By Annette Chrysostomou
Composting can reduce your garbage by up to 50 per cent and also transforms rotting organic waste into valuable improved soil. So, why doesn’t everybody do it?
One common perception is that compost smells badly, but this can be avoided if you use the right ingredients. Another is that it is a lot of work, which it isn’t. And then of course, many people simply don’t know how it’s done.
Which is why Xenia Loizidou and Michalis Loizides, the two directors of environmental research and project centre AKTI, recently demonstrated how to put your kitchen and garden waste to good use.
All you need is a bucket to collect your kitchen waste, a composter – which can be a big box – a fork to turn the compost and preferably a shredder.
“You can use nearly all kitchen material, but because of the smell we don’t recommend the use of meat,” they said. It is also better not to use fish and to avoid oil and dairy products though theoretically, all organic substances are suitable for recycling.
Most of the garden waste should be leaves. They disintegrate quickly and are a natural source of carbon, though leaves from Eucalyptus trees which may be toxic and pine trees should be avoided.
It is recommended to leave cut grass on the ground for at least a day before using. Once it turns yellow, it can be added in small quantities.
If you want fast results the ratio of ingredients rich in carbon (dry leaves, paper, saw dust) and rich in nitrogen (fruit and vegetables, grass, dung) should be three to one. It is usually not necessary to add water, as fruits and vegetables already contain enough. However, in Cyprus it may be required to add a little from time to time during the summer months.
To start with, the composter should be placed in a shady area near the kitchen.
You need to put two or three shovels of compost or earth into the empty container. Then you can add the waste from your kitchen and/or garden every day.
The whole process of producing compost takes three months to one year.
It is ready when the organic matter turns into humus which has a dark brown colour and smells of the ground after it has rained.
Humus improves the root structure of all plants in the garden and also allows them to breath. One can sprinkle it over the grass and mix it with soil to use for indoor plants and plants in pots.
The amount of time it will take and your success rate depends much on the type of composter you use. Yes, it can just be a big box. For a family of four, one that can hold 300 litres is sufficient. However, the microbes which do the composting for you inside are not necessarily happy with any covered box. Like other organisms, they like a steady temperature; and temperature fluctuates a lot in Cyprus. As well, you need to be able to turn over the contents of your box. When it fills up, this requires quite a lot of strength.
The AKTI founders have designed a composter which makes things easier. It is a drum on a stand which can be turned using a handle and is made of thick wood.
This has several advantages. The thick wood keeps the temperature inside relatively stable. Also, turning over the material is easier. It is not yet commercially available in Cyprus, but AKTI is planning to encourage carpenters from the school for the deaf to produce it, so look out for it in future.
All garden waste is useful for composting but big branches need to be shredded. In Cyprus shredders are available from around €200.
“If you have a few neighbours it is easy to share the cost and hand the shredder around,” Loizidou said.
Apart from feeding the shredded branches to the composter, you can always use them as a protective layer in flower beds and around trees, a procedure called mulching.
Mulching is one of the most beneficial procedures in organic gardening which can be undertaken throughout the year. It is the best way to use branches and saves you taking the bulky material to a local green point.
Mulch helps keep weeds at bay if thickly applied; it keeps the soil cooler on very hot days; adds nutrients to your soil and conserves moisture by reducing rapid drying.