So-called eco people and their compost

FamiliaFeliz: Hello David! Still working on the compost section in the color garden, how does it go?

David: Hi Juan, and all at FamiliaFeliz .. yes, I´m still passionate about making sure there´s good compost for the garden. Whenever I can, I keep an eye on it and put some work in maintaining its quality. The good thing about making compost is it´s not a daily, or even weekly, task – it goes slowly, according to ´natures laws´ and cycles! I was there this week after a longish winter-break and was disappointed to see how disorganised and poorly understood by visitors and volunteers to FamiliaFeliz, the compost had become over this time.

FamiliaFeliz: What is wrong with the compost?

David: My recent site visit showed two main problems (see photos):

a) a large number of dried ´sticks´ (30cm long, thinnish, old tree-branches) had been placed on top of/covering the ´live´ heap – to me it looked like someone wanted to make a bonfire!b) in amongst the fresh organics waste being added on a regular basis (mostly from the community-house: apple-peel, remnants of carrots, cabbage, lettuce, courgettes, peppers etc – all good!) there was a great deal of citrus-fruit skins, half-lemons etc mixed in (perhaps 10%) – this is not a good thing to have! Three main reasons. Firstly citrus fruits and skins take a long time to decompose and will delay the earliest use of the ´pure´ compost. Secondly, and more importantly, citrus is of course acidic, and will harm all the organisms (worms, beetles, fly-larvae etc) and micro-organisms (basically bacteria) that are essential to efficient and natural composting. Thirdly, being acidic, they will alter/acidify the pH level of the soil being added to the compost – a ´neutral´ pH is ideal as this benefits most plants and vegetables in the garden.

Readers interested in knowing more about this (and about composting more generally) can refer to these two easy-to-read and very interesting articles from the web:

FamiliaFeliz: What kind of problem is it (understanding, communication, handling)?

David: That´s an interesting question and probably the most important aspect here – what´s done is done, but we can always seek to improve and learn from mistakes.
In these two cases, of a) sticks and b) citrus there are different answers but in the end it all comes down to communication.
a) Because I started communicating around the garden about the ´problem´ as soon as I was aware of it, I quickly learned it was a wonderful local volunteer for the garden who had put the sticks on the heap! She explained it was a local/regional method to improve air-circulation within the heap. Ahh ok .. I understand now! It´s true, the composting process benefits from some air-flow, otherwise the compost will be just a wet, sticky mass that won´t attract the most helpful organisms (in the UK we add ´brown´ organics – cardboard, dry-leaves, straw etc to help with this aspect, among other benefits). After some light-hearted conversation (!) about it, as I was working with the compost at the time, I incorporated the ´sticks-method´ into the freshly turned heap (for me, it will be interesting to see how much the sticks decompose making it easier to use the compost!).
Lesson: If ´you´ add something new to a process first check/communicate with others it´s sensible and/or understandable!
b) In reality,the excess citrus additions to the compost have been a regular problem. Apparently all guests to the community house are asked not to put citrus in the organics bin! Lesson: there are two parts to communicating – ´saying´ and listening/doing!


FamiliaFeliz: Thank you for your work and for this interview.