Compost Bins Australia
Earthmaker Aerobic Composter
Compost- one of the greatest resources for a happy productive garden!
Building healthy soil is one of the most important aspects of gardening, and where would most enthusiastic gardeners be without their compost? But making compost is sometimes a rather unsuccessful process for many people and often it is their equipment- the compost bin itself- that makes things harder than necessary. Hard to mix to aerate, slimy and smelly, getting things right can be difficult.
We speak to Michael Smythe, Design Director of Earthmaker Enterprises, who have a composting system with a difference which uses a self-aeration process, due to its design, and therefore is able to speed up the process to about twice as fast and much less likely to become a smelly sludgy mess!
This innovative composting system is sold in New Zealand, the United Kingdom, the United States, as well as Australia, helping create many, many mounds of marvellous rich compost in gardens across the globe.
We get the ins and outs of this system, as well as some great basic composting tips from Michael, who should well and truly be an expert in this system as he was heavily involved in its design!
How is the Earthmaker aerobic composter system different to traditional compost bins?
It takes the classic three-bin system and turns it on its side – so the bins are stacked vertically and gravity does the hard work!
What benefits does the way this system operates give?
The patented Earthmaker system makes composting easy. Organic waste can be added to the top chamber at any time. Mature mulch/compost can be removed from the bottom when needed. Because material is held off the ground during the first two stages the process becomes aerobic. Natural heat, absorbed from the sun and created by the composting process, causes the internal air to rise thus drawing more in from the bottom.
This aerobic aeration process reduces greenhouse gas emissions and makes ‘Earthmaking’ twice as fast as composting in single bins. (Single bin composters make aerating impossible without mixing new and old material. If material in single bins is not turned and aerated it becomes smelly and anaerobic – producing methane gas which is 23 times stronger than CO2.)
What size/capacity is the Earthmaker?
750mm diameter / 1200mm high / 466 litres. One Earthmaker can transform up to 1000kg of organic waste per year into 300ltr of mulch/compost.
What are good things to add to the Earthmaker?
From the garden add grass cuttings, leaves (dry or green), tree trimmings and weeds. NB: Weed bulbs like oxalis and some seeds (e.g. tomato and pumpkin) may germinate. Place them in a black garden bag and leave it in hot sun for a few weeks to sterilise before feeding them to your Earthmaker.
From the kitchen add vegetable and fruit food scraps (chopping them up aids ‘digestion’), coffee grounds, tea bags, vacuum cleaner dust, paper towels /napkins /tissues. Shredded paper, straw, cold ashes and untreated sawdust dust can provide carbon if dry leaves are not available.
What shouldn’t be added to the Earthmaker?
Meat or fatty foods may attract rodents and other unwanted wildlife. Soil, manure or mature compost are superfluous – they have already broken down. Do not overload the top chamber – it will become compact and hard to move through. Avoid large helpings of any one type – varied diet, well chopped and mixed, works best.
NB: Do not use weedkiller containing Chlopyralid on material to be composted (eg: lawns) – the resulting compost may distort some plants.
How can people get the best out of the Earthmaker … give us some composting tips.
The Earthmaker is designed to encourage all organic material to eventually breakdown with minimal effort on your part. A mixture of nitrogen (grass, vegetable and fruit waste, etc) and carbon (dry leaves, twigs, shredded paper, etc) is required. Organic waste from the kitchen only will not work in this system. Move material through regularly – we recommend once a month. The User Guide on the Earthmaker website explains how. The video below also gives a good basic look at assembling and using an Earthmaker compost bin.
Large amounts of grass cuttings all at once can make the mix slimy. Store excess grass clippings and/or dry leaves in a simple bin alongside and use it to layer over as kitchen material is added. This will help to eliminate flies etc attracted to putrescent kitchen waste.
Do not expect material to turn into compost in the top chamber – Earthmaking is a three-stage process. If the very first batch does not create mature mulch or compost recycle it to the top chamber and start again. Once microbes and bacteria have become established the process will accelerate.
What’s the story behind its invention… how did the Earthmaker come about?
Ray Cooper, a New Zealand engineer, grew veggies in the back garden while his wife Freda grew flowers at the front. When Ray decided it was time to get into composting he did some research – and he was not impressed! It seemed he would need a lot of space to accommodate an unsightly three-bin construction and the process itself would be a lot of hard work! He reckoned there had to be a better way. That night Ray dreamt of an earthy structure with material cascading down through stages like a waterfall. He built a tall plywood box with shelves sloping in alternate directions so material could zig-zag its way from top to bottom. He called it ‘continuous cycle composting’. One more was built for his daughter, who was married to a chemist.
When a friend of the chemist, the entrepreneurial Dr Lannes Johnson, saw this device he decided it was far too good to be limited to two back yards. He negotiated the right to develop the concept into a manufacturable marketable product and enlisted the resources of myself, Michael Smythe, an industrial designer. Smaller sheetmetal versions were made and tested alongside Ray’s original ‘monster’ where they were found to perform just as well. When the optimum volume had been established a rotationally cast polyethylene product – the ‘dalek’ – was designed and launched in 1995. About 4000 of this version were sold.
When export to markets beyond New Zealand was contemplated a more sophisticated product was developed. An investment in injection moulding tools enabled production of a stronger, more functional, better looking and less expensive product – and four times as many could be stacked inside a shipping container. This polypropylene version was manufactured from 2002 and exported from 2005. Independent testing in the UK by HDRA (now Garden Organics) in 2006 revealed the accelerating benefit of the aerobic process – they found the Earthmaker made twice as much compost over the same period as single chamber units. Sales in Australia began in late 2007. Over 50,000 Earthmakers are now processing organic waste in back yards across many countries.
Tell us about your interest and concern for environmental issues and how your work with Earthmaker helps address these.
The elimination of organic waste in landfills (where it creates methane gas) is essential and urgent. Every government agency addressing this issue seems to agree that home composting is the most eco-friendly and economically efficient method of solving this problem. The Earthmaker Enterprises approach to maximising the uptake of home composting is to provide the product that makes the job easy (with its gravity-assisted continuous cycle process) and even more eco-friendly (with its naturally aerobic process).
We believe that making the best possible tool available will change behaviour for the better much faster than education programmes. The Earthmaker Aerobic Composter is designed to suit a variety of busy lifestyles – it’s for gardeners (who prefer gardening to mucking about with muck), greenies (who want to do the best possible thing with their organic waste), and golfers (who care more about the greens they want to spend more time on). You don’t need to a committed greenie with a PhD in composting to get good value from an Earthmaker.
The question of recycled plastic content is sometimes raised. Earthmaker Enterprises takes the view that it is more environmentally responsible to supply a product that will last longer because it is not made with post-consumer recycled plastic which is likely to be contaminated. The Earthmaker is made with a percentage of reliable recycled material from factory sources and because all the components are polypropylene it is easy to recycle at the end of its long life. The Henry Ford option – any colour as long as it’s black – ensures a longer life (because black resists UV rays best) and assists the aerobic process (because black absorbs solar heat best).
How much is an Earthmaker aerobic composter and where can people buy it?
Prices range from AU$279 at Bunnings Warehouse outlets to AU$295 with free delivery from the www.earthmaker.com.au website.
Check out our article on composting for more 'how-to' information.