptions that we can all get back on the horse afterwards and keep putting that carbon back into our soils via great compost.

Thanks for reading! Actually if I still have your attention, a few more pointers to keep the buckets collections running as smoothly as possible:

  • Please put buckets out the night before your designated collection day, bucket swaps can occur anytime from 7am-7pm
  • No meat! And remember this includes fish, fish skin, chicken and chicken bones

Oh, and if anyone is worried about me picking up Covd-19 from a dirty bucket or similar, don’t worry, I wash my hands dozens of times a day already, otherwise they’d constantly smell like half-cooked compost!! BTW, it’s true that the backs of your thumbs is a neglected spot when it comes to hand cleaning. If there’s a hint of compost on my hands that’s where it will be.

Stay well everyone, and check up on everyone else,

On a more positive note, I did manage to install some small garden beds at the Mills St. composter the other week. The idea of these is to demonstrate the complete cycle in action, from edible plants from our kitchens, via the compost, back into growing more edibles/flowers and more. One of the many lovely interactions with our wider community that I’ve had down at the Mills st. composter was chatting to someone who asked if we were going to set up a garden along the entire length of the roadside area where the composter sits. That’s a great idea! And I can see why you would associate a composter with a garden, of course. But vegetating the entire strip would be quite the job. We also don’t have any access to water on the site! So these two little garden beds are enough to maintain for now. I did have the Hackett preschool class help me plant out the first bed. The plan was to have the other preschool class help with the second one but then all excursions were cancelled, so that one remains unplanted and with compost maturing in place for now.

The little garden beds not only provide some joy but also serve as a demonstration of the best way to use the compost. You may be able to see from the photos that the compost is still fairly chunky, with plenty of leaves and bits of straw etc that have not yet broken down. This is not a good planting medium, so it is placed at the bottom of the bed, where it serves to hold onto moisture and nutrients for the plants and potting mix above. The compost will continue to process underneath and after some months will be a great source of humus for the soil.

The ability of the compost to hold onto moisture is really helpful on this site with no tap! Fairly resilient edibles have been planted so far (dill, oregano and rocket) but they still need a fair bit of watering before they are established.

One of my hopes for a silver-lining out of this pandemic is that it makes people a little more community minded, that it turns more attention to important issues like climate change. How is that possible? Perhaps by the shutting down of whole towns and the temporary closing of many businesses we can be reminded of what is and isn’t essential. I’ve been doing this in my own little way for the last ten years or so. I’ve downscaled my expectations of my income, my working life, my professional titles, my lifestyle and habits and totally let go of any notion of glamour in my life. The exchange has been overwhelmingly worth it. I have gained a huge appreciation for real community and connection, a sense of agency, actual pride in my work and accomplishments and more joy in my everyday actions. There has been rejection of social norms and sacrifice of things I used to value, and worry about others impressions of me but each of these have been offset by a growing conviction that I believe in what I am doing and why.

If you feel the same way, and perhaps are a Hackett local then it would warm my heart if anyone wants to help water the little demo garden!

At the time of writing there remains uncertainty about further restrictions to our movements. I will be keeping abreast of any reccommendations and will act accordingly.

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