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The Berkeley compost layer cake

The Berkeley compost layer cake:

A guide to the biological engine in your backyard.

Some quick rules of compost:

  • Compost is Aerobic decomposition. The bacteria, fungus and microbes breaking down your compost require oxygen!
  • They also need nitrogen and carbon in the ratio of 1 part N to 30 parts C.
  • Compost must be kept moist. Not too damp or there won’t be enough oxygen and not too dry or the microbes will die.
  • Size matters. Bigger compost piles (over 1 cubic metre) will build up and retain much more heat, leading to more microbial activity, breaking down the pile much faster.

Get these right and your compost will smell lovely and break down quickly.

Guide to getting the ratios right:

  • A one to one ratio of dry “brown” high carbon material and moist “green” high nitrogen material will result in the desired 30:1 carbon to nitrogen ratio.
  • Layers make for a great consistency. It can be hard to make your pile completely homogenous so using alternating layers of high carbon and high nitrogen materials is a great compromise.
  • Particle size is important. Chopping, shredding or even grinding up larger pieces will give more surface area for the microbes to work on. Watch that smaller pieces do not clog up your compost though, as a good flow of oxygen is required.

Recipe for a Berkeley Layer Cake:

  • Start by laying out a square of straw 1m x 1m, and between 10 and 20 cm thick.
  • Add a layer of high nitrogen material such as manure, 5 to 10cm thick.
  • Add another layer of straw approximately 10 cm thick and wet the pile down.
  • Continue to add layers between 5 and 10 cm thick of alternating high nitrogen and high carbon materials while continuing to wet the pile.
  • When the pile is around 50 cm thick, place a stick in the middle of the pile to mark out the chimney. Continue to add layers around it.
  • When the pile is 1m thick, remove the stick to create the chimney and the first stage is complete.

Completing the cooking:

  • After about a week the compost will need turning.
  • Peel the outer layers away and pile them in the centre of where the new pile will be.
  • Fork the inner compost over on top of the least composted outer shell.
  • Create a new chimney and leave it for another week to completely compost.

Adding a Frog Pond to your Garden

A pond in your garden can be very attractive whilst also providing habitat for native amphibians. The sound of frogs in your garden at night is very soothing, but the pond needs to be a reasonable distance from your house and your neighbour’s, as the frogs can be quite noisy at times.

It is usually good to choose the lowest part of the garden to ensure a natural setting and water flow but placement can be relatively flexible. Half shade is preferable, with plants around the pond for shelter. A pond that gets no sun will stagnate and lose its inhabitants quickly. Make sure you wait at least two weeks before adding frogs to ensure that the chlorine has evaporated.

To control mosquito larvae, get native Gudgeon from a fish hatchery or White Cloud Mountain Minnow from an aquarium shop. These fish will breed in your pond. Never introduce Plague Minnow (Gambusia) which is potentially a pest and will readily eat frog spawn instead of ‘mossie’ wrigglers. Should you have pets, such as Cats or Dogs, or if there are small children in around the area, you can create a damp area or plant a prickly ground cover to discourage damage to the pond or frogs.

Ponds are available from your local hardware shop, along with pumps and fountains for those with the money. Alternatively, you can make your own pond by scraping out a hollow and lining it with black UV-resistant PVC or EPDM butyl (which is more expensive). If you use this method make sure you weigh down the edges with rocks. Anything that holds water and wont leech toxins can be turned into a pond such as old bathtubs and plastic tubs. Use your imagination!

Your frogs will need to be able to get in and out of the pond freely. If what you’ve used for a pond has steep edges, make a ladder from a branch or pile rocks up at one end. Piling rocks and the occasional nice-looking log around your pond will provide extra places for your frogs to hide during the day.

There are a large number of attractive native aquatic plants available which your frogs will love you for. A great place to acquire such natives is ‘Trees In Newcastle’ (TIN).

http://www.angfa-nsw.org – List of Native Fish good for garden ponds. ‘frog-friendly’

www.aquablueseafoods.com.au/native.shtml – Good Native Freshwater Fish Hatchery (NSW)

www.treesinnewcastle.org.au – Excellent Local Native Nursery