GREEN COLUMN: Home composting – the beauty of turning old food into new food

Phil's compost bed, showing one heap underway and a separate pile ready to use

Phil's compost bed, showing one heap underway and a separate pile ready to use

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Phil Corlett, master composter, tells Cat Turner of the Isle of Man Friends of the Earth about his mission to turn waste into food – via the simple route of home composting

Cat: Tell us how long you’ve been home composting, Phil.

Phil: I began about three years ago, after going on an excellent Master Composter course sponsored by Zero Waste Mann. It was a two-day course run by Garden Organics down in Laxey Glen Gardens, and really taught you everything you needed to know to get started - although there’s always more to learn, as I’m finding.

C: And what’s the attraction?

P: There are plenty – I get to reduce my household waste (I’m down to just one bread-bag full a week in my wheelie bin, what with composting and recycling). Also, I give it a useful purpose, and as I have a garden where I grow some of my own food, I get the pleasure of seeing that waste go full circle to create yet more produce.

C: That sounds elegantly circular – I like the idea of waste becoming a useful resource. So how does that work in practice?

P: It’s pretty easy once you’re in the groove – it’s just a case of getting some good habits ingrained, really. In my kitchen, for example, I save a good proportion of my food waste – vegetable and fruit scraps, bread scraps – but not, for example, meat (mostly because this would attract rodents, not because meat doesn’t contain useful potential nutrients).

C: Hah, yes – I learned about that on a permaculture course recently: in places where rodents can be controlled, several of the composters were actually choosing to put a chicken corpse or similar into their compost heap to give it a good boost – one of them had used a donkey! And another of the team actually decided that when she died, she wanted to be composted in her family garden. But maybe that’s illegal, better to have a tree planted on top of you instead…..Anyway, so – what else?

P: It’s really important to get the balance right, so this food waste goes out on to my compost heap in what we call a mix of ‘browns and greens’ – food waste, plant trimmings and sometimes, brown card and paper (don’t use highly printed materials, and send your white paper waste for recycling!).

C: OK, so what do you use to get it all breaking down and turning into compost?

P: It’ll do that naturally, if you’ve got the mix right, and keep it at the right moisture content. Some people use accelerants on their heaps, and human urine’s one of the best – and of course, it’s free! But if you can’t bring yourself to do that, there are commercially available and environmentally-friendly options that you can add to the heap to bring it along. Shakti Mann in Ramsey, for example, stocks a good one.

C: And what do you need to do?

P: Digging over the heap periodically is a big benefit to it – I’d do mine about every 6 months – and occasionally you can skewer holes into it to help air get in and give the microbes a breather. There are different schools of thought on this, and it’s worth reading around and trying a few different things out. A great website, recommended to me by Stephanie Gray, is homecomposting.org.uk/content/view/12/26/ and it’s well worth a look.

C: This all sounds very do-able – and at the end of it you get a super-fertile soil which you can use on your vegetable beds. Where can people find out more?

P: To celebrate Composting Week, we’re having an event at the Green Centre on Saturday, May 4, from 10am until 4pm. There’ll be Master Composters on hand to answer any questions people might have, big displays and examples of compost and composting bins to look at. Come down and have a chat, find out more – you might decide to start saving money, re-using your waste, and turning it into nutritious fresh food, vegetables and salad this year!

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