Breaking it down - composting boost for Bootle community garden 

News item first posted on: 18/10/22

A community garden in North West England is unlocking the power of compost thanks to a partnership between Social Farms & Gardens and sustainable coffee brand GRIND.

Earlier this year Social Farms & Gardens partnered with the brand to offer three grants of £1,300 each to support composting activities in community gardens. The Gateway Collective in Bootle, Merseyside is one of three organisations awarded the grant for their ambitious composting plans at North Park Community Garden. 

The Gateway Collective - who produced 511kg of fresh food for local people last year - are upgrading their composting activity with the aim of generating their own. 

Plans include composting bays with see-through fronts so people can watch the compost biodegrading over time. There will also be growing, cooking and composting workshops with two local schools. In time, the collective hope to expand their composting capacity and incorporate it into their small café.

A few months into the project, the partnership has already had a big impact on the garden. Ali Horton, Founder of the Gateway Collective said: “The first thing to say is whilst I knew there was a good bit of science behind composting, the detail has blown me away!”

Digging in a compost bay 

Composting has already moved to a different part of the site to make room for a community kitchen and to increase the composting area. Ali said: “We are lucky to have two amazing volunteers at North Park Community Garden who are skilled with a drill and saw and can turn their hand to anything! Through clever use of wood and pallets they turned our three-bay composting system into a seven-bay system.”

The grant has also enabled the collective to access valuable help from local composting experts, Composting Works. Composting Works CEO and Founder Minna Alanko-Falola visited the group in September. 

Speaking about the sessions with Composting Works, Ali said: “We are fortunate in that we knew Minna from composting works already as she is well known in Liverpool for her composting expertise! Minna came to North Park Community Garden to chat through our plans and make first suggestions. Our dream is to be able to generate enough compost meaning we never have to buy additional compost from external sources.” 

In the past the group have struggled with slow decomposition and weed seeds lying dormant in the soil. With Minna’s help, the group were able to pinpoint the problem and the solution. “Minna looked at our existing compost which had tell-tale white ash type substance in it,” said Ali. 

I naively thought that was a good thing and it meant we were generating enough heat for the composting process to be taking place. It turns out that means there is not enough oxygen in the compost meaning matter can’t decompose. This can be sorted with regular turning with a garden fork – good for the compost and good exercise too!

“We already knew the principles of good compost - equal proportions of brown and green and regular turning - however Minna came up with a strategy for generating good compost quickly.”  

New compost bays being built

The group started making the breakdown of garden waste easier. “Our plan was to store green and brown waste in a separate area until we had enough to fill up a compost bay in one day,” said Ali. “Everything needed to be as small as possible – this included mowing green waste with a lawn mower to make it smaller and buying a garden chipper for any twigs or branches, which is brown waste.”

A big challenge has been how to chip waste at the site. Battery powered garden shredders proved impossible to find, so the group are now waiting for electricity to be installed in early 2023. In the meantime, the group have continued with their plans, making garden waste smaller by hand. 

“We have needed to go old school with getting our waste as small as possible,” said Ali. 

“Raspberry canes have been chopped by hand with secateurs and roots sliced with a spade. We don’t think we are getting things as small as we need, but it’s a start!”

Three community gardeners have also taken the lead in managing the group’s compost. It’s a move that shows the Gateway Collective’s ethos of growing food, people and community in action.   

“Now when Minna comes for our next session more people can be involved in the training,” said Ali. "We have plans to buy more wood to fill in gaps in the pallets to ensure we can retain as much heat as possible over winter. We turned our existing compost again yesterday and can confidently say that while we are not generating our own compost yet, we are getting there!”

Read more about our grant partnership with GRIND or download our composting guide