This is the fourth part of EcoSSIStem's Compost Series, based on our project design and process.
Once our compost bins were built, they needed to be regularly maintained. In September, we finished our first successful batch of compost, which we used to pot some plants around the school and classrooms. Right now, we're starting our brand new second batch!
Since the organic matter compresses greatly in volume, it’s practical to refill the bins every few days, and we decided to assign members to carry out this task every Monday and Thursday. It was hard work, but totally worth it. Now that I’ve tried it myself, I could really appreciate the dedication of last year’s members.
Go Turn Team!
t h e steps :
1) Collect the composting material.
In our case, we asked at the lunch staff at our school cafeteria to sort out the food waste and leave the compostable materials outside in bins for us. Then we cart the bins to the location of our compost bins.
2) Check the condition of last batch of compost and record any observations needed.
We like to keep a record of the temperature and humidity of our compost, so we keep a hygrometer in a little pouch hanging from the roof shelter.
Each time before we pour in fresh organic matter, we record the condition of each bin on our app-in-development, CONR (a.k.a. Compost Observational Numerical Record‒ and why yes, Celine did a fantastic job in making the app and christening it with an awesome name). If applicable, we note qualitative changes as well, like excessive ants or gnats, or maybe even maggots which are caused by adding dairy or meat. Leaving such records helps you identify problems with your compost and helps keep track of your progress so far!
3) Add an appropriate ratio of brown and green material.
We use dry leaves and cut grass, courtesy of our gardeners, and sometimes some dirt for our brown material. When adding the brown, you should take into account the volume, since dry leaves, for example, have lots of air fluffed in between, so a ratio of about 4:1 brown to green might be required. On the other hand, the dry cut grass is much more compressed, so you might only need a ratio of about 2:1. After a few tries, though, you’ll probably start to get a feel for about how many handfuls you need to add to not let the decomposing slow down, but also not let it get too smelly‒ it’s like an instinct that develops over time.
After optionally evening out the added material with a stick, we usually get a team of two to turn the bins from either side. We generally turn it about a dozen times, give or take, and open the lid again to make sure it’s been well-mixed. And having sticks handy nearby is a pretty good idea because we’ve had to occasionally fish some plastic gloves that mysteriously fell in out of the waste, too.
When all is said and done, we return the cart and the empty bins to right outside the cafeteria and leave the bins to decompose in peace until we dump in the next batch of material.
Reflection/Next step: We hope this’ll help get your own composting project rolling, or at least that you got some useful info out of it that may inspire you in the future to take up the initiative. Oh, and for a first-timer, face masks might be good idea ‒ it sure gets smelly if something goes wrong. Most importantly: don’t forget to have fun!
Jee In Kim is the Media Coordinator of the EcoSSIStem Club at Saigon South International School.