Constructing our first compost pile at the farm from pallets

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If there’s one thing that gardening produces a lot of, it’s green waste that needs composting. So while we have a small compost bin for the farm’s kitchen scraps, a proper compost pile is needed for the garden, even at this early stage.

There’s no shortage of free pallets from the local retailers in Nowra

One of the easiest ways to create something fairly solid is to assemble a compost bay from pallets. What’s nice is that pallets are a free resource (the unbranded ones that is), which can be obtained (with permission!) from the loading bays of many shops.

One of the back corners of the compost bay, screwed together and lined

The pallets are quite easy to screw together, to create a bay that’s two pallets wide, and two deep. Cover the inside of the pallets with shade cloth (or equivalent) to stop the compost falling out.

A half-size front makes it easier to add to the pile, and this is just wired on, allowing it to be easily removed when the compost needs turning (or harvesting!).

The completed compost bay, already half full with garden waste

We’re only a few months into our farm adventure, and already we have a good-sized pile that should be ready by spring or summer. Happy days.

Reworking our Aerobins

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One of our two Aerobins, alongside our worm farm
One of our two Aerobins, alongside our worm farm

At present, we have three Aerobins and one worm farm. The thing that makes the Aerobins special is the  patented lung ® or aeration core inside. This is a series of connected pieces that provides greater levels of circulation, and therefore faster decomposition.

The pieces of the Aerobin "lung", mangled through use.
The pieces of the Aerobin “lung”, mangled through use.


At least, that’s the theory. In practice, the pieces often get mangled when turning over the contents of the Aerobin, and several of my hat-like structures have been damaged beyond use. I know I’m not the only one to experience this.

A replacement aeration method, made of out 90mm pipe
A replacement aeration method, made of out 90mm pipe

Taking a suggestion from my dad, I emptied out each of the Aerobins, and removed the aeration core pieces. To replace this, I drilled holes in a length of 90mm polypipe, adding a cap on the end. (These are standard plumbing items that can be obtained from the nearest hardware or plumbing store.)

The result is a more robust source of air circulation, that should be resilient against day-to-day use. Touch wood, it should still give me the faster aerobic breakdown of compost.

The Aerobin refilled, with its new home-made air spike
The Aerobin refilled, with its new home-made air spike

We’re now up to two compost bays

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Two compost bays in action.
Two compost bays in action.

A little while back, we cleared some space behind our house, and snuck in a proper compost heap. This has been cooking down nicely, and is just about ready to spread on the guerrilla gardened food forest.

Following on the success of the first compost heap, we expanded to a two-bay system. The second bay is currently composting down a mix of chicken poo, wood shavings (from the chicken coop), and used coffee grounds.

There’s something very satisfying about turning waste products into valuable garden ingredients 🙂

This is what 3 cubic metres of compost looks like

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Now that's a big pile of compost!
Now that’s a big pile of compost!

I recently ordered a large delivery of compost, to be mainly used in the guerrilla gardened space behind our house. Much of that soil is heavily depleted, and I wanted to give our fruit trees the fastest rate of growth this year.

Why order such a big pile? For the simple reason that it cost $51/m3 to buy in bulk (plus a delivery charge), compared to $9 (or more) per 40L bag if purchased at a garden centre (or Bunnings for that matter). And a it takes a lot of 40L bags to make up a cubic metre of compost. That’s a big saving!

This time around, I purchased the compost from Australian Native Landscapes, who have a nice range of recycled products.

We ordered “RE-CARB® ESSENSE”, which is described as:

Humus rich, 100% organic compost is specifically designed to build soild carbon levels and soil microbial activity.  Apply 75mm and dig into tired, nutrient poor soils. Suitable for all plants, this compost is particulary beneficial for phosphorous sensitive Australian natives.

That matched exactly what we needed! In general, I really like the idea of using recycled coffee grounds, Sydney sewage, wood chips, etc to make compost. Much better than going into a tip…

Finally, we have a proper compost heap

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A proper compost heap, out the back
A proper compost heap, out the back

For a long time now, we’ve had two compost bins (Aerobins) and a worm farm. Which have been great, particularly after I gave them more solid foundations to sit on.

That still left me with a hankering for a proper compost heap, to supply organic material for our guerilla-gardened food forest.

Some space has finally opened up at the back, giving the me opportunity to construct the first of several compost bays (at least, that’s the plan).

Creating a square metre of compostable material wasn’t hard, between the piles of fallen leaves, weeds galore, and other green materials. I’ve turned it once already, and it’s starting to build up some heat.

Onwards to compost!

A wheelbarrow full of coffee grounds

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A wheelbarrow full of coffee.
A wheelbarrow full of coffee.

It’s not every day that you end up with a wheelbarrow full of used coffee grounds, but I’m looking forward to making it a regular occurance at Lewisham House.

A little while back, a new cafe opened up just down the road, The Pig & Pastry. Other than their passion for great food, they also have a real interest in environmental issues. This includes some lovely raised garden beds set up in their backyard, for vegetables and herbs.

A week ago I approached them with a strange question: “what do you do with your used coffee grounds?”. Nothing as it turns out!

Coffee grounds are much loved in the permaculture community, as a source of free fertiliser for the garden. Apparently they deter (or hopefully kill?) slugs and snails, and the grounds are a particular favourite of citrus trees.

Online there are a number of long conversations about the relative merit of coffee grounds, including whether they’re too acid, and their effect on chickens. The general consensus is that when they break down, they become more neutral, and they don’t appear to be too toxic for chickens.

So I’ve left several plastic buckets down at the cafe, and I’ll drop down every week with a wheelbarrow to pick up the grounds. This saves them rubbish fees, and keeps my compost bins happy. A win all round!

Built (not) to last

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Stripped down to its simplest form, this worm farm should now last
Stripped down to its simplest form, this worm farm should now last!

As a novice gardener, it’s hard to think and design for the long term. Things going into the garden need to last not just for months, or even years, but perhaps decades. Our consumer society also tends towards fancy solutions that aren’t robust.

Our worm farm is a perfect example. I’ve had it for years, and it was a lovely solution. It sat on my balcony, resting on four legs. Sliding doors gave access to the vermicast, and there was a tap to draw off the worm juice.

It wasn’t to last.

  • The tap was the first thing to go, when it clogged up and stopped working.
  • When shifting the worm farm on the balcony, one of the plastic legs broke off.
  • Then when moving it to our new house, I discovered that the bolts holding the sides together had rusted into a mass of iron.

When we got it to the house, I abandoned the three remaining legs, and sat it on a row of bricks. But over time, the whole thing sank into the ground, at an angle, so the lid didn’t go on properly.

So with my new-found renovation skills, I made a small concrete pad for it, as shown above. The base, with its broken tap, was finally discarded.

The result: four sides and a lid, sitting on concrete. This will last!

It’s a lesson that’s hard to learn, and it highlights why we should always listen to our grandparents when it comes to gardening. They’ve seen and done it all, and have long since settled on solutions that work for decades…