How to Compost Your Kitchen Waste All Year Round (Part Two)

In my previous post last week I explained how to modify a Dalek compost bin so that it can be used to make compost quickly and all year round. In my final post this week I will be revealing how to use the modified Dalek and how to get the best results from it. I am delighted to hear that allotment 201 is giving it a try.

Having filled the Dalek with soil or old compost up to the start of the insulated portion, kitchen waste materials can now be added. It is ok to include all types of fruit and veg waste including veg peelings, apple cores, banana skins, orange peel, tea bags, coffee grinds, egg shells etc. But because the bin is not rat proof, I wouldn’t put any meat, fish or cooked food in there. The other thing to avoid is paper or cardboard which can matt together forming a heavy mush which will clog up the bin and end up in a smelly mess.

The next thing to do is to prepare the waste materials. I usually wait until there is at least 2 Kg of waste before adding it to the Dalek. There are 4 things to consider – moisture, texture, nitrogen content and size. The fruit and veg waste has a very high moisture and relatively high nitrogen content so it will need to be balanced with a dryer material with a relatively high carbon content – I often use straw or hay since I can get them cheaply and they also have a hollow structure which will help trap beneficial air. Sawdust can also be used and I have even experimented with wood based cat litter (unused of course!). If you have pets such as chickens, rabbits, guinea pigs etc, then the nest clearings and droppings are excellent for this too. The veg waste is also soft and mushy so the open texture and coarse nature of the straw, hay or sawdust will help to keep the material open and allow in air. Usually a few large handfuls of the dry material are sufficient to soak up the moisture when added to a couple of Kg of waste. The kitchen waste will also need chopping up so I put it in one of those floppy builders tubs, add the dry material then use a spade to mix and chop the whole lot up in one go. A spade full of soil or old compost will help introduce beneficial composting organisms into the mixture. A light sprinkling of the QR activator solution can also be added to the tub but you can add it into the bin before adding the waste (as per the usual QR method) if you wish. I should also mention that the occasional sprinkling of lime should be added to the tub – this reduces the acidity and worms also use it to help them digest their food

The waste mixture can now be added to the Dalek making sure that it sits in a fairly even layer on the top of the material in the bin. To retain the heat put a layer or two of Hessian sacking over the compost or some straw stuffed inside an old onion sack makes an ideal duvet. Finally put the lid on the Dalek and the rainproof cover on as explained in last weeks post (part one). Adding the waste to the bin usually takes no longer than 10 minutes and is time well spent.

The first addition of material, depending on the outside air temperature, will usually take a few days to get going and heat up. Subsequent regular additions will heat up more quickly. The heat will die down after another few days so weekly additions will keep the ball rolling. At this time of year the temperature in the bin can get up to about 40C without a problem, in midsummer expect temperature up to 65C and in winter up to 30C. Of course there are many factors which will influence the temperature including thickness and type of insulation, amount of material, nitrogen content, outside temperature and weather conditions. To get more heat you can apply thicker insulation, more waste or increase the nitrogen content (the bacteria thrive on this and produce the heat through their high metabolic activity) by adding urine, nettles or manure (chicken poo is excellent!). Wind-chill and rain are worst enemies for cooling the heap down so positioning the bin in a sheltered position can be beneficial.

'The resulting compost will be like vermicompost from a worm bin'

Keep adding the waste on a regular basis and you will notice that it does not fill up - the material sinks down leaving an air gap around the edge allowing natural ventilation by convection to the compost. I think this is one of the clever things about the Dalek and my main reason for liking them.

After about 6 weeks or so, begin removing the soil or old compost from the bottom of the bin. You will probably be able to tunnel your way in which will improve ventilation to the compost. It is important to remove material from the whole of the base area if possible to avoid compaction which can lead to airless conditions. (This is the drawback of the Dalek in that they don’t have sufficient access to the compost around the full perimeter of the base) Over the next month or two, with regular additions of waste and regular removal of material from the base the finished compost will start to emerge.

Over a few months the populations of organisms will increase. In particular, brandling or tiger worms will thrive and form large writhing masses! The resulting compost will be like vermicompost from a worm bin and will be a bit sticky and jelly-like, but excellent stuff nonetheless and ideal for top dressing plants, giving them a real boost. Mice will probably find a home in the bin too, they also help by tunnelling through the compost making useful airways to aerate the compost.

Leaving the bin for a few weeks while you go on holiday is not a problem and I have often had a pleasant surprise when returning to find gorgeous dark compost! Once you start to harvest the compost you should be able to continue doing so on a regular basis.

Over the last 2.5 years, I have been developing a compost bin that has all the advantages of the modified Dalek with some further improvements including rat proofing, full access to the compost around its base and a flat pack design. Details and availability will be posted on my website ( soon.

I have thoroughly enjoyed writing my posts and answering questions/comments from readers. I do hope that I get invited again to do some more posts in the future but in the meantime please feel free to leave any questions/comments at this post or on my website and I will answer them as soon as possible.

Happy Composting!


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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Wednesday, April 21, 2010


Blogger Joanna said...

Just wondering if wood ash will do instead of lime?

April 21, 2010 at 6:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting post. I have to admit that this method sounds like a lot more work than mine -- I use a modified form of the Centre for Alternative Technology's "cool composting".

I use paper and cardboard in my bin all the time with no "mush" problems. I just tear the cardboard into smallish pieces -- maybe 4 inches square -- and scrunch up any paper added. I mix small quantities of these items with any wetter materials. I've never had any smell at all. I wouldn't want to spend money on hay or straw since cardboard is free. We water the bin every so often, adding a bit of free pee "activator" to the water.

I don't do any advance prep of materials beyond tearing up the cardboard. We keep a bucket in our kitchen and put a few bits of card at the bottom to start it off each time it's emptied. We don't chop our compostables either. Just chuck 'em in the bucket and empty it into the bin as needed.

After reading Steve Solomon's Gardening When It Counts, I started adding a layer of garden soil every so often, and have found that seems to speed up the process. The red worms in the bin also seem to like this.

My method is slower than some, but
uses only free materials and produces lots and lots of nice compost.

April 21, 2010 at 7:30 AM  
Anonymous allotments4you said...

It still all sounds very technical to me...I have way to much to get on with but maybe next year I will give this a go....I have enjoyed reading your posts as much as you have obviously enjoyed writing them....It has all been very valuable information for me to think about so Thank you.

April 21, 2010 at 10:16 AM  
Blogger yardsnacker said...

You should check out bokashi! It's super fast composting!!

April 26, 2010 at 10:11 PM  
Anonymous petrol lawnmower said...

If you didn't have any lime then what do you think you could use if anything?

August 22, 2010 at 12:31 PM  

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