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April 25th, 2006:

Compost Corner

Our hastily lashed up 2005 compost corner was started out of necessity… plenty of organic matter needed dealing with and we knew we’d be needing lots of good compost for growing/potting in the garden. Slight permaculture mistake… we put it in the wrong place.. trips down from the house every couple of days with kitchen scraps made it a long walk and it turned out that the place we left it spent much of January, February and March sat in 10 cm of water.

Plus, it was hideously ugly… I’d cobbled together a pen from some old roofing corrugated steel and some fence posts. We’d ‘insulated’ it with some straw bales that initially hid the steelwork from view… but here is the existing temple of rural decay :-

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..bleagh! It had to go. So, time to make a new one.

We’d decided on a three bin system, one pile of ‘old’ compost, one pile of ‘brown’ and one active pile. More on this later.

Rather than splash out on something swanky I was pretty sure I could make something half decent from some reclaimed timber. Our local recycling centre always have plenty of old pallets free for the taking and the local ‘E. Leclerc’ Agri-Bati usually have a sign up saying that clients are welcome to use the discarded pallette-a-bois gratuit. So it was with great fortune that we found the scrap wood skip at the back of the DIY store overflowing with pallettes – result! Quite why these are chucked away I’ll never really understand, but this timber is just the trick for our little weekend construction project.
Putting the ‘structure’ together from random sized pallettes wasn’t too bad. I took a reasonable looking one as a starter and then bolted another to it.. if there was any height discrepancy between each piece it was either out with the saw to lop a bit off or better still… bury it in the ground. This added a great deal of stability to the whole thing and it pretty much became rock solid. It was slightly more work to dig a handful of foundation holes for the thing but it did help significantly with the slope of the land that I was putting the bins on.

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And that’s the framework halfway up, quick to build but aesthetically… a little bit lacking. I was trying hard to avoid the look of half a dozen palettes lashed together so a little capping from a leftover roofing chevron from the pigeonierre re-roofing project last year was pressed into service to provide a rear-rail and then I ‘capped’ all the upper faces with hand/bucket-rests and the front-edge faces with planking but it still wasn’t quite right. Still looking like a load of lashed up palettes, we decided to give it a coat of garden paint on all of the exterior/visible surfaces. That was a big improvement

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The weak link was the gap-tooth look from the ‘T’ pieces between the palettes – something saucy was called for. I built these.. two infill pieces carefully put together with planking cut at a jaunty 45degree angle – that was just what was needed. In time terms though it took me almost as long to make these two little pieces as it did to constuct the whole heap… but I do think it was worth it.. it was the missing piece of the jigsaw.

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So, that’s it. Construction done, cosmetic tweaks finished and it didn’t look too bad. Time to put it to use. A quick mow of the lawn (about 900 square metres) should provide about 500litres of grass clippings to get things started! I normally let the clippings mulch back in to the grass but it doesn’t always look the tidiest – particularly if the grass is long and at this time of the year the grass always seems to be long.

The trick to getting the heap active is to balance the mix of ‘green’ and ‘brown’ – it’s all about getting the carbon/nitrogen balance right. This is why we built a three-bin system the middle bin gets the dried straw/hay for our ‘brown’ component that gets layered in at about a one part in five ratio. Moisture is provided in the form of a light sprinkling of bellebouche top secret compost accelerator!

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And they’re off..

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7pm, Ambient temperature 21degrees, 40cm into the new heap, 27 degrees and rising

Cost breakdown :-
Wood, gratuit. €0
120mm x 12mm coach bolts, dozen of, €1.37
14mm washers, €0.75
4m x 70mm x 50mm roofing timber (left over from re-roofing project) €5.40
handfull of assorted 50mm, 30mm screws €2
Two 750ml tins of green garden furniture stain €2.90

Grand total… not very much!

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