One Good Turn Deserves Another


 A couple of years ago we purchased and built (OK, Mike built) a run of three compost bins. The theory went that I spent half my life generating heaps of green waste from multifarious garden tasks and I really should turn it into something I could use. The only minuscule fly in the ointment was that I’d never had any luck producing compost. Zero. Nada. Zilch. A horrible smelly soggy mass or a pile of dried twigs. But never anything in between.

It called for some proper research. For your benefit but mostly mine I wrote up the results (here). Quite overwhelming really, the things you can put in a compost bin. And by no means limited to weeds. An impressive list of 163 different items included nail clippings, stale wine (as if), dust bunnies from under the bed. Even dead starfish. Really? Well yes, so it appears. Assuming you have a ready supply obviously. Indeed so many things could find their way into the heap I began to wonder whether three bins would be enough. Especially as it does need a good few months for it all to break down, once the bins are full. Fortunately the system we bought into is modular and it took little more than the suggestion of an extra gin and tonic night to turn three bins into four.



February 2018


So, two and a bit years further on, how did it all go?

Well, brilliantly as it turned out. It is important to find the right balance of stuff to put in. I never did walk all the way to the end of the garden to deposit a single nail clipping. Fingernails and gardeners don’t tend to sit happily together in any event. But it does seem that my average mix of brown wood prunings with piles of green weeds, enhanced by the occasional bag load of cuttings from He Who Mows, ticks all the right boxes because it all decomposed beautifully. But there’s one thing we did do differently this time and it’s important.

It’s the turning of the compost that is the game changer.

Fresh garden waste goes into the right hand bin and, assuming all goes to plan, wonderful crumbly compost comes out of the far left. Roughly twice a year we empty the left hand bin of its stash of black gold and then everything else in the system is forked out and shifted one bin to the left, ultimately leaving the right hand bin free to refill again. Turning it like this aerates the compost, avoiding compaction. The microbes which break down the waste need air to breathe. If they are allowed to suffocate decomposition slows down.



As the material rots down it decreases in volume. Turning the first bin is easy enough but it gets harder the further to the right you go. Worth it though. And it’s a great total body workout! A Fitbit exercise day is guaranteed even if, like me, you do it in stages. One bin a day..

I’ve had probably two cubic metres of gorgeous crumbly compost over the last couple of years which I’ve used to mulch the terraced beds. It’s never enough, I’d need to get into industrial levels of production for that. But it’s free, after the initial cost of the bins. And a wonderful way to recycle all that organic ‘waste’ back into the soil. The annoying thing is having to dump potentially compostable material in a far away corner of the woods because the bins are full. So. What’s a girl to do?



May 2020. Spot the difference.

Four becomes five.


It took more gin and tonic this time because, as with so many things in our brave new world, the price of compost bins has gone up. Nor was the delivery straightforward. It took over a month from placing the order. And then the driver decided that a locked gate wasn’t a barrier intended for him and instead looked for a way around (or over) it. Nor did he bother to ring the bell. Unaware of his presence I raced round the corner of the house at my normal on-a-critical-gardening-mission operational speed and almost crashed straight into him. So much for social distancing. I believe even in extremis I managed to retain the crucial two metre separation but nevertheless I was livid.



We used sheets of aluminium for the lids on the previous four bins but with no means to get another at the moment Mike has made a wooden lid out of a pallet. Actually I think I prefer it. And it certainly won’t blow off in the wind..



That’s it now.

If we want six bins we’ll have to burn some logs.