The Quick Return Composting System
From Plant Waste to Plant Loving CompostThe Quick Return composting system is a unique and established method of making nutrient-rich, plant-loving compost which can be made in a matter of weeks. The incredible thing is that there is no need for turning the compost and manure can be omitted without compromising fertility. The QR method hinges upon the use of a herbal activator which is sprinkled into the layers of materials as the compost heap is built. Rudolphs Steiner's biodynamic method uses the same herbs but the way they are prepared is much more complex than the QR method. The application of QR activator serves to assist the heap in the generation of heat, accelerates the decomposition process and benefits the compost and the soil where it is applied through the special dynamic qualities of the herbs. The method is easy to follow but there are certain criteria that must be met and procedures that must be followed to ensure success. After building a couple of heaps the method becomes second nature and failure rarely occurs.
What Materials Can be Composted?
The QR compost heap can transform all kinds of vegetative waste materials into lovely friable dark compost. All manner of kitchen and garden vegetative waste can be added (except meat, fish and cooked foods which could attract rats). Materials should be prepared by chopping them up as small as possible by shredding, running over them with a lawn mower or chopping them up with a spade in a bucket. QR is a hot composting method and can generate temperatures of up to 70 degrees C therefore annual and perennial weeds, including their seeds and pernicious root systems, can be added without concern. Diseased plant materials are not a problem and will also be destroyed in the heat. Rampant weeds, full of vitality, are of particular value and are a major contributor to the fertility of the compost produced. Weeds have a habit of accumulating minerals that may be depleted in the soil, so by adding weeds from your own patch you will be automatically correcting what is deficient in your soil. As with most things in life, what you get of them is generally in direct correlation with what you put into them. So if you put rubbish in your heap you will get rubbish out!
Although I haven't tried the QR method with all the types of bin available, I am sure that it can work with most that are obtainable these days. The important thing to consider is that compost making is carried out by a vast array of soil living organisms. These include bacteria, fungi, protozoa, arthropods, nematodes, molluscs and worms. The fundamental aim of the compost bin is to provide a home for these organisms to help them to do their work to the best of their ability. By optimising the environmental and dietary requirements of these organisms we can increase the speed and fertility of compost produced. Traditional (or New Zealand) type compost bins with a roof covering are known to work well with the method.
Miss Bruce successfully used railway sleepers and corrugated steel roofs for her bins.
Let Nature do the Work!
The activator stimulates the activity of the organisms in the heap helping them to do what they do naturally but faster, more effectively and more efficiently. QR activator is made from six common herbs namely; nettle, dandelion, chamomile, yarrow, valerian and oak bark. Honey is also included in the formula because it is a powerful activator. The activator can be readily made at home by drying the flowers and leaves from the herbs. These must be gathered before midday so that the essential oils are at their peak. The herbs should be dried on a radiator or in a cool oven at less than 40 deg C. When they are tinder dry they can be crushed into a powder. The honey is prepared by rubbing a few drops into a teaspoonful of dried milk powder. Take equal quantities of each of the dried herbs and the prepared honey to make up the activator powder. A flat teaspoon of the activator added to a pint of rainwater is all that is required to make a ton of compost! The activator can also be purchased from this website and from Chase Organics from their organic gardening catalogue at www.organiccatalog.com
Valerian is a beautiful herb with many uses as well as being one of the special herbs used in QR activator.
There are several important things to remember in QR composting which also hold fast for any hot composting method:
Good Drainage; This is essential to ensure that excessive moisture can drain away from the heap without building up and causing anaerobic decomposition.
Aeration; The type of bin used must allow enough air through the sides to allow the organisms in the heap to breathe. Without air, the good aerobic organisms that we wish to encourage, will not flourish and bad anaerobic organisms may take over.
Retention of Heat; The heat generated within the heap must be retained as far as possible but without cutting off air to the heap. Breathable insulation material should be laid on top of the composting material to help retain this valuable heat. Hessian sacks were favoured by Miss Bruce, but old carpet or breathable foam cushions are good substitutes.
Shelter; It is imperative to prevent rainwater running into the compost bin since this will halt the composting process by cooling it down as well as allowing an uncontrolled amount of moisture to enter the bin which could make the material too wet and cause anaerobic conditions.
Moisture; All too often I see heaps that are bone dry which will take an eternity to turn to compost! Moisture is absolutely vital to most of the organisms in the heap who need it for their life processes and to transport themselves around. Bacteria will go into dormancy if they do not have sufficient moisture. Gauging correct moisture level comes with experience. If its soggy then let it drain off or mix it with a dry material. If its dry then mix it with a wet material or soak it overnight then allow to drain. Vegatble and fruit waste contain about 90% moisture so mixing and chopping them up with a dry material like straw is perfect.
The Quick Return Method
The following is a simplified guide for how to make compost using the QR method:
1. The QR heap is built in layers no more than 10 cm thick. Prior to the addition of each layer, add a light sprinkling of the QR activator to the heap.
2. Add the first layer of material starting at the edge of the bin and working around in a spiral towards the centre.
3. Alternate layers of greens and browns and coarse materials with fine materials.
4. Aim to build the heap within 4 weeks and always keep the heap covered with the heat retention material (hessian sack) and then the waterproof shelter over the top.
These instructions are only brief and full instructions are included in every packet of QR activator purchased.
In order to provide trouble free compost making, I have provided an easy to follow step by step guide, complete with photographs, in my book. This is augmented by the reasoning behind the method and scientific knowledge of how the compost heap works. The types of material and their preparation is fully explained together with details about the particular types of bin that work with the method and how to use them.
The Benefits of Making and Using QR Compost
The seemingly hard work that is put into making QR compost is paid back many times over. The immediate impact is that we reduce our carbon footprint by preventing our household compostable waste materials ending up in landfill - it is well known that the decomposition of vegetative matter in the airless conditions of landfill will produce methane; a greenhouse gas that is 23 times more potent than carbon dioxide. The effects and impact of making and using the QR compost are very far reaching indeed.
In making the compost, which I find to be a very stimulating and rewarding hobby, we almost instantly turn a liability into an asset. I have stopped buying growing media (so called compost) for growing seeds or for potting. The soil in my garden is nourished by the compost so imported fertilisers have become a thing of the past.
Soil health and structure become vastly improved. I no longer need to use my spade for digging, it is now employed to chop up vegetable waste ready for the compost heap! The need for watering is vastly reduced as the soil holds onto the moisture. The addition of the dark compost darkens the soil in turn, enabling it to warm up quicker and improving its heat retention qualities. This encourages better plant growth and extends the growing season.
The compost we add to our garden injects life and sustenance reinforcing the food webs in the soil, promoting health, fertility and diversity of life and so the plants that we grow start to respond and reward us with more robust health, more colourful flowers, resistance to pest and disease and become less troubled by the elements. This health and vitality is passed onto those animals that eat the plants including ourselves. There are many examples in my garden where plants have responded to the compost, as well as enabling me to grow certain types of plants that previously wouldn't take to the soil.
The need for pesticides and any other chemicals becomes none existent. I still have to pick off the odd caterpillar or slug but there are many predators to help. The net result is the establishment of an eco system increasing in its diversity and accumulating in its fertility, year by year. A closed loop system is created where the minimum of materials enter or leave the garden and the minimum of resources are expended. In essence a sustainable organic garden is created.
In todays agricultural world, necessity is calling for the farmer to increase productivity and reduce dependance on resources - Lady Eve Balfour had conclusive results during experiments at her Haughley farm that the QR method of composting can deliver increased yields with all the advantages of no external fertilising resource input.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: We have lots of grass clippings which turn to smelly, slimy, mush when we try to compost them. What can we do to stop this?
A: Grass clippings are greens (high in nitrogen content) and should be placed in the heap in layers up to a maximum of 4" (10cm)deep. These should be alternated with equal depth layers of woody high carbon (brown) materials which will provide the correct carbon to nitrogen ratio for the heap as well providing coarser textures which will create a more open structure to the heap and prevent the mush. Brown materials include things such as hedge clippings, coarse weeds, old or unfinished compost, hervbaceous cuttings, prunings, straw, hay, bracken, autumn leaves, hops.
Q: Can I add couch grass and other pernicious weeds with their roots and seeds to the heap?
A: Yes, the temperatures can reach up to 75 oC and as long as greater than 50oC is maintained for 3 days or more then weed seeds and root systems are killed off. They should be added to the middle of the heap where the heat is greatest. .
NEW! QR Composting Solutions Herbal Activator Now Available From Our QR Store
Gardener's Question Time
Broadcast on Sunday 14th December 2008, GQT featured an article on QR Compost Making. In a short interview with Eric Robson, Andrew Davenport gave a quick rundown on how good compost can be made quickly using the QR method.
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