Well, we tried. We have tried to make compost on our roof terrace by putting it in a tub and maintaining it. I tried to balance the wet with the dry, to air it regularly and to mix it all up every week or two. But we opened it yesterday after being on holidays for two weeks and the smell was quite overwhelming!
Sadly, we have had to do away with the compost heap. I know it was ambitious to try and do this on a roof terrace but I still think it was worth trying to see if it would work. I guess we are sort of back to square one. Is there any homemade solution for compost if you have no soil or worms? There must be a suitable answer but I have managed to find nothing yet.
For the meantime we are going to revert to throwing all our garden and kitchen waste into the normal bin until we can find an appropriate solution.
There are lots of good reasons to compost. It reduces food waste in the dump, reduces our dependence on shop bought compost, enriches the soil, saves money… Honestly though, the main reason we feel the need to compost is because it is incredibly awkward and time consuming for us to buy compost without a car. So we have decided to make our own.
Once we decided to make compost I started doing research on how exactly compost is made. Well, again, it is really easy. I read everywhere that you just slap together some old palettes or timber planks, start throwing your waste in and hey presto the worms crawl up and break it down. Except, we don’t have any soil, we want to compost on our roof terrace.
I really couldn’t find much info about composting on roof terraces with no worms and after deciding against going for a wormery or bokashi bin the decision was made to buy a plastic tub and experiment. So that is what we did. Three weeks ago we bought a big blue plastic bin from Tesco for a few quid (less than a fiver). We immediately started collecting all our uncooked fruit and vegetable scraps from the kitchen. Also going into the tub are tea bags, coffee grounds, raw egg shells, unprinted paper and cardboard and garden waste. That is all. We don’t want to take any chances on the compost becoming smelly as we have neighbours very close, so no oils, fats, cooked food etc.
This picture is our pile after only two weeks. The first thing which amazes me is how much we have accumulated in only two weeks. The pile has definitely been bulked up by my recent pruning of the tomato plants, but I think the fact we cook most our own meals is also a big factor. The second thing which came as surprise is that the pile has started breaking down immediately. Ok so it doesn’t look like something we could plant our seedlings into just yet, but it has only been a few weeks. I have a lot of hope for it. The only slight problem is that we are using a plastic bin and it is covered with a plastic bin bag as a lid. I think this is making the pile sweat a little bit and there is some mould. I looked it up and apparently mould is not necessarily a problem. But I would still prefer to keep it to a minimum. So the pile has been turned and I will make an effort to air it out regularly and try to reduce the mould.
Here’s hoping that by next spring we will have some lovely, black, crumbly compost ready to refill our pots and get next years new crops off to a good start.
We are still at the very early stages in our education about vegetable growing and frankly, the more we do, the more questions we seem to have. Should we be strictly organic? How can we plan for succession crops? Are we being over or under ambitious with our plans? Will we be able to handle all our crops when they start fruiting?
One question I find I am asking quite a bit is should we be more organic? The truth is that we are somewhat overwhelmed with everything we are learning right now so trying to find organic alternatives seems time consuming. But are we just being lazy? Yesterday we went to buy some tomato food and realised we only had one option (in the particular shop we went to). We had to take either the non-organic one on the shelf or take none. So we took the one there in front of us. Honestly, if there was an organic one I would have probably chosen it, but there wasn’t.
The thing is, organic or not, I am more concerned about the finite cycle of vegetable growing. Gardeners with allotments or a lot of space can practice crop rotation to make the most of their soil. So far we have used some commercial general compost and at the end of the season we might end up with a lot of spent soil that is no use next year. This seems illogical. It is not really a question of money, although the monetary issue is not to be sneezed at. I just don’t understand how it can be efficient. Again, people with a lot of space can probably put some aside for compost so maybe they won’t need to buy compost next season. I don’t think we will be able to get much of a compost pot going in our small space (we’ll see though, never say never).
Of course we are currently in the early stages of our garden so pretty much everything we need has to be brought in; pots, seeds, soil, fertilizers etc. However, in the next few years I hope we can eventually start to collect some of our own seeds, make our own fertile soil and plant food and hopefully use mostly recycled rubbish for our growing containers.
The real question I want to ask is can we use permaculture techniques to enhance our small space growing? Honestly, I have no idea. I know very little about permaculture. I would love if anybody has some tips on books or websites we could use as resources to leave us comments. This is something I intend to research as much as possible because if this operation is going to be sustainable I believe we need to think bigger than organic or non-organic. We should start thinking about improving our soil each year and adding something back to nature instead of always taking from it.