Put it in the ground 


    By Ali Manns 

    Digging recently in my new backyard I found something unexpected – a legacy from previous residents. I’d really love to report that it was a rare artefact of historic consequence. Unfortunately, it was junk. Literally another person’s rubbish buried beneath the soil. Plastic bags, drink cans, and charred remnants of a long – ago rubbish burn had been buried out of sight but had by no means gone away. The discovery made me sad, then angry. My food-producing-garden-to-be was a landfill! 

    While most of our household waste does not belong in the ground, there is some that you can bury in the backyard. Food and other organics can all go to making compost. 

    Composting 101 

    Most organics are candidates for the compost bin/pile/trench. By organic I mean anything that was once a living thing. That includes anything that was formerly a tree (toilet roll inserts, napkins, bills), un-donate-able cotton jeans, tonight’s veggie peelings and dinner leftovers, those fallen leaves gathering in the gutter, even the dog’s hair. What a vast variety of things to redirect from the bins and into the garden soil in a way that will nourish and build it! 

    For those new to the process, the key to compost-making is not so much the recipe as the formula. Much like freestyle cooking, the specific quantities of ingredients don’t matter as much as their type and ratio. In the case of compost, it is 1 part greens, 2 parts browns plus water and air. And time. 


    The ‘browns’ are not all brown in colour but are dry and heavily carbon based and so contribute the fuel to the pile. It’s dry leaves, cardboard, non-glossy paper, toilet rolls, egg cartons and the like. You need LOTS and one trick is to stock-pile sacks of the dry fallen leaves coating the streets rig ht now. Another is to collect and rip up cardboard boxes from Hammer Barn or the local bottle-o. Another is to buy a bale of straw or wood shavings for the purpose though I recommend getting a rabbit, guinea pig or some chickens to get double use from it! 


    Likewise, the ‘greens’ are not all green but they are nitrogen contributing. They are pretty much everything else you can think of. They are the fire; veggies, weeds, fresh leaves, dead flowers, grass clippings, coffee grounds, tea leaves, dinner leftovers, the manure from herbivorous pets (and for the non-squeamish – the pets themselves when deceased). 

    Putting it together 

    The key is to add twice as much browns as greens, keep it moist, but not wet, and aerated. You can build a heap in one go if you have accumulated lots of ingredients (on the ground, in a cage, in a bin or a tumbler) or add to it gradually (in a bin or tumbler). Finesse as needed. If it goes slimy, add more browns and stir it up to aerate. If it gets ants, it’s too dry so add some water. If it’s doing nothing, add more greens to get the heat up. And then just wait. 

    If your household just doesn’t produce enough of any of these ingredients, explore sharewaste. to find a composting neighbour who would appreciate your contribution to their pile. Or consider a worm farm as an alternative. Our Councils are always offering subsidised gear to get households composting, whichever method works best for you. 

    Ali Manns is a Permaculture Designer and Educator living in Yarraville and can be found at

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