Composting

Well, our recommencement of film show evenings was a definite success, I think. We watched just one of The Powerdown Show programmes – Deconstructing Dinner – and had a very pleasant chat about what we can do here in South Lantau. Much of the discussion was about composting and how we can organise a way of collecting the kitchen scraps that everyone has, and use them for community composting. It seems that a number of people are trying out bokashi as a result of Phil Stubbings’ influence. As well as Phil’s advice, you might find these links helpful:

http://www.compostguy.com/bokashi-resource-page/

http://www.greenlivingtips.com/articles/339/1/Bokashi-composting.html

Personally, although I have been tempted to try bokashi, I’m actually more interested in reducing my dependence on fossil fuels in every way I can, and therefore I don’t want to start using a method of composting that will necessitate importing regular supplies of the bokashi materials, even if it’s only from China. It also seems to me to be slightly more labour-intensive than having a compost heap, at least on a day-to-day basis. At the moment, I have two compost heaps in the garden, both contained in a roll of chicken-coop wire about a metre in diameter, one slowly cooking, the other slowly being built. All I need to do is add kitchen scraps and garden waste as they become available, and leave them there. This is definitely not the ideal way to make compost, but I end up with a compost that does improve the soil, as is evident from the gradually increasing number of worms and other organisms in the soil, and by the excellent taste of my papaya, my passion fruit, my tomatoes and cucumbers and – less successfully – my other vegetables and herbs. Things would be much better if I tended to my heap as the experts tell me to – see:

http://journeytoforever.org/compost.html

– but I haven’t got time, so chucking things on the heap and leaving them is the way it will be for now. Incidentally, the Journey to Forever website is an absolute mine of information. Among other gems it’s got An Agricultural Testament by Sir Albert Howard, the founder of the organic movement:

http://journeytoforever.org/farm_library/howardAT/ATtoc.html

However, I do think one of the problems with reading too many experts is that you invariably fall short of the conucopian visions they present, leaving you feeling like a drongo, which in turn can easily make you give up on a gardening project because it hasn’t worked out as expected. Gardening demands real skills, which have to be honed and perfected over the years, not overnight or after reading a book or two, especially if you’re growing things organically with the aim of improving your patch of land as well as producing some good food. We shouldn’t be too hard on ourselves when we realise we haven’t got green fingers! Persistence, patience and a sense of humility are essential attributes. Humility because we’re trying to work with nature rather than trying to demonstrate our superiority to it. After pummeling the natural world for the last few hundred years, we’re now about to receive the kind of hammering that might just put us out of the ring altogether. Nature’s in charge and we need to seek its guidance.

Nevertheless, you keep hearing people talking about compost attracting flies and vermin, as well as it smelling bad. If you put an old carpet over it, or some cardboard, it will help to cure that, although I’ve never had a problem with flies, and certainly not vermin. I did have a black-and-white banded krait on my fork last year when I was scooping up compost to spread around my plants, but I live in an area where they are quite common, so it wasn’t a total surprise. He didn’t seem too interested in me and slithered off out of the garden.

Anyway, the conclusion of our discussion was that we’d try to collect compost materials from friends and neighbours first, and then see if we can draw in other people if things are working well. Neil suggested paying someone to collect kitchen waste from people around the neighbourhood, as most of us are out all day until well into the evening. That may well be worth looking in to.

One form of composting which I recently came across in Toby Hemenway’s Gaia’s Garden is hugelkultur, a German method of disposing of old wood by burying it, covering it with soil and then growing plants, especially pumpkins and the like, on the resulting raised bed. The wood under the soil rots away slowly, holding moisture as well as keeping the soil aerated and attracting the extensive roots of fungi. It’s a kind of woody compost heap which seems a great way of putting old branches and logs to good use. Here’s a couple of links showing you how it’s done:

http://homesteadblogger.com/alaskahomesteader/125/

http://saponaria-wortsandall.blogspot.com/2008/07/hugelkultur-compared.html

Meanwhile, we will meet again on Friday 5 November at the China Beach Club at 7.30-ish to look at more of The Powerdown Show and to enjoy each other’s company. Everyone is welcome, and we’ll look forward to seeing you.

Don Latter

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About transitionsl

I've been an English teacher for the best part of 30 years, teaching in England, Tanzania, Brunei, Australia and Hong Kong. I've always been interested in nature and environmental issues, but it was the discovery of Peak Oil about five years ago that galvanised me into trying to help my local community to prepare for what will be a dramatically different world to the one many of us have been used to. I've been helping to run a transition group, following the guidelines created by Rob Hopkins's Transition Movement in the UK. This blog is an attempt to engage in discussion with a wider group of people in Hong Kong on the ways to transition from our current oil dependency to a state of fossil-free local resilience.
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