Remember, remember the 5 November: Gunpowder, treason and…compost

It’s Guy Fawkes’ night again and I can almost smell the bonfires. I’m not a big fan of fireworks as they frighten our chickens, but there’s something satisfying about a good bonfire this time of year. We didn’t used to have fireworks displays in our back garden when I was a kid – think my mum thought the cat wouldn’t be impressed – but I remember helping to heap together branches and other debris to build them at a neighbour’s house.

However, I have a different kind of heap on my mind today – no, not my hairdo or the pile of washing in the corner, but our compost heap. Well, to avoid insulting DJ, it’s less of a heap and more of a stylish compartment of three boxes built by him. It’s my turn to turn it, you see. Worse luck…but I could certainly do with the exercise…

Not for profit group WRAP (Waste & Resources Action Programme) has started a campaign this week – called Recycle Now Compost at Home – to try to get more of us composting. According to their figures, only a third of the UK population actually do so, despite 95 per cent having access to an outside space. In a survey WRAP conducted, people said they felt they didn’t have enough room in their gardens to compost or that they didn’t have the time. English households currently throw away 4 million tonnes of waste each year that could have been composted. WRAP reckons that around 25 per cent of this waste – or 200kg per household – could have been composted at home but will wind up in landfill sites.

Composting isn’t difficult (I’m a moron and if I can do it, anybody can do it) – and really it takes the same amount of time to put something in a compost bin as it does to put it in a rubbish bin. It’s just getting into the habit. DJ and I keep a small bucket in the kitchen and throw vegetable scraps and teabags into it and then, when it fills up, we empty it into the compost bin in the garden. No problem. This year we used our homemade compost in the two new raised beds DJ built – one to grow cut flowers and the other in my plot where I grew courgettes, onions and pumpkins. The pumpkins were monsters – much bigger than the one I grew using a grow bag. Homemade compost is amazing stuff and it’s a great way for gardeners to save a little money too as well as help the planet.

Helpfully WRAP has put together a booklet with tips and suggestions to get more of us composting. They point out that you don’t have to have an ugly heap in your garden – you can have stylish composting bins which come in different shapes and sizes. And if you don’t have much use for compost, a wormery will produce much less. Compost takes around nine months to break down. Green items, such as tea bags, old flowers, veg peelings or old bedding plants, rot quickly and provide the compost with nitrogen and moisture, while ‘browns’ like branches, fallen leaves and cardboard take longer but provide carbon and fibre.

So, the million dollar question is, why aren’t more people composting? I suppose it makes sense to gardeners because they have an obvious use for it. When the old teabags and bits of veg peel have finished breaking down, they’ll be shovelling it out onto their flower or vegetable beds. But just as the suggestion of playing Grand Theft Auto for 8 hours on a computer would send me screaming into the night, gardening isn’t everybody’s idea of fun, and I guess that if you aren’t into it, there isn’t an obvious use for the compost.

But we really need to cut our household waste and keep more stuff out of landfill. I think it would be great if more local authorities encouraged us to keep a composting bin that they could take away and empty, like any other bin. According to WRAP, some councils do already, but it would be great if the practice was more widespread. And just think of all the monster veg we could be growing with it…

Do you compost? Why aren’t more of us doing so? Leave a message and let me know.

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10 Responses to Remember, remember the 5 November: Gunpowder, treason and…compost

  1. Christine says:

    Two of us gardenes from my allotment site have spent some happy hours over the last week sweeping leaves off a quiet, unused road down near the local castle (closed for the winter so no traffic) just across from the allotments. We beat the leaf sweeping machine to the road as it\’s out of the way and we now have about 100 green garden sacks of leaves between us tucked away to rot down in quiet corners. Another gardener off the site turned up with his work trailer carrying various containers of manure from one of the farms he works on – spare and well rotted for a heap to be dug in over the winter. Most councils do offer a compost bin collection service – at a price. For some reason it\’s not free even though most of them take the contents to a commercial composting site so don\’t have to do anything with it other than collect it and empty the wagon at the other end of the round. This is unlike normal recycling bins where the contents have to be taken to a centre where they are sorted at a cost to the local council. The commercial composting agent will sell on the compost that he makes so covers costs that way. Thing is – these bins only go to houses with gardens who are willing to pay. At one time it was a free service in our area and well used. As soon as a very small charge of £20 a bin was put on, no-one was interested. Mind you I have two or three people who now leave compostable material at the allotment gate for me to use. Swings and roundabouts. It\’s been a good year for all sorts of things for the compost heap from pigeon droppings from the lofts of the racing pigeons locally to the cardboard from the packaging of the new kitchen a family member installed. If you want some really detailed how to make compost instructions because you are new to it try – it\’s amazing how many things you can actually put on the compost heap. Don\’t recommend dandelions roots, dock roots, nettle roots, mares tail roots or bindweed roots though as your compost heap will never be hot enough to rot them down. Old cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli stems take years to rot down – better to dig a deep hole and bury these so that they don\’t stay around for ever in the compost. If you are doing something like a bean trench where you can just put your kitchen waste straight into the ground and then cover it, that\’s the place for such things. Runner beans love a trench full of kitchen waste started the autumn before you are going to plant them out.

  2. Bill says:

    Any supermarket with a car park could provide a small skip/container, possibly free, from the local council, that many of us using the car park could empty a small kitchen bin. The council could then sell the end product back to us indoor gardeners in poky flats, obviously, not for profit, they would still yet have a small "trading-surplus".As seen on here previously, I do not live , but at least survive in a steel concrete cave (slum), 10 floors up, where most of my neighbours do not have what it takes to cook, but do waste most of their take-aways. We bin most stuff down the chute on our floor, but I save supermaket carriers to seperate my nylon, glass, & alu. That all returns to Tesco car park weekly as I shop. All paper wrappings go down the chute, & kitchen waste, including the contents of expired herb pots, gets flushed down the bathroom pan.May I point out, that from 5 years spasmodic use of the landfill, on "Trade Waste" for both Onyx & Cleanaway, as also crushed whitegoods for Dudley MBC, most of the food on the landfill is Trade, not household waste. The maximum legal payload tipped by any "private" enterprise with their own vehicle is 26t. If it is a local council, or water authority vehicle, or any contractor on contract to any council or authority, including the Dept. of Health or Environment, it could easily be 5t, or even 10t above this, on a dark & foggy night, as the home office never do a stop & check on them. They appear to be immune to the law. This tonnage is in some cases good healthy food, in other cases it is equaly good, healthy compost.I do not need to earn my living on the landfill, or in the transport of such waste, & will never be a civil servant, but it does bring tears of rage when I see such sickening waste of good food, or even compost. It is not even good landfill. Even the butane/methane emitted from the landfill is all wasted in UK. In Germany it is all fed into combi boilers in all public buildings, including the basement of all social housing, where it provides both central heating & hot water for the entire building. Both heating, & hot water, as also \’leccy, are "free" to all social tenants, inclusive in the fixed rent.Anyone who suffers from, or feels the cold, I advise to dress for the weather, & check their diet. They also need good exercise. With this combination, they do not need expensive heating systems. I oft wear my overcoat to eat breakfast, in preference to any form of heating. I have no overnight heating, but could easily use a second quilt.There are so many charities, & other soup kitchens that could make extremely good use of this waste food.Heres hoping!

  3. Bill says:

    Christine!Is this £20/emptying, or to purchase the bin, please?It would make some sense to sell the bin, at cost, then the taxpayer would make better use. I could also understand the extortionate £20/emptying, in comparison with about the same price/item for the collection of whitegoods.If, in this fashion, our entire garbage disposal is to become "private", or self-service, surely we can all look forward to it being deducted from our council tax, what? What?Tawt so, so I did!

  4. piper says:

    Interesting about the £20 composting scheme. Our local council doesn\’t offer one as far as I can tell, although on its website it says it encourages residents to compost at home. They collect green waste such as lawn clippings & branches, but you can\’t put veg peelings etc. in the bags due to Environment Agency regulations.

  5. Christine says:

    The £20 charge is an annual fee to have your bin emptied either weekly or fortnightly in the growing season and monthly in the winter. In many areas the charge for this service can be as high as £50 a year. Nope you can\’t put vegetable peelings in but it takes all green garden waste.

  6. Bill says:

    I never peel veg, as I pay for the peel, I prefer to eat it. Wth the exception of bannana skins. If I had a log fire in t\’ open hearth, or a solid fuel stove, banana skins are a fantastic firelighter. They do not flush well, therefore end up in t\’ bin chute, 10 floors up.It still yet begs the question, if they charge £20 for clearing any form of garbage, what do they waste our poll tax on, please?

  7. Kerri says:

    Even though we have a communal garden area, there isn\’t really anywhere I could compost – though if the council set up a proper \’compost bin\’ for all the flats I think it would be a great idea. If I had my own garden I would compost for sure. My reservation about having a compost scheme in a local supermarket area (such as recyclying is now) would be a) the number of idiots who would chuck all manner of waste in there, b) people putting things in that shouldn\’t such as potato peel, c) transporting veggie peel etc to the recycling point – I do my big shop once or twice a month and am not sure I want veggie peels etc sitting around for that long in my house, then in the car. What I don\’t understand is why more people don\’t compost then sell it to other gardeners even if they don\’t use it themselves – how many signs do we now see locally with \’Logs for sale\’ on? Compost for sale could be a good extra earner too.

  8. Christine says:

    Kerri a lot of gardeners are very wary of both manure and compost from other sources than their own heaps at the moment due to chemicals which have damaged crops such as potatoes, tomatoes and beans. Admittedly this was last year but the chemicals involve do stay in the chain for some years and do not disappear if composted. It takes thee or so years before the compost or manure is safe to use. So it\’s a sort of ongoing problem at the moment. Interesting reading at

  9. Oli says:

    Read about you in the S. Times. Well done you!I so envy you your garden. I live in a flat without outside space so I tried having a wormery. It was really good for a while but it developed fruit flies twice over and my girlfriend made me get rid of it! Which means I\’m part of that 95%, albeit a reluctant part of the 95%.

  10. stef says:

    Great initiative! Homelessness in Chelsea needs to be tackled this winter, and I propose to open up the unused building behind Chelsea Fire Station, Used to be an Art College for approximately 400 homeless people for winter 2009. Less wastefull than living on the streets, parks etc. Local lady told me about man nearly frozen to death in corner nearest to Fire Station few years back, was cold to the touch at 10 in the evening on park bench. We cant have same this winter! Methodist minister on King\’s Road has seen the building. Principal of private school on opposite side of road also approves plan. St. Luke Anglican Church office was also informed. Task 1. Could someone please find out who currently owns the building, when was it sold, from whom could we obtain keys, what price freehold, how much rent for four months etc. Replies urgently please to e-mail: Many thanks. Several local homeless people hope project to succeed soon.

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