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Friday, April 22, 2011

It’s not all lost, just remember to compost

By Michael Rhydderch
It is very easy to become disillusioned with what “you” as a single entity can do about Global Warming, or as it’s widely referred to now “Climate Change” (more user-friendly). Most people in the community want to have a positive effect on keeping this Earth in a liveable condition, but with the Government talking about complicated schemes like “carbon tax” and “clean coal” it is easy to become annoyed and confused as to what you can do yourself.
There is no doubt that renewable energy usage like wind and solar power is a big way to move toward the future in our homes. This change is much needed but the reality is that these devices come at an expense. There must be something more that we can do; something that can happen right away without taking too much out of our pocket...
The answer is COMPOST!!! No matter how small the space you live in you can turn your green waste into a useful and tasty bi-product for your garden. 
What is compost and what does it generate
Compost is made from “our” organic waste. It consists mainly from food-wastes, garden refuse (including green clippings and weeds), non-treated wood clippings, coffee and tea waste and many other things.
 Most of what we throw into the bin each week could be instead become compost. Compost is created by the breakdown of organic material by microbes, and it is happening constantly all around us on the forest floor.
The most amazing thing about compost is that you can take waste and make it into something so nutrient rich your plants will be thanking you forever. This product is called humus. Humus is the altered organic material that you put in at the start, broken down with a little bit of bacteria and fungi thrown in (Thompson 2007). It is extremely nutrient rich, will add to your soil organic content hugely and your plants will thrive.
Why should we compost
All of what we put into our rubbish bins ends up at the local landfill.
Landfills are not bottomless pits and they are rapidly running out of room. The last thing anyone wants is a landfill on their doorstep, especially when that is avoidable. Even more problematic than landfills filling up though, is that they can leak. When organic waste from our household breaks down in landfill it does so anaerobically (without air). This means that it turns into an acidic compound. This acidic compound can then break down all the plastic in the landfill, creating a toxic concoction caused leachate. If a landfill is not properly layered with material to prevent this leachate from escaping it will leak out of the landfill into the waterways and potentially into our water supply. There is a bad case of this happening in Rhodes in Sydney. A big issue was how to clean up the land for residential use after so many years of careless dumping of waste, some forms much more toxic than house-hold green waste.
By composting we can reduce over half of what ‘we’ put into our bin each weak, which means, over half of what was ending up in landfill each week is now being recycled into a useful product that will help your plants, vegies and/or herbs thrive at any time of the year.
From global perspective, as waste breaks down in landfill it releases gases, the majority of which are greenhouse gases. The two major gases are carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4). These are commonly known as major climate change contributors, although naturally occurring, because we are increasing their presence in the earth at an unnatural rate.
On average, CO2 makes up 57% of gas released in landfill and methane makes up 40%. Here methane is the concern, because although not widely talked about as CO2 it is actually 27 times more damaging as a greenhouse gas than CO2 ( So, 40% of the total gases released in landfills being methane is quite significant. Therefore by composting you are actually doing a great deal for the world.
How do we compost, what do we need:
No matter how much space you have in your home you can compost. Whether you’re on a farm, in a suburban family home or an inner city apartment, and anything in between. All that will change is the type of compost design it is most appropriate for you to use.
Here is a simple list of what to put and what not to put in your compost:
Vegetable and food scraps
Fallen leaves (in layers)
Tea leaves and tea bags
Coffee grounds
Vacuum cleaner dust
Soft stems
Dead flowers
Old potting mix
Used vegetable cooking oil
Egg shells
Old newspapers (wet)
Grass cuttings in layers
Sawdust (not from treated timber)
Wood ash
Human and animal hair

Meat and dairy products
Diseased plants
Metals, plastic, glass
Animal manures (especially the droppings of cats and dogs)
Large branches
Weeds that have seeds or underground stems
Bread or cake (may attract mice)
Sawdust from treated timber
Your compost needs four important components for it to be successful. (Where successful is defined as compost that produces humus, doesn’t smell, and does not produce greenhouse gases.)
Firstly your compost needs carbon, and secondly your compost needs nitrogen. But it is the ratio of carbon to nitrogen that is the key in making it work.
The microbes in the compost need a balanced diet just like we do (Thompson 2007). The microbes need the energy which they get from the carbon and they need the nitrogen to make vital proteins. The ideal C:N ratio is 30:1.
The best way to think of it is to add 30 times as much carbon based waste to the compost as nitrogen.
When you’re thinking carbon, think brown. Dry leaves, wood clippings, hedge clippings, paper, and broken branches. It is important not to have too much carbon though; otherwise your compost will take so long g to break down you will forget about it.
When thinking nitrogen, think green, think moisture. Things like green garden clippings, most leftover food from the house and coffee grinds are rich in nitrogen. Nitrogen is very important but don’t add too much of it or all the moisture can turn your aerobic compost into anaerobic compost. This will start to turn smelly and produce greenhouse gases…..and nobody wants that.
The third thing your compost craves is air. Air is what stops greenhouse gases being produced like they are in landfills. Air helps the microbes in our compost to survive. Once again you need a balance, if there is too much air it will cause the compost to break down very slowly, probably because there will not be enough moisture. On the other hand, if there is an odour coming from your compost, you don’t have enough air. Turning your compost always helps to introduce more air and cut down on the anaerobic processes that may have started.
The fourth thing that compost needs is moisture. The tiny little microbes we need for our compost live inside the films of water. Obviously, as discussed before, if we have too much moisture in our compost this will turn it anaerobic and lead to smelly gassy compost. The aim is for a 50-60% moisture level, which is equivalent to a well wrung out sponge.
So, if you have dry compost, give it a quick spray with water and turn it or add some more nitrogenous material. On the opposite side of the coin, if your compost is too wet any paper or cardboard (not magazines) you have lying around the house will be perfect to add to the compost to dry it out.
Ideally your compost should be layered with tough carbon organic material and soft nitrogen rich material. You can put a few spadefuls of soil in to help the process of the microbes along. Even better would be putting a few spadefuls of compost that has already broken down onto the new heap.
Aim to put the compost in the sunniest part of your backyard and the bigger the better. The bigger the compost is the better the insulation will be, and the more successful your compost will be at making humus. The ideal size is around 1 cubic metre in size (Thompson 2007), which is basically the size of a bin. For the backyard compost, basically you want a paper/cardboard type layer at the bottom, followed by the kitchen wastes/green clippings. After that it can be in any order you like.
A key ingredient that I have not included as of yet are worms. You want worms in your compost. They will keep the air circulating through the compost without you having to turn it all the time. They help the compost breakdown. The few spadefuls of soil you put in will hopefully give you the worms you need to start with.
There are many different ways to construct a composting operation. It is possible to just have the compost in a heap with no cover. The material will compost, though it may take longer to get the final product and there is a higher chance of windblown seeds entering the compost. It is also less tidy. Having an open compost might work for you if you are living on a large area of land, but may not work for you if you have a small backyard. 
There are simple bins that are available, not unlike the bins we use for our garbage. These have an access at the top to put the waste in, and when you want to get to the humus underneath you lift off the whole bin.
It is also possible to go out and buy a fancy compost bin for your home, but is even easier and cheaper to make your own from things you would probably be putting out in the next council clean-up.
All you need to do is create a structure like a bin that has an easy access at the top for you to put the compost in, not too many gaps along the side (otherwise too much air will slow down the process of decomposition), and easy access for you to collect the humus at the end.
Here is a list of things that you can make compost bins from:
1.      Untreated wood-will last a few years, however if in constant contact with moist soil, it will eventually rot.
2.      Treated wood- will last longer than untreated wood, but double check what it is treated with.
3.      Chicken wire/wooden or metal poles- stick the four poles in the ground and wrap the chicken wire around it.
4.      Old tyres- these can be stacked up, providing good access and good insulation.
5.      Bricks/concrete blocks-easy and effective. If you are using untreated wood aim at putting a few bricks or blocks at the base. This will slow the decomposition of the wood.
6.      Cupboards- provide support and easy access.
These are just a few things you can make a compost heap from. I think you get the idea that you can make it from pretty much anything. This is important to know because people can be creative in what they make their compost bin from. They don’t have to go out and buy anything. It is extremely cheap to begin composting.
Composting without a Backyard?
I did mention at the beginning of this article that anyone can compost no matter what their living arrangements are. However most of the options I have talked about (bins, open heaps, and DIY from bricks, wood, concrete or even cupboards) are not suitable for someone living inside an apartment.  This high density style of living does not allow you a lot of room to take up practices like composting.
But all is not lost, you can still compost…..Just think smaller.
Any plastic/metal container around the size of your normal bin can be turned into a compost maker. You want to store it in a warm place, like under the sink, in the sun on the balcony or even in the closet. Punch holes in the sides at the bottom to give it sufficient aeration, and place it on a large tray so it doesn’t get all over the floor the (plastic lid of a large container will do the trick).
Apply the same rules as any other compost. Layer the bottom with carbon rich material, and follow with a nitrogen rich layer and so on. Add some soil (from a friend’s house or anywhere where soil is….which is everywhere). The soil is to add of worms. These wonderful worms will help breakdown the keep the compost nice and aerated. Finally turn the compost every two weeks and you will have successful compost (
This small compost may take longer than a larger compost to create the final product-humus. But it will work, and while it’s busy doing its thing you are doing your thing for the environment.
It would also be handy to have another spare bucket at your disposal so that when your compost is full and almost ready you can take the top layers of that compost and put it into the next container to help that compost along.
So what do we do now?
Now that we have all this compost, what do we do with it? The first answer is to feed it to your plants. Humus is the “wonder-drug” for you plants. It gives them everything they need for healthy living. It provides all the nutrients they will ever need, helps to keep the soil aerated and retains water for the plant to drink.
If you aren’t growing any plants or vegies/herbs….What a great reason to start! Not only will they thrive with the addition of your humus, you will be having another positive environmental impact on this world. By growing a couple of your own vegetables and herbs you are stopping yourself from buying as many from the supermarket. It is imperative that we support our local farmers, don’t get me wrong, but a lot of the produce we are buying is from overseas. Overseas food produce (which allows us to buy any vegetable, fruit and or herb at any time of the year) is damaging not only to ‘our’ farmers, but there are also has environmental costs to getting that produce here. Therefore, by saving yourself from buying as many vegetables at the supermarket and growing your own, you are saving yourself money, saving food miles, putting your compost to use and also wasting less.
How much compost you create should be more or less be relative to what you could realistically grow in your home. For example: a suburban house with a backyard has the possibility of growing plants as well as vegetables and herbs on a small scale, whereas someone living in an apartment could grow herbs and maybe some climbers on the balcony (eg. snow peas).
Splashing some cash on compost
If your DIY skills are few and far between (like mine), and you don’t feel like testing them, there are fancy compost bins you can purchase that will do the work for you. You won’t have to worry about sorting out the smell and the humus produced, and the compost will be exactly of the same quality as if you constructed your compost out of old tyres.

Here are some examples of things that are out there:                                   
NatureMill Plus- $ 299.                                NautureMill Pro- $399.                             
                                                                                                           Figure 2:
Figure 1:
Both the NatureMill Plus and the NatureMill Pro are electric composters the size of a normal bin. They will heat, mix and aerate your food scraps (though your microorganisms in the compost would normally do most of that anyway), and then deposit the ready humus into a tray at the bottom where you can collect it at your convenience (

The Bokashi Bin- $59
Figure 3:
The Bokashi Bin is even smaller. At just 20litres this can store up to 3-4 weeks food waste. You need to add microbial inoculants to help the process along. You can either buy this stuff as well, or basically just add some soil. This will still require manual handling but it is a nice and tidy, and not too expensive, way of keeping your compost hidden (

End note from Jessica:
One of the things I learnt on the Christians in Community Gardening Exposure Tour I attended in early April was that compost is like gold for gardeners. Some of the gardens we visited had communal compost heaps so people could put their scraps in and these would be broken down into humus for use on the communal plots of the garden. A good way to get rid of some organic waste people didn’t want I thought. I was wrong. In fact, most of the gardeners in the community garden didn’t use this communal compost heap because their compost was too valuable to them. Instead they had their own small composts within their plots so that their humus could go straight onto their garden plots to enrich their vegies. So I suppose it is time to stop seeing apple cores and potato peelings and waste and start seeing them as gardener’s gold!
Speaking of gardening… I know many of you are expert composters already, so if you have any magic tricks to share with those of us who are just learning, please email me and I will put them in the next issue. And if you have heard most of this before, why not pin a copy of this article to your church notice board so your whole community can get involved? Just don’t fight over the scraps from your next church lunch!
Liked this month’s article? Let me know so I can pass your encouragement on to Mike…
Thompson, Ken.  2007, Compost, Dorling Kingsley Limited, London.

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Important Lessons from the Bible

Why Jesus came:
"that the world might be saved through him"
John 3:17

Who Jesus is going to use to save the world:
"For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God."
Romans 8:19

Our role on earth:
"The LORD God put the man in the Garden of Eden to take care of it and to look after it."
Genesis 2:15

The Five Pillars of A Christian Theology of Sustainability

1. God is the creator, sustainer and redeemer of creation.

2. Covenantal Stewardship (we have a covenant with God as stewards of the earth).

3. The creation-fall-redemption paradigm (God made a good world; human failure broke the relationships between god, man and creation; Christ provides hope for all creation).

4.Bodily resurrection(we will rise with bodies, not as spirits)

5.New Creation (a new Heaven and new Earth refers to a renewal and an earthing of heaven, not starting over).

Adapted from When Enough is Enough: A Christian Framework for Environmental Sustainability, Edited by R.J. Berry, Published by Inter-Varsity Press, 2007, Nottingham p43+