Pam Lazos wrote recently, here, on the joys of compost which I can echo. It made me, once again, recognise a parental lesson I received from a young age.
My parents, specifically my mother recycled, repurposed and upcycled well before these activities had trendy titles. It was that wartime ‘make do an mend’ mentality. It had its downsides. Pretty much bugger all got thrown away. The loft was so full at one point that my father wistfully speculated on whether, removed of this load, might the house not spring from its foundations and make a bid for freedom.
We all benefited from her commitment to being able to fix and/or create answers to problems. She even did it with food with her ‘ifits’. An ‘ifit’ is a meal made from leftovers which would not normally be associated with each other, often combined with pasta or rice. When asked what it might be she would say ‘I don’t know but if it works it’ll be fine’. Hence Ifit. We were full, we never had food poisoning and I’ve had an eclectic sense of taste ever since.
Her passion for a ‘no waste’ policy extended to the by products from her kitchen especially things like peelings. We ‘composted’ most by-products which couldn’t be combined to make a soup or stock. My father would build a compost bin every year from any old odds and sods of wood which would be filled with biodegradable materials (when did we learn the word ‘biodegradable, I wonder? Up to that point it was ‘will they rot’? The point being there was no point putting resilient weeds like dandelions or buttercup or bindweed onto the compost because they wouldn’t rot). Dad called the end-product – the delicious loamy fertiliser – guff and spread it around his vegetables and Mum’s precious plants. It took a season to make a binful, a lesson in patience and perseverance but as a something for nothing joy there were few to beat it.
The Textiliste and I bought our first house and garden in 1985. Mum inspected the derelict and weed strewn plot and declared herself jealous. Where I saw sweat and hard work she saw opportunity and experimentation. She knew best. We both loved changing it and one of the things which she encouraged me to make was a small compost bin.
Later we moved to a bigger garden and grew both plants and children there. Their exponentially expanding diets – directed healthily by the Textiliste – generated substantial vegetable waste alongside the prunings of lawn and herbaceous borders.
Last year, two of my three compost bins collapsed from the inevitable rot of the panels and posts – this was why Dad’s needed rebuilding annually. We decided we work reorganise our working area and, where once we had three bins, we now have four. During my Dog walks I would mark the position of skips and builders at work. If I saw someone I’d ask if they minded me half-inching* the redundant pallets on which their materials were delivered. They were delighted, saved from the hassles of disposal.
With an outlay of fifteen pounds on some metal and wooden posts, a friend and I made four bins which we lined with left over pond liner (why was it left over… oh heck, if you need to know, click here) so we can have the perfect progression of vegetable waste to luscious loamy compost. At any time, the optimum position is thus
Bin one is being filled with whatever we want to rot down – here you can see pruned leaves and kitchen waste. You’ll see it is partially covered; I don’t want the materials to get too wet; there’s a lot of moisture in the material anyway.
Bin two is being dug out and used where needed around the garden.
Bin three will either be like bin two, depending on the time of year (right now we’ve put down a mountain of compost, in the autumn we have little need of such feeding) or it will be empty, as here and used for temporary storage.
Bin four will be shut down and doing its stuff. We cover and seal it with old carpet which keeps the rain off and the heat in. A newly closed bin, if opened can burn you from the natural thermal properties of rot.
Dad taught me about this process: take your time, prepare the ground and all sorts of benefits will flow.
Mind you he could never explain how the worms could find the bin quite so quickly. I’ve even seen a concrete floored bin were the worms have appeared. Nature might be marvellous but it’s also rather weird.
Ah life; as a teenager I wondered where the noses went; now it’s marvelling at where the worms come from.
*pinching – rhyming slang