Day 76. Compost

In October 2012 on October 27, 2012 at 5:55 pm

Down at the back of my suburban block, behind the quince tree and the hills hoist, is a big black barrel.

Each week we dump peelings, skins, seeds, leaves, egg shells, paper, cardboard and even rejected porridge into the barrel. What starts as an enormous volume of discrete materials threatening to push the lid askew rapidly breaks down into a dense, uniform, deep brown mass of compost.

The process is so amazingly efficient that it still blows me away every time I see a new wheel-barrow full of the stuff.

Fortunately, there are some lovely websites around which explain how it works.

For example, Mansfield Middle School, apparently ‘the place where compost happens’, has put together a great page of information for the interested gardener.

Based on their content, I’ll give you a quick summary of the active components in compost:

  • psychrophile bacteria, which love cool temperatures;
  • mesophile bacteria, which do most of the breakdown work;
  • thermophile bacteria, which bring the temperature of the compost up and thus kill any weed seeds;
  • actinomycete bacteria, which break down woody material, form long, thread-like branched filaments that look like gray spider webs stretching throughout compost, and give the pile a pleasing earthy smell;
  • fungi, including moulds and yeasts which break down tough debris;
  • sowbugs, crustaceans which feed on leaves and stems;
  • earthworms, which have a number of roles including aerating and stabilising the compost;
  • millepedes, which feed on decaying plant matter; and
  • invertebrates including nematodes (roundworms), mites (small relatives of spiders) and springtails (small wingless insects) which feed on the smaller creatures listed above.

The bit I really like about compost is that last week’s vege scraps are going to provide nutrients for this summer’s nectarines – growing on the tree shown here in front of the wheelbarrow. We planted this beauty after it arrived as my 40th birthday present in January, and it’s already bearing a bumper crop of young fruit.

I’m already planning a Maggie Beer nectarine tart for my 41st birthday.


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