Composting for good soil

Soil, such lovely stuff sitting there humbly underfoot, provides the place, space and food for plants to grow. Often overlooked, soil can be teeming with microscopic life and when it is, it is most likely your plants will want to live there too. One way to bring more life to your garden is through composting.

Soil biodiversity and why it matters
If you are thinking big in your garden, it’s best to start by thinking small. Microorganisms (like bacteria, fungi, protozoa) and insects that live in the soil are the tiny powerhouses that make nutrients available for plants and can help them thrive.

A good look up-close at some of your best soil will probably reveal some worms and insects but there’s other life in there too, such as bacteria and protozoa, which you won’t be able to see. Just one teaspoon of lovely garden soil contains several million bacteria, around a million fungi and around ten thousand protozoa. In that teaspoon lives a small and complex feed web of microorganisms that is changing the soil’s chemistry and structure.

The best way to increase the amount of life in your soils is to add compost. Composting sometimes seems harder than making an award winning sponge cake: ratios need to be right, the pile needs to be moist but not wet and your compost needs the right amount of mixing. All this, not to mention the pests that you might be fostering and feeding, makes composting seem difficult at the best if times. But compost is so good for your garden (and it saves your kitchen waste from landfill) that it is worth persevering with.

Sustainable kitchens & bathrooms on a budget

Virginia Wong See  Architecture@Altitude

When designing a sustainable kitchen to a budget it is important to choose quality over quantity, keep things simple and try to use natural materials and non-toxic paints and oils.

Start your project with a written brief and work from that as a guide and checklist. It is impossible to keep all the ideas in your head.

To make the most of your space and achieve a functional kitchen, design straight bench runs, either as a galley or a galley with an island bench. This avoids creating ‘dead’ corners, making a much more practical kitchen arrangement. A galley kitchen is also easier to remove, relocate and reuse elsewhere – it gives the kitchen inherent value, like a piece of furniture.

Taking this approach it is often wise to purchase better quality items as you can take them with you when you move or sell them if you renovate. Ready-made furniture items can be used, or choose freestanding pieces from secondhand furniture shops. Secondhand stainless steel sinks can often be found at commercial secondhand kitchen retail outlets.

Prioritise your wish list and buy the best appliances your budget allows. A good rangehood will help keep the kitchen clean and is a must in an open plan space, particularly if you cook in open pans and woks etc. Search the internet for run-out appliances or end-of-season sale specials and always choose quality over quantity.

Melissa Wittig – Relish Designs & Healthy Interiors

Simple sustainable design elements can save you money in the short and long term. Consider the following:

– Reuse cabinet bodies (known as cabinet carcasses) that are in good condition. By replacing doors and bench tops you can achieve a new look without the waste and cost. If reusing carcass cabinets is not an option, go for Super E0 (super low formaldehyde emission) board.

– Reuse materials from other parts of the house. If you have great floorboards and plan to tile a new/renovated bathroom or kitchen, consider lifting the boards and using a particle board product under the tiles. You then have beautiful recycled timber that can be used as an inexpensive feature. Tiles removed from the house could be reused for a mosaic in the garden.

– Incorporate easy-to-use recycling bins. It’s simple advice but when things are easy they get used more often. Large purpose-branded kitchen recycling bins can be very expensive, so check out affordable ranges of multipurpose large bins/tubs, buy them before you design the kitchen and design the bin space around them.

– Incorporate an up-cycling drawer when designing storage spaces so that selected kitchen packaging products can be kept for cost-saving reuse, eg rubber bands, glass jars, large plastic containers and egg cartons.

Above image: This 1940s Double Bay apartment kitchen was originally built during the war when materials were scarce. The renovation by Virginia Wong See from Architecture@Altitude reuses the original tapware and keeps the sink in its original location. Gaps in the clear-sealed original pine floor are sealed with cork and cabinetry is built from E0 plywood joinery with hardwood handles. Low VOC paint is used throughout the kitchen.