Mario's last meal..

Since the first appearance of mushrooms in our compost bins, I’ve taken some time to cool off from our initial excitement to knuckle down on researching this mushroom phenomenon a little further.

On paper it seems like a good thing: Mushrooms means decay, decay means activity, activity means composting going well. Right?

Well.. not really. You see, generally if we were to rot anything – absolutely anything at all in Singapore’s tropical weather – you would expect fungi and mushrooms to turn up. However, what we’re doing here is not exactly rotting per se. It is a non-intrusive yet somewhat effective method of turning regular food, garden and household paper wastes into plant fertiliser.

In my opinion, the presence of mushrooms in our compost bins present a few key issues:

  1. The compost pile may have developed into a low temperature pile, since fungus/mushrooms grow in cool temperatures.
  2. The resultant compost may have dormant mushroom spores.

In this case, I am more concerned about having a low temperature pile because it means low activity composting. Don’t be mistaken though, I don’t actually think this is a bad or completely unexpected thing at all, especially since we had created a carbon-rich compost pile from the start.

(Note: Compost piles with a more balanced carbon/nitrogen ratio tend to heat up faster and stay at a higher temperature for longer periods of time. For more information, check out: ‘4 Essentials for Composting‘, ‘Get the Right Compost Mix‘, and ‘Speed Up the Compost Process‘.)

Nevertheless, we are a little baffled by the low activity composting in our piles. Indeed we do not practice mixing the compost materials every once a while for aeration (note: having enough oxygen speeds up composting), but we believe this is well compensated by bulky ‘browns‘ such as scrunched up newspapers that have been added in layers inside the compost bin. With bulky ‘browns‘, we believe that the bin will have enough air spaces within, thereby removing the need to toss/mix the compost pile every now and then.

So does this mean that our compost piles have somehow stagnated at this point?

We don’t think so. Not yet, unless the composting process is complete. We know that at least some microbial activity (invisible to the naked eye) will still be taking place, until the composting process is truly complete. Remember that the end result of composting is usually a dark brown substance that looks and smells like soil.

It might also interest you to know that apart from mushrooms, other tell-tale observations of a carbon-heavy, low-heat, low-activity compost pile may include odours (it is of course a different odour from an anaerobic pile, but we’ll talk more about it another time) and small bugs. We noticed these symptoms even within our first month of composting. Immediately, we solved it using hay – a material we still hail as a miracle ingredient for apartment composting.

For more information on how hay has been able to completely prevent odours and pests, follow our composting updates here.

On a side note, I think this really clears the misconception that vegetable compost piles do not smell. They do, if not composting the right way. Also, a carbon-heavy (or ‘brown’ heavy) pile does not always offer a less problematic composting solution with regards to odours.

However, I must make a clear mention that no offensive bugs have developed and no cretin have tried to rummage through our compost piles even when they were left open and unattended outside our apartment. For more information, follow our “lazy” experiment. You will see that we have actually left our compost bins completely unattended for weeks! Yet, our compost bins have remained free from pests and odours.

This is very important to us because Singaporeans are not tolerant of cockroaches, stray animals or rats at all. If we had built a compost pile that attracted even one baby cockroach or a curious kitty, I believe we would have to reconsider apartment composting as a workable solution at all. Yup, this is given the close physical proximity of residents living in HDB, high-rise buildings and apartments.

I shall TM every word in the WORLD!

While I am glad that mushrooms in our compost bins are not serious composting problems, I am bothered about how long it’s taking the compost pile to break down. Given our hot humid weather and frequent rain showers, I really expected the piles to be ready in a month.

For example, if you’ve ever left a sandwich in a ziplock bag and let it sit for a month, it actually becomes a rather disgusting-looking fungus field – I would like to officially term such an occurrence as a humongous-fungus, or fungus-mungus, whichever catches on as an Internet meme. You know what, I’m just going to TM™ the thing:

Humongous-fungus™ and Fungus-mungus™.

There, I did it. Sue me. Or is it the other way around? hmm.. 😉

All in all, we will be researching more into mushrooms and then update you soon on what to make of mushrooms in your compost pile.

Final note, just in case you really didn’t know: Do not eat the mushrooms you see in your compost bin. Unless, you are doing mushroom composting.

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