Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Things you can compost.

 The problem with using fluff out of washing machines on your compost heaps is that artificial fibers will not rot down. If the fluff is made of wool, cotton, leather or some other fiber that has been made from plants or animals then there is no problem. These fibers are relatively high in nitrogen because they have been made from proteins. 

Vacuum cleaner waste can contain a lot of hair particularly if you have a pet. Hair is mainly keratin which is a protein and relatively high in nitrogen. Dust is primarily very small soil particles and not flecks of skin. However, if it were skin, this too is high in protein and thus nitrogen. Also the flecks of soil particles still contain nutrients and would be a valuable addition to compost heaps. 

Organic nitrogen is such a valuable resource for microorganisms and invertebrates that it will be quickly broken down.  Some of it will be mineralised and made available to plants.  

So, if this kind of waste is o.k. to put onto compost heaps, what about the clothes themselves?  Any clothes made entirely from plant or animal fibers are fine to put onto the compost heap.  At the moment I am composting some leather gloves, leather boots, a cotton shirt, woolen socks and woolen trousers.  I do not expect them to decompose quickly.  But they will decompose. 

Avoid anything that has nylon or polyester or other plastics because they will not decompose and if they do break into smaller pieces will not add anything to the soil in the way of nutrients. If you do inadvertently put artificial fibers onto the compost heap they break into lots of fine strands that are very hard to remove from the compost and make turning difficult.   Like the plastic in the oceans of the world damaging sea life, plastics may damage the life in the soil.

I am experimenting with woody shreddings as an addition to the compost bins.  For years I have been telling people not to add these woody shreddings to the top soil because nitrogen is depleted by  micro organisms that decompose them.  I'm not so sure now.  So I have filled one of the dalek bins with shreddings and will be turning it every two or three days with the other bins.  I want to see whether this material will decompose as quickly as some of the other compost ingredients.  

I compost all weeds regardless of their reputation.  However, I think that I would have to dry Japanese knotweed for a few months before adding this to the compost but I would give it a go if I had it on the allotment.  With the way that I make compost, sieving it carefully before putting it on top soil, I think that anything that regenerated would quickly be seen and removed.  Drying seems to be the best method before composting.  Anyway, it would be a very resilient weed that could recover from being turned every two days for over two months.  

My patent nasty weed drier.

I have written quite a long "rant" about why you shouldn't light fires on allotments and I still fervently believe that they are totally unnecessary.  Anything that you can burn on the allotment can also be composted - and if it can't be composted, it should not be on the allotment in the first place and definitely not burnt in the second.  

However, I have just acquired quite a bit of processed wood.  A lot of it is rotten and I may keep this for the compost heap.  The rest I am considering charcoaling.  

While researching the Terra Preta dark earths of the Amazon there was some talk about charcoal being a valuable addition to the soil.  One of the Victorian head gardeners to the super rich, Barnes of Bicton, thought that charcoal was good for the soil.  I have experimented for several years with charcoal and there are sometimes indications that it improves plant growth.  In my experience it is only after I have marinaded it in comfrey liquid for about two or three months that it become particularly valuable.  I have also added it to the compost bins but it is harder to evaluate whether it has had any effect or not when I do this.  

The charcoal still retains a lot of the salts locked up in the structure of the wood and can be quite alkaline so you have to be careful how you use it because it can change the pH of the soil locally around the roots of plants.  After marinading it I crush it with a bull hammer and add the dust to the soil.  It is better to do this when it is still damp from the marinading process otherwise the dust gets everywhere.  

So, I will be charcoaling sometime this week.  A retort full of wood goes inside the large bin and wood is packed around it  This wood is burnt but the wood in the retort is cooked driving off a lot of  organic gases which burn as they pass out of the retort.  The wood in the retort is converted to charcoal.  I have a long chimney which makes the process much quicker and a little spectacular.  

Making charcoal is the only way I am going to burn things on the allotment.  Otherwise, if it is organic, it will be buried or composted.  

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