The Gardeners Perfect Project

garden party

Have you ever wished for a project which relied on the human tendency to get carried away with enthusiasm at the start but then rapidly lose interest? A project which takes a small bit of work to set up put pays huge dividends? A project which saves you money week-to-week, but then has an additional large saving at the end? Then I have the perfect project for you – start a compost bin (and there you were beginning to worry that I was about to pitch you a sub-prime loan investments with guaranteed rates of return).

Now bear with me, I know compost bins don’t sound glamorous but if you are going to look after your garden over a long period of time they are a real necessity – they provide a place to ditch all the green cut-offs and mowed grass, all your organic house hold waste (both of which mean you don’t need to add these to your domestic waste bins which saves money week to week) and after about 2 years (the length of time in which you will have lost interest and then returned to it) it provides  nutrient-rich compost which you no longer need to buy at e8 a 50l bag. Plus it has the added bonus of being good to the environment.

Now there are a few myths about compost bins I would like to dispel from the start:

  • 1. Compost bins smell – they don’t. If you use the right mix of ingredients there is no noticeable odour
  • 2. Compost bins attract rats – wrong again. Rats don’t eat vegetation and as there is no meat waste in these compost bins there is nothing to attract any type of creature.
  • 3. Compost bins are big and ugly – not the way I do them!

To start you need to decide how much commitment you are going to give this bin. Early on I decided very little, so little in fact that I didn’t bother to build it (which you can do very easily with some 4x4s or some old pallets) instead I went down to B&Q during a sale and picked one up. I choose a basic plastic model that was little more than 4 sides and a lid that set me back about e40-e50. (The actual one I choose is no longer available – but this is very similar except circular I chose plastic over timber because the timber one was about e200).

You can get complicated two-bay or three-bay models which allows the different bays to be at different stages of readiness, and there is advice about accelerants and turning with a pitch fork – but to be honest, as a novice this all sounded a bit too much like hard work so I thought I’d master one-bay, let nature take its course and move up from there.

Next step is to pick a good spot in your garden. To work compost bins have to sit on soil – they rely on worms coming up through the ground to eat the rotting waste (lovely image). Once you have chosen a spot, it is a huge amount of work to move it (I say this from experience) so don’t rush and choose wisely – preferably a place that is not in the direct line of sight from a window, or right beside a seating area, but easy to reach from the back door (you will be making frequent trips with rubbish).

Next step, make pretty! Ok, so this step is not required but it is preferable if you can get the bin to blend into the scenery of the garden to stop it being an eye sore. Pop it under an arch with some hanging baskets, plant a few little trees or bushes around it (these can also be a good litmus test on how nutrient rich your compost is – if they flourish it is strong, but if they wilt there is something wrong), or like everything else that comes into my house – paint it! I did ours a colourful yellow on red with ‘Cathy Loves John’ on one side, and ‘John Loves Icecream’ on the other side.

Next step start filling it. I started ours off with the cuttings of the mowed grass and some soil from plant pots that I was empting and some tree leaves I raked up – a good mix to encourage the little wormies.

There is a very elaborate science around the composition of good compost. Some compost makers are like 5 star chefs – they use only the best ingredients, follow a strict process and could sell the stuff to the highest bidder. My compost is more like something you would make in Home Eco class – the ingredients were whatever you could find in the house that morning, the process is something you follow as often as you can remember the guidelines while chatting to mates, and the result is something you could only share with family and close friends.  There are experts that will roll their eyes at the rules below, but this is what I do, and it works ok for me.

  • Rule One: You need a mix. It can’t be all green cuttings, or all leaves, or all household waste – you need a mix to keep the pH balanced. Add layers of soil if possible, so pots that you are empting at the end of the growing season, any beds that you are clearing. This helps to speed up the rotting process.
  • Rule Two: Most but not all household waste can go in. As a general rule – no meat cooked or raw, no table scraps with sauces left on them (I scrape everything into the sink, give it a rinse, what’s left goes in the compost), no dog waste or cat litter. Apart from that everything else that will rot can be fired in – ripped up cardboard, paper, hair, etc. If in doubt I always chuck it in – the very worst thing that happens is that it does not rot and you pick it out of your compost in two years’ time and throw it in the recycling bin then – no problem.
  • Controversial Rule Three: Weeds. I throw them in because I am lazy. To some people this would be a death sentence for your compost because these particularly strong plants can survive almost anything and will poison your compost, spreading their seeds wherever you use it. I see their point, but to be honest, something rotting for two years would want to be very strong to survive, and there are weeds in my garden anyway, an extra few won’t hurt it. I might be more sensitive to avoiding adding weeds if I were using the compost in an area that had very few weeds, and I never use this when germinating seeds, but I have used my compost in pots and noticed no weeds growing there, so I think it’s alright to chuck them in.

That’s it – project completed. Continue to fill the bin for the next two years, building it in to your household routine if possible. I bought a small bin for my kitchen that people usually use for bathrooms, because you don’t want this waste building up in your home, and when we wash the dishes the last thing to be done is to bring the little compost bin out to the big compost bin and give the little bin a rinse with water (but no detergents) to keep clean. Once the habit is established, like smoking, it will be hard to quit.

Then comes payday – some early summer or late spring day when you are doing a spot of planting, you go over to your compost bin, open the little door and there is some lovely free rich compost. That is unfortunately quite compacted. And will probably take a shovel to dig out, which is probably too big for the little door, so you end up losing your temper tipping the whole compost bin back a bit to make room for the shovelling, which then takes three grown adults to but back in place. But after that, the feeling is sweet.

compost bin

Profit/Loss of the Project

Initial Input (€ 50)
e50 for 600l compost bin
Costs (€ 50)
Savings over 2 years
Brown Bin Collection € 234
 – €4.50 per collection bi-weekly for two years
Compost Purchasing Not taking place € 32
 – Average two bags per season @ €8 per 50l
Savings € 266
Value of Compost Created € 600
An average of all multi-purpose composts available shows that compost is roughly €1 per litre, and we have the potential to make 600l
Potential Profits € 816

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