Sunday, 15 November 2020

Compost - the Bucket of Shame

Compost bins - I love 'em! Except when Clients ignore my very specific instructions on what to put in, and - more importantly - what NOT to put in. 

Most of us already know that we don't put perennial weeds such as bindweed, couch grass and ground elder into our compost bins, as they will just continue to grow there: and we know not to put potatoes and tomatoes (or their peel) into the heap, partly for fear of blight, but mostly because if we do, we will have tiny potato and tomato plants popping up wherever we use the compost. And of course we all know that we never put plastic, glass, metal or other non-organic things in there. 

 But there are other things to avoid, which might surprise you: tea bags, for a start. I've written about tea bags before, and nothing has changed: yes, even the ones which say "plastic-free" are NOT plastic free!


Every time I empty a compost pen, I sort out the non-composted, inorganic rubbish - because there is no point putting it back on the garden, is there?

This means that every time, I end up with a  "bucket of shame" which can be gleefully presented to the Client, along with a big grin and the reassurance that everyone gets one.

Here is the Bucket of Shame from when I emptied a Client's black plastic "dalek" last week. Quite apart from the mass of tiny slivers of plastic (“As I mentioned last year, please take a little more care when shredding - paper only!”) there was tea bag after tea bag after tea bag... this is just the last half-bucket, by the way, I'd already emptied it three times before I thought to take a photo.

Why do they not rot? Well, if you can't be bothered to follow the link above in order to Read All About It, then in brief, if you think about it, they are made of specially treated paper that does not fall apart when put into boiling water, so it shouldn't really surprise you to learn that they don't rot on the compost heap either. 

Furthermore, the fabric of the tea-bag contains small amounts of polypropylene which melts when heated, which is how the bags are sealed in the factory. And we don't want plastic on the compost heap. 

To be honest, I wouldn't really encourage you to tip even loose tea-leaves onto the compost, as they are full of tannin. Likewise coffee grounds – ugh! 

Talking of glue, be careful with cardboard as well: corrugated card is stuck together with some noxious stuff which apparently includes heavy metals, so avoid adding it.

And then there is the famous eggshell myth: eggshells contain all sorts of lovely minerals so add them to your compost, say all the books.

News flash: they don't rot. 


Even if you crush them, the bits are still visible in the compost - lovely, when you spread it out on the beds!



The second photo shows a nest of eggshells, deep in an otherwise superbly rotted compost heap. As you can see, completely unrotted! And, despite extensive internet research, I have been unable to find any scientific proof that eggshells contain - or, more importantly, release - any nutrients or minerals into the soil. 

The same goes for the myth that you should water houseplants with the cooled water in which you boiled your eggs so they can have the benefit of all that “goodness”. Who says? There is no proof whatsoever. So don't add eggshells to your compost, unless you like seeing the bits all over the garden later.

I won't bore you all with my views on citrus peel (it doesn't rot!!), ecover packs (they don't rot!), “biodegradable” fabric washing-up cloths (“aargh!”), and finally, my pet hate, corn-starch food waste bags.... but I think you can guess where I stand on those items, too! 


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  1. Bang on about vegetable starch bags, and tea bags. Sadly I incur your wrath for composting coffee grounds, citrus peel and egg shells. The citrus peel is acidic and could upset the pH balance, but the eggshells (which I always squash) are alkaline so help offset that. The spent coffee grounds are probably mildly noxious. I am guided by the brandling worms - which seem to multiply in the mix. They could an escape into the earth if they didn't like it but they are too busy chomping through mix and turning it into compost. I have accepted Bob Flowerdew's criteria for inclusion in a compost heap: "Anything that has itself grown".

    1. Hey Mal, *wave* that's ok, you are welcome to spread citrus peel and bits of eggshell all over your garden!

      I'm still on the fence about coffee grounds: common sense suggests that caffeine is noxious stuff and therefore to be avoided, but some of my super-eco friends swear by it. So if your brandlings are having a lovely time noshing it, well, maybe it's not that bad after all. Or maybe the caffeine is keeping them on full alert, and working double-time?

  2. Yes, I once was finding throughout a garden bed all the various bits of my husband's expired credit card that he put through the shredder. I did not gather them all up to gift to him, but did tell him about it after. I have found a few brands of tea that I both like and which the bags compost well. I have bigger problems with those instant seed sprouting pots that you activate with water. I spent two summers picking them out of the garden. No wonder none of the seeds planted in them really took off!

    1. Hahahaha! A credit card! Oh, you should have stuck it all back together, and presented him with it!


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