Tuesday, 8 May 2012

My very first relationship with.... COMPOST!

As we're slap bang in the middle of Compost Awareness Week (6-12 May), I thought I'd delve into the archives of my memory cells and rustle up a few notes on my long standing relationship with compost.

For me, composting has been a normal part of life since my childhood in the Seventies. I have early memories of accompanying my grandmother on the trek from her kitchen to the compost heap, which was located in the chicken run.

Well it felt like a trek.  I was just five years old, and it was a large garden.

My sister and I spent a lot of time at my grandparents' home and as we grew up, one of our little jobs was to take the kitchen waste to the compost heap, dodging the fearsome cockerel when we got there.

We soon realised the value of composting, not least because it was the perfect place to hide the evidence of our sneaky pea snaffling, as we entertained ourselves with many rounds of pea-pod Top Trumps.

And every so often, we would see our uncle standing in the middle of the heap, turning it and shovelling heaps of earth from the bottom, into a wheelbarrow, which he'd then dig into the kitchen garden.

Soil from all those peelings! It seemed like magic.

It is clear that my early introduction to composting as an everyday part of life stayed with me.  I may have left the Welsh village where I grew up and spent the next decade hopping from student digs and shared houses, before settling down with my husband, but the minute we bought our first house in 1998, one of the first changes I made to the garden was to install a compost bin - one of those black plastic ones, which we bought through our local council.

When we relocated to our new home in Bury St Edmunds five years later, I discovered that St Edmundsbury Borough Council collected vegetable peelings & garden waste as part of its recycling service. This was 2003 and when registering for our brand spanking new wheelie bins, I suddenly got all defiant.  As I rejected the opportunity of adding a brown wheelie bin to our collection I recall making my stance clear...

"There's no way the council's getting their hands on my compost!" were the words that fell from my mouth.

I can't help laughing at my over-protection position on my grass clippings and apple cores.  It wasn't as though I was even being particularly frugal.  We simply had an average sized garden that could easily accommodate a compost bin, and it just made more sense to compost at home and bung the finished contents under the odd shrub, instead of a bin lorry carting our peelings around the county to be managed elsewhere.

Nine years on and we now have a collection of three compost bins dotted discreetly around the garden, as well as a wormery, which is great for the odd scraps of cooked waste.  Well, I say discreet.  The plastic ones are tucked away, but the wooden beehive compost bin (pictured above) has become a very attractive feature of the garden and is located just outside the kitchen.

Many people feel discouraged from home composting because of the risk of vermin such as rats. Although this is a possibility in some areas, we've never had a problem.  The worst we've ever experienced was a mouse that decided to take residence, but was solved with a humane mousetrap.  I also had a squeamy squirmish scare with maggots on one occasion, as a result of something going in that shouldn't have, but some boiled water, covering the contents with newspaper and avoiding that compost bin for a week soon resolved the issue and it has never happened again.

As far as creating the 'right mix' is concerned, I'm no particular expert.  I just bung in all our scraps and remember to add odd pieces of cardboard, paper and garden clippings now and again.  If the results are sloppier than our efforts, I don't see it as a problem as the compost just gets buried into the existing earth anyway, enhancing it with all its extra nutrients.

Even though our garden is not very large, I still prefer our self-sufficient approach to managing our kitchen scraps. From a sustainability perspective, it seems far more sensible.  However, we have since compromised and added the council's composting service for our garden waste, which is plentiful in the Spring and throughout the Summer.

Although not quite as exciting as my own early memories of composting, I hope my children - currently aged 7 and 10 - will develop the same responsibility and awareness when they are older.  At least they already understand the process and a quick test this evening demonstrated that they know the kind of stuff that goes in the compost bin, even if they don't have that duty very often.

But they'd better look out because Compost Awareness Week has just inspired me to add compost duties to their list of jobs.

Cue evil laughter.



Well it's about time they made more of an effort.

And I know it won't just be rotten veg we'll be discussing. I'm quite sure they will soon tell me that I'm a 'Rotten Mother' for making them do it.

I just hope that when they are my age they will come to thank me, and are just as grateful as I am to my late grandmother.

If you've never composted before and would like to find out more, visit www.homecomposting.org.uk and www.recyclenow.com/home_composting.


Dahlia ChanTang said...

I'd never heard of Compost Awareness week... In any case, it seems fitting that I've just ordered a wormery a few days ago.

Karin said...

When I was growing up all our fruit and vegetable waste went on the compost heap. My mum would leave them in a bowl on the step outside the kitchen and my dad would take them to the compost heap. I wasn't involved, but I still made sure we had a compost heap for our kitchen waste, too.

We've progressed from black bins to wooden bins, which we think makes better compost - but then that could also have something to do with all the chicken manure that goes in.

Unknown said...

Glad you have a compost awareness week!
Amazing your compost history! :)
And now... do you have three compost bin??? OMG! I still have one and it is less than half full... But it's surely because we use the waste collection service of our municipality for other scraps. We can't have a wormery, still the compost bin is hardly accepted by the family residents (Paolo's aunt and cousins), though we never had problems except little fruit flies...
Anyway the wooden compost bin is beautiful!!! Our next one will be like yours, perhaps people will accept it better! :)

Almost Mrs Average said...

LOL Dahlia, that is so perfect. Great timing. :)

Hi Karin, I am sure that being introduced to composting when you're young helps. I'm now curious to see if there is a correlation. I really think schools have an increasing important role to play, to help embed it into our culture. I must confess too, I've now got all envious. I miss our chicken manure .... as well as the chickens. :)

Hi Danda, the good news is that apparently it's an international compost awareness week... so Italy can join in after all. I got my beehive compost bin from a UK company called Wiggly Wigglers and I really do prefer it to the others (was more expensive mind). :)

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