The Compost Conversation – with Joel Meadows

We can make the work of our friendly microbes so much easier by chopping up those big bits of scrap food we add to the pile.

Chop till you drop?

Imagine what it might be like being a helpful microbe in a compost pile, building the proteins of your body from nitrogen-rich food scraps, getting energy for your work from the carbon-rich additions in the pile and all the while swimming on the film of moisture around these materials, breathing in oxygen and breathing out carbon dioxide.

If we dump a big bucket of chunky food scraps in our compost pile (that over-ripe watermelon in one big lump, five whole mouldy oranges, and three quarters of a loaf of stale bread) we make things hard for our microbial friends.

Big lumps of dense, wet food will usually start to break down anaerobically (without oxygen) meaning we are feeding and encouraging the ‘wrong’ type of microbes in our pile that results in awful smells and greenhouse emissions into the bargain.

We can make the work of our friendly microbes so much easier by chopping up those big bits of scrap food we add to the pile.

When chopped up, these smaller pieces of nitrogen-rich food scraps, layered between generous helpings of leaves, straw and woody garden prunings, give our beneficial bacteria access to the balanced diet they need, and they will quickly start to process these into the compost we are wanting them to make.

The chopping assistance we offer our microbe friends can happen in the kitchen or the garden.

In the kitchen we can get into helpful habits, chopping up larger food scraps into smaller pieces before they go into our kitchen compost bucket or caddy. If you contribute food scraps to YIMBY*, our composters love it when you take the time to do this!

If the chopping up has not happened in the kitchen, it needs to happen as the bucket/caddy is emptied and layered into your compost pile.

Some of our YIMBY* composters have found using a machete, a big old carving knife or a spade with a sharp blade to be a very helpful tools to keep ready for breaking up larger food scraps as the compost is built and layered, carefully distributing them more evenly in each thin, nitrogen-rich layer.

It is not too much effort on our part to make our food scraps a bit finer, and our microbial friends will reward our efforts with a less smelly and faster processing compost. It is a small step that can help a big difference.

Next week have a look at our compost in our spring gardens.

– Joel Meadows works with *Yes In My Back Yard, (YIMBY), a community-scale composting initiative in Castlemaine and surrounds. Send questions or comments to