Saturday, 12 May 2012

May working bee was all about leaves and compost

Today is the last day of International Composting Awareness week so we held a workshop to celebrate the earth's generous and non-monetary fertility, demonstrated the building of a warm lasagna (or layered) compost and the easy assemblage of a cold leafmould compost using just damp gleaned leaves donated and walked for by DCFGers.

Patrick explains why leafmould compost is an excellent soil conditioner. It is a slow cold compost which takes 9-12 months to be ready to use as a rough mulch and another year to become fine rich humus. According to fungi teacher and photographer Alison Pouliot, leaf litter creates the most biodiverse ecologies in the world. If we burn leaves we put carbon in the atmosphere, if we compost leaves we put it back in the soil where it is needed most. By not burning but composting leaves we address the anthropogenic problem of the carbon cycle – greenhouse gas emissions and soil infertility.

Jasper, one of the youngest working bee participants today, listens in and feels his way into the wonderful worlds of layered leaves. Then we all move down the back of the Albert Street garden and Patrick begins to demonstrate a warmer, faster style of composting using various nitrogenous and carbonous layers.

Four posts surrounded by chicken wire form a meter cubed frame. Damp cardboard is laid down and then some coffee grounds, then some straw, then some blood and bone, some leaves, green vegetable waste, and this layering keeps on going with as much diversity as you can get, misting each layer to establish a humid not soaked environment. Gabe (who manages permaculture property Melliodora) recommends 30:1 carbon to nitrogen ratio, but a little less is fine too.

People shredded newspaper, Tony went home and got his little shredder (which he found on the street on a hard rubbish day in Melbourne) for the more woody material, and layer by layer we built our stack over the course of an hour.

This technique was taught to Patrick by a friend, Joel, who in turn learned it WWOOFing on a Biodynamic farm in NSW. In a biodynamic compost many more materials would go into such a stack such as seaweed, willow and pine barks, fine ground eggshells, animal manures, weed and compost teas, etc., whatever is close at hand.

We had a big patch of comfrey in the garden, which is about to get munched by the first frost of the season so Gabe cut it to the ground and we hand shredded it into the mix, added newspaper and again misted the layer.

And here is our stack complete with a think layer of pea straw on top as a lid and rain absorber. In a few days there should be considerable heat in the centre of the stack, and this compost should be ready in three-four months, just in time for the spring plantings.

Patrick is going to be holding another informal compost workshop at next month's working bee, so if you missed this one head down to the Albert St garden on June 9 between 10am and 12. And any time during the month, please feel free to drop off your leaves and compost scraps.

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