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Compost School Garden

In a new series, Maura Sheehy of Maura’s Cottage Flowers will inspire teachers, parents and pupils to start their very own school garden. This week, she looks at starting an easy composting system.

Homemade compost is one of the most vital aspects of an organic garden. Most schools nowadays take part in the “Green Schools” initiative and one of the first steps taken to achieve the coveted flag is setting up a compost system.

There are several different composting systems to choose from. Anything that has lived can be composted. Making compost is often compared with baking a cake. With the right mix of ingredients, you will produce excellent results.

Good compost will be dark, rich and sweet smelling. All school food waste, garden waste, shredded paper, grass cuttings and old cardboard can be collected, and over time, will provide the gardeners with a free fertilizer to ensure optimum growth of their plants.

Composting is a win-win situation. Children learn a valuable skill that can be replicated at home, it reduces the cost of waste collection for the school and it cuts costs by providing a growing medium.

A good mixture should include dry woody material, cardboard, paper shredding, twigs and hedge cuttings, along with normal waste like fruit peelings, coffee grains and tea bags usually found in the school bins.

There is a rule of two parts woody materials to one part green material. The woody material is an ideal source of carbon for the micro-organisms, while the green softer parts will provide the nitrogen and moisture content required.

Don’t be too fussy: all compost heaps will eventually break down, but by following the 2:1 rule you will see results much quicker. You will also need plenty of air going through the system. A good system will produce compost that will be ready to use in about four months and should crumble simply through your fingers.

Composting is a win-win situation. Children learn a valuable skill that can be replicated at home, it reduces the cost of waste collection for the school and it cuts costs by providing a growing medium.

Why should a school start a compost heap/bin?

  • It saves money by reducing waste disposal costs.
  • It prevents waste and conserves resources. By home composting biodegradable material, it will save landfill space and reduce fuel transport.
  • It protects our biodiversity. By creating our own compost it will reduce production of peat moss used in potting mixes, which will in time allow flora and fauna to thrive in areas of peat lands.
  • It builds up healthy soil. Compost is full of nutrients, it improves the soil texture, structure and helps retain moisturiser and nutrients in the soil.
  • It preserves our environment. By reducing landfill material, it automatically reduces harmful greenhouse gases building up.

Top Tips

The smaller the material matter the quicker it will compost as composting works from the surface of materials inwards.
Compost heaps should be moist but not soaking wet.
All composting organisms need oxygen so make sure to create good aeration within the system.

There are two ways to make a compost heap:

1. Cool Composting: Made over time.
2. Hot Composting: Where you gather the ingredients and make the heap all at once.

There are several ways to make good compost. These include:

Compost Bin: The most common compost bins that are widely used cost about €45. They are usually black or green in colour with a lid on top to throw in materials and a removable small door at the base where the finished compost can be removed.

Compost Heap: Compost heaps can be as simple as the name suggests where you literally heap all materials on top of each other, remembering to mix green and brown materials. The heap will require turning from time to time.

3 Bay Bin: A more organised heap is a 3 Bay Bin. This is a basic compost system widely used by organic gardeners, is very cheap and is easy to put in place. All you need are some pallets and stakes, but you will need space for this type of system. In this system, one will hold new green material gathered waiting to be used, the next will hold brown matter and the last will be where you start the system. The quickest way to make compost is to wait until you have enough material gathered and then make one big heap on the one day.

Tumbler and turning systems: This is a fast way to compost. Material can be added daily as it is generated. Children love the tumbling addition so it is a great option in a school garden.

Top Tip: Don’t forget to give careful consideration to where your compost system will be set up. It needs to be in a sunny position.