My intention to carry out more outdoor exploratory legwork today was abruptly halted by some new (and unexpectedly eeky) discoveries of our compost bins outside our home.
Before you read on and overreact – like how my unsuspecting little brother did – do keep in mind that our composting method is still undergoing an experimental phase. If you have read in our earlier entries, we have embarked on a “lazy” method of composting. Allow me to refresh your memory with an excerpt from one of our earlier posts:
“Normal and recommended composting methods require the compost materials to be mixed before adding into the bin. The bin also needs some turning and mixing occasionally to keep the compost pile aerated. However, Joe and I decided to be “rebels” about this by composting our stuff in layers – simply dumping the raw food scraps/waste into the compost pile and then covering it with a thick layer of ‘browns‘. We repeat this again when there are new food scraps to be added.
Why do we do this? We are currently conducting our own research to see if composting could work even for a person who is considerably “lazy” or “unmotivated” to compost in a tropical climate like Singapore. This target group includes busy working adults, housewives, and unmotivated teens who might just want to get rid of food waste the easiest way besides trashing them down the rubbish chute. If you think about it, a large percentage of our local fellow Singaporeans today still have a long way to go about adapting a green lifestyle.
By purposefully creating our compost pile in layers and not mixing/turning the pile, we are simulating a composting method which is considerably most hassle-free. The result? Admittedly, there are smells, but so far they have been tolerable and controllable…”
Well, today we present you a fresh update of our 2 compost bins – complete with lots of pictures:
So if you have been following our aforementioned “lazy” experiment, you would know that the green bin has been around longer than the pink one. Today, the compost material in the green bin has been sitting for about 3 weeks and 2 days, while the material in the pink bin is only about 9 days old.
A quick recap of what we have done so far: we have purposely left the pink bin uncovered most of the time for better aeration (albeit covering it with the lid overnight just in case there are curious stray animals around), while the green bin has been left covered with a lid almost all the time. The setup of the green bin is slightly different from the pink one. For more information, click here.
Both bins exhibit lots of condensed water droplets on the inside, which is a good indicator that both compost heaps are quite warm and active:
There was some odour coming out of the pink bin, while the green bin (the smellier one) continued to emit a strong rotting smell when its lid was removed. I will address this smell problem later.
So what happened that caused my little brother to scurry away from the pink bin?
We noticed mini living creatures (worms?) alive, growing, and wriggling on the inside surfaces of the pink bin. However, nothing was observed to be growing on the exterior surfaces of the pink bin – thank God. It would be good to note that both bins remained completely clean and dry on the outside.
What exactly are they?
Being aware not to freak out unnecessarily, I phoned my dad who happened to be on the road. He said they were most likely one or more of the following:
- Baby millipedes
- Baby centipedes
- Baby maggots
- Baby fruit flies (in their worm stage)
And he said there is absolutely nothing to worry about.
Moreover, he added that it was a very normal thing to expect since we have potted plants near the bin, and some eggs could have been laid by the above organism(s). Also, they are known to grow/feed on rotting vegetation, and they can play a helpful role in breaking down the compost materials.
(About a month later, someone gave us a more accurate answer to this! Click here for more information.)
The special thing about this discovery is that only the pink bin has these organisms. There are no signs of these organisms growing in and around the green bin at all.
Could it be because the green bin remained closed most of the time, as compared to the uncovered pink bin? Most likely.
Anyway, being responsible and considerate neighbours, we washed away all the organisms on the pink lid. We still allowed the organisms on the inside surfaces of the pink bin to remain though; we wanted to see what they would become and their role in the composting process. Of course, we will continue to seek advice and counsel from my dad (he’s quite a gardener and is well versed in nature-related stuff) and seek more information online. The pink bin will definitely be under closer watch from now too.
We also thought we would provide more pictures of the pink bin’s contents for the visually curious:
The compost material in the pink bin consists of fallen leaves, a few scoops of garden soil, raw vegetable scraps, shredded newspapers and cardboard. For more information on what we did, click here.
Now let’s move on to the green bin:
Notice that the green bin has more materials as compared to the pink bin. That’s because we added more materials to the green bin at a later time – click here to see how we did it.
Unlike the pink bin, there were no noticeable organisms growing inside the green bin. However we noticed that the much contents in the green bin remained in their original state.
As such, Joe and I decided to add some water to the green bin to increase the water moisture content. Did you know: this green bin was our very first homemade compost bin, and we wanted it to be “safe” by ensuring that it was rich in carbon (also known as ‘browns‘). If you refer to our video, you would notice that we had purposefully added a lot of ‘browns‘ in order to start with a carbon-rich compost pile. This is easier to manage and control as compared to a nitrogen-rich (high in ‘greens‘) compost pile.
So after adding water, we noticed that the green bin became waterlogged at the bottom. Joe then used a stick to poke through the pre-drilled holes at the bottom, to allow the excess water to drain out. If we had known this to happen, we would have shred the bottom layer of newspapers instead of adding them whole. (Yup, we will update this in our video soon.)
Now, on to the smell problem:
Both bins had bad odour, especially the green bin. Joe and I were very much prepared for such a stinky occasion by sourcing for hay in Singapore well beforehand.
Hay?? As in food for rabbits, guinea pigs, horses, goats?
According to a reliable source (a humanure composter, Joseph Jenkins), Jenkins attributes hay to be one of the best materials to cover a compost pile and prevent it from smelling. (Think: what’s the worse thing to cover to prevent bad smells apart from faeces?) As such, we ventured out on our sunny lil island Singapore in search for hay, and found it to be easily available in pet stores.
I know the above sounds incredulous. We did have some other venues in mind too: goat farms, the zoo, turf club etc. But these places were more complicated/costly to get in, while pet stores are littered in almost every part of Singapore. (We promise to announce a better source once we find one!)
As such, we zero-ed into one of Singapore’s largest pet stores – Pet Safari at Vivocity. We got about 2kg of natural meadow hay for about $14 plus. It was the cheapest so far; others went for at least $20 for smaller quantities as they were of higher quality. Remember that we are feeding compost, not pets, so getting old/lousy/stiff/dry/brown/stale hay is fine.
Important note: Hay should be stored in a cool and dry place – preferably in airtight conditions – as they get mouldy in humid environments. So upon opening the package to add into the compost bins, we had to store the rest of it in another spare airtight container:
And so we added a good amount of hay to each compost bin. A “good amount” means that the compost material inside each bin is completely covered on the top:
Both compost bins have become COMPLETELY ODOURLESS.
The only smell is the mild smell of hay, which is actually pleasant!
This is an amazing find, and is frequently re-iterated by humanure composter Joseph Jenkins. Indeed, we have tried, tested and proven it with our own bare hands! But this doesn’t mean that you need hay to maintain a compost bin.
As mentioned before, Joe and I are experimenting ways of composting in Singapore, especially for apartment dwellers. When both compost bins started to emit significant odours, we went ahead to get hay to see for ourselves if Joseph Jenkins was right. Well, he really was.
Other cover materials you may like to try are – according to Joseph Jenkins’ humanure website – “weeds, leaves, grasses, hay, straw, even scrap woolen or cotton materials”. We chose hay because it was quite easily obtainable, and we were curious about its efficacy in preventing smells.
Lastly, it is important to improve the aeration of your compost bin by raising it off the ground. (Note: there should be pre-drilled holes at the bottom of your compost bin to allow excess liquid to drain out. For more information, click here.)
What happens if you don’t?
Although this water stain is not a serious problem at all, it still means that excess water is trying to drain out of your compost bin. A waterlogged bin will lead to an anaerobic and stinky compost pile. Moreover, an anaerobic pile composts much slower than an aerobic one too.
So to improve aeration of the compost bins, we finally got a few small items to elevate the compost bins off the ground:
I got this for less than $4 for a set of 12. These are being sold at hypermarkets, such as Giant at IMM. Alternatively, you may use bricks, pebbles, boxes or stones to prop your compost bins off the ground. But I got these little pots anyway as they were quite cheap and may be of use for gardening in future.
Then I laid the pots in threes on the ground like this:
I decided to lay them upright (instead of upside down) as I wanted to be able to check and ensure that nothing (eeky) grows in them as time passes.
Finally, prop your compost bin right on top!
There you have it – our 2 compost bins which are completely odourless (after adding hay) and raised from the ground for better aeration.
We decided to cover both bins for now since night was approaching and we wanted to keep any possible stray animals out. The ground looks wet in the last few pictures as we gave our corridor a good washing down after the day’s activities.
I’d like to apologise for this long entry, as there was just so much to cover and share in detail. As promised, Joe and I do endeavour to give our valued readers as clear and thorough of an overview as possible with regards to our composting efforts in Singapore.
We are well aware that composting for apartment residents ain’t an easy thing, but if you’re keen and curious like us about green living and contributing to a sustainable environment, we’re sure these efforts will go a long way in paving new discoveries and refining green pursuits for our fellow Singaporeans 🙂
We promise fresh updates on our compost bins in the following week or so. Meanwhile, if you have any feedback, advice or tips, do leave a comment! We appreciate hearing from you, and your support in every step of our green experiment means a lot! 🙂