We process a LOT of compost at the MUC Garden, which is great! It reduces waste, and is key to the health of our garden beds. We have three compost bins as well as a worm farm, and they all receive scraps not only from our garden, but from individuals and many staff kitchens around campus. We are really grateful that people take the time to drop off their scraps, and are thrilled that we can contribute to waste reduction on campus. All of this does require a bit of management though, and this post will cover how we make it happen!
The first consideration with composting in a busy urban location like the university is making sure the area looks good, isn't smelly and doesn't attract pests. Until recently, our compost area was temporarily constructed from pallets and lattice, which worked fine but wasn't super aesthetically pleasing. We are therefore very happy that the university recently constructed a new fence for us, seen below! It looks great and hides the unsightly (to most) compost bins - tick and tick!
To reduce smell and the likelihood of attracting pests, we only use enclosed compost bins. We try and make sure nothing too smelly ends up in the bins, which we'll get into in a minute! We also have to be very diligent about ensuring that enough carbon rich materials are added to the compost to balance out the large amounts of smelly nitrogen rich materials (i.e. the veggies and fruits). We do this by adding leaves, cardboard and more recently, coffee chaff! See our earlier post for info on how we source our coffee chaff and how awesomely sustainable it is.
To ensure our system operates effectively and doesn't smell, it's important that the right things go in the right bins! Signage is key here. We have signs informing people of what is suitable to compost and what is not, e.g. meat is no good as it smells! The worm farm has its own set of instructions, to make sure our little friends don't get smothered in the wrong foods. We also have signs on either side of each compost bin, one for 'fill me' and one for 'resting' (see the illustration below by our creative talent Leila). Once a bin is full, we simply rotate the whole thing around so that the 'resting' sign is facing outwards. Works a treat!
Finally, there's no way around it: we have to work at it! As you may have noticed from our previous blogs, every working bee involves turning the compost, either with an aerator or a shovel. The volunteers also periodically drop in during the week to give the compost a quick turn and check if we need to switch to a new bin.
Composting is such a rewarding thing to do, and we're glad we can produce this nutrient rich product right in the middle of our campus.
It was lovely to have some new (and old) faces join us for the first working bee of the semester.
Although there isn't much planting, harvesting or weeding to do right now (everything is growing so slowly at the moment!) we managed to find lots to do in the garden: another lick of "Spinach Green" paint on the shed, putting some stepping stones in, taking cuttings of vietnamese mint, marjoram and thyme, planting jerusalem artichoke peelings (they regrow extremely easily), tidying up the herb spiral, feeding the worms and planting some leek seedlings.
And, as always, we turned the compost. But this time there was a change in the air: we've got a new source of carbon to balance out the nitrogen in all the kitchen scraps. We have three bulging bags of sweet-smelling coffee chaff, delivered completely for free by Allpress Espresso, who hate chucking this waste product from coffee roasting in the bin. We love using coffee chaff, because it is a local, organic waste product which breaks down quickly and smells dreamy (kind of like toffee or slightly over-cooked biscuits). As an added bonus, it is free and we are trying to work out a way to return the bags to Allpress so that it is also packaging-free. We think this is a much better carbon source than shrink-wrapped sugar cane mulch which has been trucked in from Queensland. If you'd like some coffee chaff for your compost at home, you can come and grab some of ours or go straight to Allpress. Or, why not ask your local coffee roaster? You shouldn't have trouble finding one - they are pretty much on every corner in Melbourne!
What a productive working bee we had today! It was great to see some new faces and hear some brilliant new ideas and opinions. Fuelled with beer, cider and snacks, we gave our natives bed some TLC and installed a fancy new worm farm. We planted some new Chocolate and Bulbine Lilies, beautiful natives that have edible tubers, as well as a new Midgen Berry (one of the most delicious native berries!). We also transplanted some native violets to make a border of them around the edge of the bed. Our new worm farm looks great; it's bigger and will make harvesting worm juice and castings for the garden a lot easier. We hope everyone now feels recharged for the rest of exams. Good luck!
Read all about it: MUC Garden and Burnley Student Association share updates on their activities.