Back at the end of May I was meant to be comfortably sitting down at home, watching my team on the telly in the play-offs, their biggest match for 20 years…..
But I could tell things weren’t quite right. Various sounds of complaint could be heard each time another member of the family went into the kitchen. Eventually, it was “Dad, I know the game’s important but you have to come and sort this out”. So I dragged myself away from the box…. to find the kitchen infested with fruit flies. Absolutely everywhere – in the air, on the walls, on the surfaces, in the bin and, most tellingly, in the compost box where we keep our food scraps.
My pride was hurt. Many years ago, I was one of a select number of people in the country to hold down a paid job advising householders on the best ways of making compost. But, as they say, plumbers’ taps leak. I went back to the telly to see my team lose 1-0. The poor fruit flies felt the full brunt of my disappointment that night, as I subjected the kitchen to a deep spray (it really was that bad) and clean. And it was clearly time to go back to basics and remind myself of the magical process that turns your food waste into black gold for the garden (without inconveniencing anyone).
So, here goes, with the help of some photos of our domestic arrangements at home:
We keep a large tupperware box by the sink in the kitchen. Into this goes all the veg scraps, fruit peel and tea bags. The vital lesson we’ve learnt from the fruit fly debacle is that absolutely everything that goes in the box is now wrapped up in either newspaper or kitchen towel. While this might sound excessive, it actually provides the necessary ingredients for a good compost, because all the relatively wet peelings/tea bags etc need to be balanced out by some dryer stuff (you can put in some ripped up card like cereal boxes/the insides of loo rolls too). It also has two other advantages. It helps keep the box clean (although we do run it through the washing up/dishwasher every day anyway). And crucially, it means you don’t get a face full of fruit flies every time you take the lid off a compost bin in the summer months.
Speaking of which, when the tupperware box is full it’s time to chuck the contents into one of these compost bins in the garden. Compost bins – usually available from Councils for a bit of a discount – are ideal for containing fresh scraps (just chucking scraps on an open heap can attract unwanted visitors to the garden). Compost bins should always be located on soil and dug in at least 6 inches. I don’t have them too close to the house, but close enough to the path so you can still quickly pop out in the dark or rain.
I always have at least 2 bins on the go. When the first one’s full, I start filling up the second one, and when that one’s full, it’s time to empty the first. I can do things this way as we’ve got a small garden with a bit of hedge and other trimmings, so I keep an old-fashioned heap of this garden waste next to the bins.
When it’s time to empty a bin, I pull it up and out of the ground, move the heap of garden waste to one side, shovel the contents of the now-revealed bin into the space, then chuck the garden waste back on top. The half-rotted former contents of the bin are now buried sufficiently not to attract vermin (well, I’ve never seen any while using this method).
You now have an empty compost bin knocking around which you need to get back in the ground so you can keep on composting. To do so, put it where you want it and mark around the base with a spade. Move the bin to one side and, using your mark as a guide, dig a hole at least 6 inches deep. Put the bin in the hole, backfill it with soil and tread it down so it’s secure (you need your work boots on for this bit!).
And finally, harvesting the compost. Eventually your open heap of mixed garden/compost bin material will have rotted down to an untidy black-ish jumble. (Mixing some grass cuttings into the pile in the summer months can speed things along). At this point, I place an old metal grid across a wheelbarrow. I chuck the untidy jumble on top and give it a bit of a shake. What’s left on top goes straight back on the heap. What falls through we can safely call “home compost” and normally goes on our herb beds, which gave us a plentiful supply of mint, sage, thyme, rosemary and lavender this year.
Hope that’s useful and I’d be really interested to hear anyone’s comments or tips. By the way, as yet the fruit flies have not returned!