Because of our involvement with the Community Garden in Ballaghaderreen, we got invited to take part in the national Master Composter training course. It is developed by the EPA, Ireland’s Environmental Protection Agency, as part of the National Waste Prevention Programme. You can find lots of information on how to stop food waste and make you own compost on their excellent website; stopfoodwaste.ie.
For a few Wednesday nights and a total of three Saturday the classes were run in Ballyleague, outside Roscommon town.
We missed the first Saturday but were delighted to take part in the two following ones.
The first step to reducing food waste is to be careful in the shop and only buy what you really need. So much food in Ireland is thrown out unnecessary. We decided to buy food for one week and spend no more than €50 for our family of six, and use up all the things lurking at the back of cupboards and in the freezer. It was a lot of fun to come up with different and unusual dishes but we managed really well. The whole family got involved and we are planning to repeat the experience now and again. The second step is to learn how to turn your food waste into homemade compost.
We have been composting and mulching in our garden for the last five years, but there is always a lot you can learn and our excellent teacher, Craig Benton who is passionate about composting made all the lessons exciting and fun. There are lots of different systems you can use and we took part in setting up a composting demonstration site and looked in particular on a turning system for creating a hot pile and a wormery.
For the turning system you need a lot of green materials like grass clippings and vegetable food scraps. To create an effective composting process you also need lots of brown materials like autumn leaves, straw and woodchips. Hedge trimmings, old plants and some types of weeds can also go in to the mix.
It is important to mix your materials well and add water until the mix is sticky but not drenched.
We added some prunings and dry stalks to the bottom of the area where the compost would be kept and added on the wet mixture. If you get a large enough pile it will heat up, any weed-seeds will be killed off and the process will not take very long. You will also need to aerate your pile by turning it now and again.
The wormery was the next thing we learned about and it was absolutely fascinating. You can use a home built wooden box, a stackable bought system, an old bathtub or similar. The worms need bedding and it can be made up of shredded paper, dry leaves and straw.
We mixed all the material together while they were still dry.
After that it was time to soak it in a barrel of water and add it to the box, along with a little bit of soil.
Food scraps were added to a trench at one end of the box and the next step was to introduce the worms to their new wonderful home. You can buy worms or get them from a manure pile or find them in the garden. You will need to add materials to the top of your box and cover up your food scraps to avoid problems with flies and odours. Place some whole news papers at the top and if they stay just nice and wet you have the right level of moisture in your box.
Each week you can add food scraps to a trench next to the previous weeks’ supply and your worms should stay happy and content for up to 6- 10 months.
You will need to move all the highly reduced materials when most of the bedding has turned to dark compost and has been worked through by the worms. Just pile it up to one side of the box and add new bedding and trenches of food scraps to the rest of the box. The worms will move out of the old pile over the next 8 weeks and you can harvest and mix the wonderful compost with soil for house plants and hanging baskets. It contains hormones that makes the plants grow extra strong and healthy.
The composting Master Training was great and if you live in Ireland you can contact the environmental awareness officer in your local council who will have information on composting workshops. You can also contact the people on the stopfoodwaste.ie website.
We are planning to set up a wormery in our own garden in an old cast iron bath, with a piece of plywood as a lid. It will need to be places in the shade so the worms don’t overheat. We are lucky to have a horse manure pile from last year just teaming with worms. We are sure they will be happy enough to move into a new luxury all inclusive facility! We are grateful for the chance to take part in the Master composting training and look forward to all the lovely compost that we can make and use, both in our own garden and in the Community Garden in Ballaghaderreen.