When we started composting on our land, we thought a large standing compost bin, was the way to go. The kind with multiple bays. We built three, out of recycled pallets. It was appealing, because we had the opportunity to make a large batch of compost, in one go. Unfortunately, we weren't generating enough of all the different ingredients to make a substantial batch.
Our dreams of compost manna, was downsized to a smelly pile of do-nothing. Which I didn't really mind, except our compost bays became really good at breeding insects, rodents and cane toads, in large quantities - rather than wonderful humus! Somewhat defeating the purpose of having a compost bin.
Instead of fearing what we'd find underneath the tarp, whenever we pulled it back, we decided to ditch the traditional compost bins, and try something new!
Our next venture into, what to do with all things organic - we turned to our chickens. By far, the most entertaining venture, if nothing else. But of course, they also turn all those food scraps into delicious eggs. So it's efficient and economical too.
I have plans to do more serious composting with our chickens, in future - but first requires yet another upgrade to the coop!
As wonderful as chickens are though, there are some things even they won't eat - and I wouldn't want to feed them. Like avocado skins (toxic to chickens) and anything from the allium or citrus family. So there were still things we had to process via composting, in a way that was actually beneficial to our land.
Enter the above ground, compost mound, next. The idea was to keep dumping organic matter as it turned up. Slowly build a mound, then eventually, plant a fruit tree into it. We've used the same principle, to feed a line of bananas, by dumping organic matter uphill from them.
Of course, this strategy wasn't particularly successful during the drought. Because moisture is needed to help break organic matter down. Anything raised above ground, or uphill, drains moisture away, rather than contains it. So perhaps a great strategy for wetter climates, but not so much in the dry. As it takes forever, to break down.
So enter our latest venture, into composting. We call it the compost gully. It's a combination of all sorts of crazy things, involving - you guessed it - our main gully.
The erosion caused in previous years of water run-off, has etched out a channel. We want to prevent erosion, and keep composting material, below ground - which avoids evaporation. The perfect marriage, was for a compost pile to merge with the gully.
In the dry, the earthen walls will help keep moisture in the compost. In the wet, it will catch silt and slow down water. Any overflow, may well sprout a pumpkin vine in the neighbours yard. Free produce, they didn't even have to plant. Not exactly the worst thing to happen to a neighbour.
And of course, our compost gully, is doing exactly, what all compost piles are meant to do...
...volunteer pumpkin vines!. We're not entirely sure how this will fare through winter, as it's the lowest point in the gully. Technically, all frosts will settle here. We don't normally get heavy frosts during winter, but I guess this year, will test our new compost gully.
I've never planted anything edible, at ground level, in the gully before. Only mulberry trees. Which haven't been set-back, during winter, at all. But then, they're deciduous!
Fingers crossed, the vine will survive, and get a head-start on Spring! Then finally, we may enjoy home grown pumpkins again. Literally, it takes years to find that particular sweet-spot on your property, for certain plants to do well. I hope our gully will become an edible jungle, of pumpkins.
We always have seedling trees to dispose of too. Either through cutting a new path, building a new pond, or just want to control how many emerging eucalyptus trees, grow in any one area. So into the gully, they go!
They will act as yet another silt catcher, for water run-off. The moisture will also help break them down quicker. That main gully, has quite the potential to do a lot of things, by putting the right elements together. It's now acting as a compost accelerator, with the right ingredients. This is a system we never could have achieved, in our isolated compost bins. Well, not without a lot of labour involved.
This is why I love finding ways to align our needs, with natural systems. It really does take a lot of work out of it. No more turning compost, or carting water for us.
Thanks to some compost, tossed onto the hugelkultur, they're sprouting tomatoes and pumpkin vines too. Traditionally, volunteer plants have always done better here, than the ones I attempt to coax with loads of TLC. So I have high hopes, at some point, we should be able to obtain a wild harvest.
How much of it will the brush turkeys, hares and bush rats, let us eat, will be interesting to discover? Although I have found with wild harvests, there's always something safely out of reach, if you're prepared to go looking for it.
What I particularly enjoy, about the new exposed location, with nearby trees and shrubs - is that insects, rodents and amphibians, don't get a chance to set-up house in the compost. Because there's always a carnivore, prepared to knock them off. If anything moves the compost, it will be the water - not us. So even if there are any surprises, under the compost, we'll never know about it.
So far, this system has been working really well for us, as the most low-maintenance, efficient and economical. Here's why:
Of course, I will always be experimenting with different ways to compost. I have worms on my wish list, for vermiculture. I mean, why stop at just one system? But if you're looking for the most low maintenance, and easiest to establish, you really can't go past a dry gully, or other seasonal water-flow system.
In suburbia, think where does the excess rainwater, from my roof flow? Can I process all my organic waste through that water flow, because it accelerates decomposition? Maybe turn it into a volunteer edible garden too, by supercharging the seeds that will sprout.
If you don't have the money for raised garden beds or chicken coops, just connect your compost to the earth, and a water run-off area. Then watch how quickly it gets covered with edible plants. Also the possums can only grab what's on the outside. The tangle of plants, is where you'll reap a wild harvest, on the inside.
I look forward to seeing how our new compost gully system, evolves.