According to the National Farmer’s Union, ‘UK food transport created 19 million tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2002 alone, ten million of those being emitted in the UK itself. That figure represents almost 2 per cent of the UK’s total carbon emissions and 8.7 per cent of emissions from the country’s roads’.
Just think how much oil and gas goes into simply having an apple in your fruit bowl. It’s grown in a foreign country using artificial fertilisers made from natural gas, pesticides made from oil and mechanised farm machinery running on oil. It is flown or shipped thousands of miles, then carried by truck to a supermarket, which the customer drives to, and brings home in a plastic bag made from oil.
According to Defra (www.defra.gov.uk), in 2005 agriculture in the UK produced 85,000 tonnes of nitrous oxide and 873,000 tonnes of methane, which are believed to be worse global warming gases than carbon dioxide. When you include the 19 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emitted transporting food, it soon becomes apparent why food is such a big subject when it comes to climate change.
We all have to eat, but our current methods of industrial farming are fossil fuel intensive and this isn’t sustainable. So what can we do about it?
And I don’t mean the local supermarket! Wherever you live there will be farm shops, or farmers’ markets. This drastically cuts down on transport, and consequently the impact on the environment. It also helps to support local farms and businesses, so effectively sponsoring the good guys.
Most of us do need to use the supermarket, so whenever you can, buy British. This is really just an extension of buying locally. And if possible, make use of supermarket delivery schemes – this is effectively car sharing, since a number of households have shared the journey of one van.
This kills two birds with one stone – a local producer as well as delivery.
Also keep your eye out for neighbours round and about who grow their own; they may be willing to sell you some of their produce for a small sum. There are no end of people with fruit trees in their gardens who neglect to harvest the fruit each year. Even if they haven’t put a sign out inviting you to buy it, why not ask anyway? If you offer to buy fruit from someone who has plenty to spare, they’ll probably just give you a couple of bagfulls.
Also, don’t neglect any local farms where fruit is bought on a ‘pick your own’ basis. This can work out exceptionally cheap and of course cuts down dramatically on your food miles. With just one trip you can often return with carrier bags full of fruit very cheaply.
To make artificial fertiliser requires plenty of fossil fuels. In the introduction, we saw that in the US it takes 10 calories of fossil fuels to make one calorie of food. This figure is likely to be less in the UK, but still quite high. Organic food uses none of this, cutting down on emissions considerably.
CUTTING DOWN ON DAIRY AND MEAT
Although dietary requirements should always be considered, it is true that most commercially available dairy and meat, which isn’t farmed organically, does have a high embodied energy. This is the energy it takes to make it in the first place, which is mostly obtained from fossil fuels either directly or indirectly. However, the amount of embodied energy will vary widely depending on the producer.
Growing your own food
Wouldn’t it be fantastic to have all your food in your back garden? You’d know where it came from, what pesticides had been used on it and no food miles! Of course to grow all your own food you’d need considerably more land than the average back garden, and a good deal of time. But that doesn’t mean it should-n’t be done. Again, it is simply a case of doing something. If each family only grew ten meals’ worth of potatoes this year, it would make a big difference to the carbon emissions of this country. And it is very satisfying to eat your own produce, and gives a sense of independence. (See ‘But I haven’t got room!’ on page 91 if you don’t have your own garden, or if it’s very small.)
Why not turn just one border over to vegetables? This small area could then be part of a simple crop rotation: potatoes, legumes, brassicas, root crops. If nothing else, it will teach you the basics of vegetable gardening, a skill which is gradually being lost from our collective mindset as farming becomes more industrialised over the years.
Why not start with the humble potato? Our family grew our first potatoes by accident when we threw some potato peelings in a small border at the end of our yard. A few months later we noticed these huge, leafy growths – potato plants. We pretty much guessed when to pull them up, and lo and behold we had home-grown potatoes. This is what set me thinking about growing vegetables. I’d never done any gardening before, but here I had grown my own potatoes with very little effort.
Of course if you want consistently good results when growing vegetables, it is best to follow time-honoured techniques. And if you don’t yet know your brassicas from your legumes, you really need to get a book specialising in the subject. Growing Vegetables by Tony Biggs is a good place to start. It includes information on when to prepare the soil, how much lime, compost or fertiliser to use for each crop, and how to select an appropriate variety for growing.
Over the years to come this activity will become less the activity of enthusiasts, and more a fact of life. As our fossil fuels head into the final stages of depletion and artificial fertilisers start to soar in price, so too will our food bills. Growing your own vegetables will become a simple matter of economics.
You don’t have to just grow vegetables, of course. Many fruits can also easily be grown in a British garden. These have the advantage of taking up less room than vegetables, and in many cases are less work. A blackberry bush in your garden, for example, once it has reached maturity, will provide you with a crop year after year and requires little weeding or compost. Britain can support a surprising number of different fruits which have often been dismissed due to our overcast, wet climate, such as grape vines. But if the right variety is selected, vines can be grown in Britain, and in quantity!
Essentially, for British climates, when selecting a species, you want to go for an early fruiting variety, so that it can make the best use of what sunshine we get. Also, look at how long it takes a plant to mature from planting, before it begins to provide a crop. Plum trees, for example, mature quite early on from when they are planted, and within only a few years can begin to provide fruit. Our vine was fruiting while it was in the pot the first year!
How about owning your own cow for milk? Just kidding! But there was a time when everyone owned a goat, as cows’ milk was just too expensive to come by. This practice, and owning other animals like it, was the reason why the village green became common. Although folks often didn’t have the land for grazing their own animals, or it wasn’t practical (goats will eat your washing off the line if they get the chance) they still needed a place for their animals to graze, hence they had a communal piece of land. It was a bit like an allotment for animals.
Keeping a goat won’t be possible for most people. It really depends on how independent you want to be with your milk supply, how much room you have, and how much time you have to look after it. Obviously land is an issue here, as goats do need to be housed as well.
As anyone who has ever kept a goat will attest, they will eat whatever they can find. This is both a blessing and a curse!
You should check the deeds or leasehold agreement for any land where animals will be kept, in case you are in breach of such an agreement.
It can be a complex business keeping a goat. They need land for exercise and grazing, and adequate housing. Attention needs to be paid to their diet, as goats eat large quantities of roughage, usually in the form of hay, and they also need concentrates for good milk production. Goats are also herd animals by nature and much prefer to be in a group.
If you are lucky enough to be able to keep a goat, then bear in mind that it is one of the few ways that an ordinary householder may be able to secure their own milk supply. Also bear in mind that milk can be easily turned into cheese or yoghurt for consumption. Also bear in mind that a goat can be readily turned into meat!
Keeping your own goat is a little far-fetched for most folks, but up to half a dozen hens in a backyard house and run is feasible. A good house will be fox proof and have nest boxes at the end. Hens are relatively simple to look after, they can survive on a wide variety of foods and if properly looked after should provide you with a good supply of fresh eggs.
If permanently positioned, however, the hens will soon dig up and muddy the area. Hens can be incredibly destructive! This is one of the reasons why free range chickens are unsuitable for most gardens – they will destroy vegetables and plenty of other plants which are there.
During the Second World War, hens were rotated around the garden with the vegetables. In the winter, the hens were moved on to the vegetable patch to get rid of insects and weeds, and to manure it ready for the next year.
Although I heartily applaud the free range method of chicken farming, it does need to be thought through carefully. A simple house and run will probably be sufficient (and practical) for most householders.
To begin with you will need to buy a small hen house with a run, and just a few hens. Two should be sufficient to get started. A good house will have nest boxes at the end, where the hens can lay from the inside, but with lids so that the eggs can be easily collected from the outside. Since we’re talking about Britain here, ensure that the hen house is well insulated in the winter (usually with straw).
Some good sites to look at are www.pandtpoultry.co.uk, www.omlet.co.uk and www.ideas-4-pets.com, to name but a few. Initially you will need to pay out for the equipment and the birds, but once you are set up you should soon have free eggs!
As with keeping any animal, care and attention needs to be given to their feeding and general health.
Hens can be fed simply on grain and kitchen scraps if needs be, but this may not result in a fully balanced diet, with a resulting low yield in eggs. Typically, the diet is supplemented with specialised pellets, or they can be wholly fed on a bought feed, designed for egg layers, although this can work out quite expensive. But, like goats, hens can eat a huge variety of food, including grass cuttings, acorns and beech nuts.
Keep an eye out for disease, especially lice and mites to which they are prone. Most problems can be prevented by simple cleanliness, keeping food and drink containers clean and by changing the straw and sawdust regularly. To keep down lice and mites, use a dust for the purpose (such as Diaton), dusting the birds and coop regularly. The same company that sells you your coop should be able to provide you with the right equipment and consumables.
What you do next with your hens depends on whether you want them for breeding for chicks, or for the Sunday roast. Either path is beyond the scope of this book.
Rabbit farming? It may surprise you to know that during World War 2, in addition to hens and vegetables, it was common practice to keep rabbits – not just for the meat, but also for the fur. They are another animal that is hardy, easy to keep and easy to breed. Once again, they can be fed on what is available. Although rabbit meat isn’t to everyone’s taste, it was once common fare (as can be seen from the breeds of dog that have arisen over the years specifically for the hunting of rabbits and hares).
To get started with keeping rabbits, all you will need is a couple of reasonable sized hutches, and a breeding pair. Preferably, the hutch should have a run attached to it, similar to the setup for chickens. The big problems with rabbits seem to be overheating in the summer and disease. So when siting a rabbit hutch, it is preferable to have one that’s in the shade somewhat. Also, cleanliness is essential for preventing disease. You will need plenty of hay and sawdust for bedding, and this will need to be changed on a regular basis.
Rabbits are traditionally fed on oats, bran mash, greens, roots and hay, but they can also be fed on a wide variety of garden weeds.
I have heard of some rabbits tunnelling out of moveable runs, but most folks don’t seem to have a problem with this. Another advantage of the moveable run is that less cleaning is required, and the rabbits will readily fertilise whatever ground they are moved to.
Once you start breeding your rabbits, you will want to have extra hutches on hand. Although some breeders advocate keeping the buck in with a doe, this can cause fights. It is best if mature rabbits (any older than 8–10 weeks) are kept with their own sex. This means that you will need additional hutches as any kits mature. When you are ready to breed your rabbits, put a single doe in with a single buck, and not the other way around. As soon as they have mated, move the doe back to her own hutch for her pregnancy. Once the young have weaned from the doe, then move them into separately sexed hutches as per above, and then butcher at 8–10 weeks or move them into their own individual hutches for further breeding.
Another bonus of keeping rabbits in your garden or shed is the prodigious amounts of manure they produce! These are perfect for your composter, or can be buried nearby to your vegetables. You may want to have a raised hutch with a slatted floor for easy collection, not unlike the chicken coop.
Firstly, my apologies to the vegetarians and vegans who are reading this, as well as anyone who keeps rabbits as pets. Since this section may not apply to you, you may want to skip it.
Even if you are intent on breeding and slaughtering animals for meat, you should give thought to your neighbours, or anyone else who might be offended by your actions. In today’s society there is often considerable emotional distance between the animal and the plate, and even meat eaters can be shocked and upset when it is done in plain view. So do be sensitive to those around you when killing an animal.
Of the animals mentioned here, only goats may require professional assistance. For small animals such as chickens or rabbits it should be a simple exercise to convert them into meat joints. The best way to go about your first butchering is to get an experienced helper to talk you through it. If you don’t know anyone who has the knowledge, you might enlist the help of your local butcher. Even though it can seem a messy business the first time you gut a rabbit, it can give you a tremendous sense of independence. You now not only have the means with which to breed your own beasts, but also to butcher them as well – you are self sufficient. This is a major step on the road to sustainability. Although the basic steps for butchering any animal are slaying, gutting, skinning and jointing, it is beyond the scope if this book to instruct you in this process. A good book such as The Complete Book of Raising Livestock and Poultry should be able to provide you with simple written instructions.
Once again, do remember to be as discreet as possible and show consideration to your neighbours. They might not be as excited about your efforts to become carbon neutral as you are!
But I haven’t got room!
This is a perfectly natural response. Many of us haven’t got more than a small garden, others a yard, yet others, a flat! So unless you are lucky enough to live on a farm or smallholding, you will have to economise on space. Some of the advice offered by the practices adopted during World War 2 can be useful, and you may be surprised what can be done in such a small space. At first glance, a yard may seem to be a case for no hope, but this is far from the truth. Many yards are paved only with slabs, in which case the slabs can be cleared in small sections to make way for your vegetable garden or chicken run. If the yard is concreted and cannot be pick-axed up for any reason, then you may still be able to reclaim it, using rows of heaped compost. Lacking any soil, you’ll need as much as you can gather and the rows of soil will very quickly become depleted. This doesn’t mean it can’t be done, only that your highest priority task is to accumulate compost (see ‘Outputs’ below) in order to create your own topsoil. You may want to purchase some topsoil or compost to get started, but this isn’t essential.
As well as adding your own top soil in a yard, you should also consider growing food in containers. Many vegetables, and even some fruit bushes, can be grown in large containers. However, you will have to pay particular attention to the quality of the soil, as it will have a limited capability of replenishing itself and could quickly become exhausted.
The next best thing you can do for growing your own vegetables is to get an allotment. Even in the centre of large cities, there are usually allotments with spaces available and as long as you don’t cause a nuisance to your neighbours, you can grow anything. I even know of one family in our village who have planted fruit trees on theirs – an orchard allotment.
Many of us do have a garden, but keep it for leisure. Children and pets are obviously another restriction which may cause damage to a garden given over to vegetables.
If there isn’t an allotment nearby to you, is it possible to purchase your own land, or group together with like-minded neighbours and form your own allotment scheme? Land is relatively cheap in many areas, but it won’t stay that way for long. Fossil fuel depletion will mean that land becomes at a premium once more. If petrol is replaced with bio-diesel, how much extra land will be needed to grow crops for the oil? As wood replaces natural gas or coal for heating, how much extra land will be needed for forestry and logging? So look around, and see if there are any unused pieces of land which you may be able to buy up cheaply.
Finally, you can always work alongside your local farmers. Harking back once again to World War 2, it was not uncommon practice to keep an animal on a nearby farm. An arrangement was reached with the local farmer whereby a portion of the animal’s produce was given over to the farmer, or the farmer could be paid for the animal’s upkeep. As long as a local farmer agrees, there is no reason why this practice can’t be resurrected. My wife’s gran kept a pig at their local farm so as to help out with the rationing at the time. Talking to local farmers about your plans is a good way to set out, and may result in a useful pooling of resources. Whether your plans call for a whole field, or simply a corner of one for your chicken coop, it is likely that a farmer can lend a helping hand.
HUNTING AND FORAGING
In our modern times, hunting and trapping seem to have fallen out of favour. It is often viewed as morally (or legally) wrong to go out and hunt for food, be it with dog, gun or trap, but perfectly fine to buy your meat from the supermarket. We live in times where almost any meat may be had for a reasonable price here in the West, and there is little need to hunt for food. Perhaps this is the reason why many seem content to besmirch these activities, because they feel there is no need. As the price of fuel rises dramatically, the need for local meat will rise with it. And remember that these activities are largely carbon neutral.
Meat farming, really, is little more than convenience hunting. Our ancestors ate a much wider variety of animals because of the expense and scarcity of bought meat. Only the local landowners would have had the wealth for regular supplies of meat. In our local area alone pheasants, pigeons, rabbits, hares, even rooks were eaten, and a wider variety of fish such as pike and eel.
Hunting is also much harder to go about these days, since very little land is left for common use, and hunting with dogs is now banned. That said, hunting with shotguns and air rifles is still possible, provided you have the land owner’s permission. The same is true for trapping and fishing, and many water courses do remain in the public domain, provided you hold a current rod licence.
Another more overlooked source of meat is roadkill. Obviously, you will want to be quite picky about what you take though! There is a big difference between a hedgehog squashed flat, and a rabbit at the side of the road which is still warm. Remember that the most important step when finding an animal at the side of the road which is already killed, is to get it home and drop the guts out as quickly as possible to avoid tainting the meat.
Another widely ignored practice is that of gathering your own food from your local neighbourhood. It is quite amazing what can be found in the hedgerows, from the more obvious food such as blackberries, to the less obvious, such as nettles for nettle soup. Crab apples, elderflowers, elderberries, hawthorn flowers and birch sap can all be used to make wine. Hawthorn berries, rowan berries and others can be made into jams and crab apples are prized for their pectin. In spring, even the leaves from lime trees can be eaten like salad leaves, or in a sandwich – lime trees are to be found in almost every park. And in the autumn, keep your eyes peeled for chestnuts to be roasted.
These are some of the more obvious foods that grow wild, many of them close to your home.
Of course, you need to make sure that you have correctly identified any wild food that you pick, as some plants and berries can be poisonous.
So why not get out and about in your local area and see what food is growing? Just a few meals a month locally will once again make a difference to your food miles and it may encourage you to view your local plant life with renewed interest. If you are not sure which plants can be eaten, then why not get a book or two on the subject? A good title is Food for Free by Richard Mabey.
All year round there will be at least one or two plants in season which you can eat, but obviously in the winter there will be slimmer pickings – which brings me to the next subject.
In this age of supermarket food where self sufficiency been replaced by dependency on fossil fuels, how many of us know how to preserve food? When food couldn’t be had all year round, every household knew how to preserve the harvest they had, as their food supply depended on it. Canning, pickling, smoking, salting, drying and freezing can all be used for preserving foods. Nowadays we leave this up to the large corporations.
As you begin to explore the methods above for obtaining more and more of your own fresh food, you’ll soon find yourself with more than you can eat before it goes off. Blackberries, for example, can start going furry after only a couple of days. They last longer in the fridge, but only up to about a week at most. So if you’ve come back from a foraging expedition or a pick your own farm with a carrier bag full of blackberries, you can save some for jam. All you need is a recipe, which can be gleaned from a book or the internet in just a few minutes, some sugar and some jars. The only bought ingredient, to ensure a good set, is pectin. This is a naturally occurring ingredient, found in apples. So apple and blackberry jam, for example, doesn’t need any pectin.
If you want to go further than this, or preserve other items such as vegetables, you’ll need to investigate further. A good book to get started with is Canning and Preserving for Dummies by Karen Ward. You’ll also need to invest in some extra equipment, but don’t let this put you off. You’ll also want to start saving your own jars, rather than putting them in the recycling.
Here is an example recipe for blackcurrant jam that will make about 10lb (4.5 kilos). Because blackcurrants contain their own pectin, you won’t need to add any, so the only added ingredients here are water and sugar. The end product can be stored in recycled jam jars.
1.8 kg (4lb) blackcurrants
1.8 lt (3 pints) water
2.7 kg (6lb) sugar
Boil the blackcurrants in the water and simmer for half an hour. Meanwhile, warm the sugar in a bowl in the oven for 15 minutes at 110°C/ 225°F/gas mark 1. Then stir the warm sugar into the hot fruit and water until dissolved. Boil again until the jam sets.
To see if it is set, put a teaspoon of jam on a cold saucer for a minute or two, then push it to see if it wrinkles.
Beyond simple jams, you can preserve practically anything by one of the methods mentioned. So if you’re already growing your own greens and have too much to eat, then why not go about canning some?
Meat is best frozen, smoked, salted or dried. Most folks have a freezer nowadays, so if you’ve managed to catch a rabbit, for example, then once it’s been gutted, skinned and jointed, simply pop it in the freezer until you’re ready for that rabbit in cider recipe! But other methods of preserving aren’t that complicated. In Africa, for example, giraffe meat is preserved by drying – small strips are simply cut off then put onto a thorn bush to dry in the sun, cooking and preserving in one stroke. Giraffe jerky!
As the cost of electricity goes up, however, our generation may be the last to take freezing for granted. Salting was commonly used and curing salt is still available although not so easy to get hold of nowdays. It is normal table salt, but with sodium nitrate or sodium nitrite added to help keep the meat for longer. One old recipe for preserving a ham recommends using two pints of salt. No wonder salt used to be a valuable commodity! Typically, meat would have been kept in a salt box, or the fridge, for three weeks, then hung. This would then keep for months or even years. There is often a reluctance to have a go at preserving meat, as food poisoning can occur if the process is botched. It is good to be cautious, but as long as you follow a suitable recipe and use the right ingredients, there shouldn’t be any problems. A good book to get you started is Cold-smoking and Salt-curing Meat, Fish and Game by A. D. Livingstone.
Preserving food can be a challenge, but also rewarding. It is not something that most people think of when they consider going carbon neutral, but it is a vital component in the long run. And if you can’t face all those jars of jam you’ve made, they do make excellent gifts!
Save the world whilst drinking; it’s almost too good to be true. If you think this isn’t a contribution to going carbon neutral, consider the food miles in a single bottle of Australian wine. But most of us (me included at one time) would have thought nothing of trying an Australian wine over, say, a German wine. As we’ve previously mentioned, agriculture is perhaps one of the biggest culprits for carbon emissions, from artificial fertilisers, production, processing to transport.
So if making jams isn’t your thing, how about making a few gallons of your own wine for a fraction of the price? While it’s true that there is a fair amount of equipment needed to get started, this can usually be obtained quite cheaply second hand, as many people have some of this kit stowed away and rarely used. I was given half my kit by relatives when I got started and only really had to buy the disposables like yeast and campden tablets. Although yeast can be obtained naturally, it is best to start off with a bought yeast, which you can then make into a starter bottle. All you need to do then is to keep that bottle going. Even if you use most of it, it only takes a little yeast to multiply into a full colony, by giving it more fuel (usually fruit juice and sugar).
Blackberries, elderberries, elderflowers, raspberries, rose petals, oak leaves, nettles, crab apples, hawthorn berries and hawthorn flowers can all be made into wine. A bagful of the quantities can be easily obtained for free by taking a walk at the right time of year. Many such harvests go untapped in these abundant times, when at any other period of history before the oil age they would have been picked clean.
Probably the most costly ingredient for home brewing is the large quantities of sugar required for the yeast. This is best obtained by the sackful from a Chinese supermarket, or local wholesaler.
So as well as saving jars for your jam, you will also need to start saving bottles for your wine. If you can’t save up too many in the time available, just ask your neighbours if they have any they can contribute. Luckily in our area, glass is separated out into its own box for recycling when put out for the weekly collection, so it is simply a matter of wandering down the street on a Wednesday morning and having a look.
Essentially this section deals with compost! You might argue that it also should cover sewage, since that’s what food ends up as. But since the water bill covers the disposal of sewage, I’ve grouped that in the water section.
Waste food material is not the only item which can go into compost. Almost anything can go in which was recently living. The categories of compost material are:
- greens and browns
Greens are the ingredients that will get a compost heap going. They include materials with plenty of nitrogen such as grass mowings, any very young plant material, or nettles. They also include urine (to three parts water) and vegetarian animal droppings. Remember your chickens and rabbits? Even horse or cow manure will be suitable. Unfortunately, dog and cat poo is not suitable, as it apparently contains undesirable pathogens which are then carried into the soil. Although some authors suggest that these pathogens can be destroyed by the composting process, there is not sufficient evidence and information available.
Greens and browns
Most materials fall into this category and include kitchen scraps (excluding meat and bones), manure which is clumped into bedding, tea bags, damaged fruit and vegetables, even hair and feathers. These tend to provide the bulk of material that is to be rotted down and although it frequently has some nitrogen to get it going, the greens are usually needed as well.
If your heap consisted only of the materials above, it would compost quite quickly, but would soon become a wet, smelly, slimy mess! To balance this out, you need browns. These are harder materials which are more difficult to break down such as sawdust, cardboard, paper, straw, junk mail. They also include the tougher, more woody garden waste such as thick hedge clippings, twigs and tree cuttings. If you were to have too much of this material in your compost, nothing would happen at all! In one of my earlier attempts, I simply put a whole food box in the heap. When I came to mix it through a few months later, I found the cardboard box still intact! These ‘brown’ materials must be shredded up at least a little. Tear up boxes, and screw paper up into balls. Don’t simply put your junk mail in as it comes – take out a bit of aggression on it! For tougher material, like woody clippings, you may need a shredder or an axe. A friend of mine used to run the mower over it!
Most problems with compost come from not paying enough attention to the balance of materials in the compost. Too much green, and it becomes too mushy, but too much brown and it will dry out and stall.
The biggest problem with making compost isn’t usually getting enough material, it is having the space. Get as big a bin as you possibly can. You may not believe it, but that bin will likely be full within as little as two or three months!
When it comes to getting a compost bin, don’t rush out to your local DIY store.
Go to www.recyclenow.com where you can get them delivered. Site it away from the house, and have a little ‘kitchen caddy’ for day-to-day kitchen scraps. This saves constantly traipsing to the bottom of the garden for each small item.
If you’re still not sure what to do, simply have a go! You will find opinions differ greatly on what can or can’t be included in compost. Meat, fish and bones are the often hotly-debated items. Joseph Jenkins, in The Humanure Handbook, contends that anything can be composted (well, almost anything) and, as the book’s name suggests, he is a fan of composting poo as well.
Joseph argues that materials on the ‘banned’ list do rot down if they are in a ‘hot’ compost heap, and that humanure combined with other ingredients is the best way to create such a ‘hot’ heap, encouraging these banned items to decompose quickly. If the heap is too cold then it tends to rot down too slowly which means that the items can stay there for longer, providing a food source for rats and other vermin.
Use your own manure? Well that’s what’s being recommended in The Humanure Handbook. Many composting toilets simply involve throwing in a handful of sawdust every time you go, which does make very rich compost. But if that’s not your thing, then manure can always be sourced from rabbits, chickens or a local farmyard. These are your ‘greens’.
Another item which causes controversy is weeds. Should they be composted, or will they and their seeds survive the process and go on to grow more weeds in your garden? ‘Hot’ compost heaps – those with plenty of greens in – should be virulent enough to kill off weeds and their seeds. However, if you’re in doubt then burn any weeds and put the ash into the compost. (Ash from living materials is perfectly acceptable in a compost heap, but coal ash is not.)
If you use nothing else in this chapter, use this! If you already recycle plastics, cardboard and glass, then you begin to compost as well, you’ll soon find that your landfill wheelie bin is practically empty! The only items left will be thin, plastic food wrappings that can’t really be recycled, and any small food items you decide not to compost. For all those who complain about the smell of their wheelie bin, because it is only emptied once a fortnight, I say ‘compost!’