Compost awareness week and how to tame slimy compost!

Filed in Blog by on May 4, 2009 30 Comments
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compost-awareness-weekIt’s compost awareness week!

The most common issue my friends have is that they end up with a wet, slimy mess instead of dry, crumbly sweet-smelling compost.

Never fear; Mrs Green (thumb) is going to help you put that right in one easy step!

It’s all about yer browns, my lovely. You need more browns!

Making compost is a bit like making a cake – if you add all flour and sugar you don’t get a cake. If you add all eggs and milk; you don’t get a cake.

You need a mixture of dry ingredients and wet ingredients for success.

Or, in basic composting talk; browns and greens.

  • For browns think: cardboard, paper, straw
  • For greens think: vegetable and fruit peelings, grass clippings

So, go to that slimy mess of yours, give it a poke about with a stick, or tip it all out if you can and start shredding some cardboard and paper like a hamster and add it to the compost heap.

Don’t just put flat sheets of paper or card into the pile, that won’t work! What you are looking to do is create pockets of air; so scrunch, shred or chew it up into pieces, if you’re so inclined, and bung it in.

Give it a stir around, cover it to keep warm and leave it for a couple of days.

Then go back and grab a handful of the mix from the middle of the pile. Give it a good, hard squeeze. If you get just a drop of water from it; you’ve got a great consistency.

If it’s still slimy you need to add more browns (dry stuff). If it’s too dry, then add some greens (wet stuff) or give it a gentle and careful water.

Mix it up, put the lid on and leave for a couple of days.

Repeat ad nauseum until you get that lovely ‘well wrung sponge’ consistency that you are looking for.

After that it’s easy to maintain!

All you have to do is remember to add the same VOLUME of greens to browns whenever you add new ingredients.

So, if you have a kitchen caddy of vegetable and fruit peelings; add a kitchen caddy’s worth of shredded card, paper or whatever other brown you can get your hands on.

If you have a mower collection box full of grass clippings to add, then add a mower collection box full of shredded browns.

Easy!

Now get off your arse henceforth, go and tend to your compost heap and let me know how you got on.

I’d love to hear your tips too. I know we have some seasoned composters in our company; so please come and share your secret tips for success when the slime monster attacks.

Let’s keep on focus with the topic for today, but if you have any other composting woes, please put them in the comments below and I’ll try and get around to answering them this week.

Oh, and if you want to buy the most amazing, beginners guide to compost; which include composting for ALL garden sizes and set ups (and lack thereof) then buy this book ” Compost – how to make; how to use – everyday tips” which is available 15th May!

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About the Author ()

I am a long time supporter of the Green and Sustainable lifestyle. After being caught in the Boscastle floods in 2004, our family begun a journey to respect and promote the importance of Earth's fragile ecosystem, that focussed on reducing waste. Inspired by the beauty and resourcefulness of this wonderful planet, I have published numerous magazine articles on green issues and the author of four books.

Comments (30)

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  1. Sarah says:

    When you’re putting in paper or card tear it, don’t cut or shred it – the torn edges help it rot down.

    Don’t forget to add pet cage cleanings too – if you have herbivore pets, no carnivorous waste. So guinea pig, rabbit, hamster stuff is fine when you clean them out, as are henhouse cleanings. The poop in those adds so much goodness to your compost!

  2. John Costigane says:

    Hi Mrs Green,

    Composting is a great way to manage the garden, and suitable food waste. You are encouraged to expand efforts with the extra material, eg for raised beds, indoor nursery, window boxes.

    The plastic composter is a compact way to produce the goods but with particular problems. These are related to some design weaknesses associated with plastic.

    The front hatch, for some compost removal, tends to have space at either side or its base. These are problems areas with slime as one example.

    After the recent emptying, 3/4 was added to the soil and the remainder replaced in the compost bin. This time I packed the front area fully, including some soil to provide a full coverage for the plastic hatch, so the gap issue is fixed.
    The base was also firmly embedded in the surrounding soil.

    Composting liquid, my preference, and powder is available to aid the process. The compost is damper than the warm compost type and takes a full year to finish. This makes it an annual rotation suitable for gardening.

  3. Fantastic advice Mrs G and I adore the cover of that new compost book. Will add a link over from my blogpost. After all…it’s not everyday a gorgeous gal launches her book. Congratulations honey πŸ˜€ xx

    Oops I was almost too excited there to mention my sweepings. The contents from my vacuum cleaner and the dusptan also add to the mix very nicely to help stop the slime. Helps keep the rubbish bin lighter too. x

  4. just Gai says:

    I am reliably informed (though have never tried it myself) that weeing on one’s compost heap speeds up the decomposition. This can be done under cover of darkness or, as some friends of mine do, by collecting one’s wee in a bottle by the loo and emptying it daily into the bin.

    This weekend we emptied our compost bin and used the contents to freshen up our containers and fill a few more to plant our potatoes and salad. The satisfaction of seeing household waste turned into a fertile growing medium is immeasurable. Pure magic!

  5. i have found that dried and crumbled eggshells sanitize the compost mix by supplying calcium phosphates and necessary minerals.
    sour milk also adds lactic sugars and vitamins to the humus. if enough cardboard or leaves are present; this helps tomatoes and peppers to be disease resistant, as blossom end rot and black wilt attack weak plants.

    fish bones and crushed oyster shells accomplish the same effect with no offensive odors, skunks and neighbor’s cats will not compete for the opening of the composter if you add enough of what mrs Green calls browns.

  6. Lisa says:

    Great post! I just started composting and so far no smell. πŸ™‚

  7. John Costigane says:

    In my rush to post details, Mrs Green, I overlooked the importance of the book itself. Great to see this was your own effort: the first of many, perhaps.

    It will make an excellent addition to my collection. As I already have experience of composting the main use will probably be in spreading the message to family, friends and neighbours.

    A topic on SkyNews Forum will be raised to promote home composting with reference to the website and the new book, in particular.

  8. Have added both this book and your cleaners onto my wishlist at Amazon.

    Well DOne!!

  9. Clay W says:

    Some time ago I posted ways to recycle your shreds from your paper shredder, I mentioned composting along with other interesting crafts and such you can do with it. Do you have a preference on strip cut shredders or crosscut shredders when you shred?

  10. Mrs. Green, I’ve just learned a bit about composting of late. I’m composting my veggie peels and coffee grounds and egg shells. I use the crunched up concoction directly in my soil and my plants are LOVING it!
    I also have just started using my shredded paper in the garden as well.
    GREAT POST!

  11. Sarah says:

    Ah, any egg shells here are baked dry, crushed and then fed back to our hens so they can make more eggs!

  12. Mrs Green says:

    @Sarah: Great advise about tearing the paper, to leave a more absorbent edge, sarah – thanks! Pet cleanings are great too because everything is already combined for you!
    Lucky chickens in your house – baked dry and crushed eggshells, indeed…

    @John Costigane: Hi John, I think the plastic composters are useful for those with limited space, but they take more maintenance to get them working well. I prefer a wooden slatted system, and fortunately we have the room for one. Thanks for the well wishes on the book πŸ™‚

    @Almost Mrs Average: Hi Mrs A – thank you for your lovely comment; and I appreciate a link. Great idea about the vacuum sweepings – we add ours too and it’s absorbent!

    @just Gai: Am loving that you used your home made compost this weekend and yep, a good pee on it works wonders; especially the males so I believe πŸ˜‰

    @nadine sellers: What brilliant advise, Nadine; thank you! I never knew about sour milk and lactic acid. You live and learn …

    @Lisa: Hi Lisa, great to see you again. Glad the composting is working out well for you!

    @maisie dalziel: Thank you Maisie, you are very kind. I look forward to your critique πŸ™‚

    @Clay W: Hi Clay; recycling paper shreds is a neat idea! Many people use it for compost and I have to say for us, it burns spectacularly well. Using it for making paper or for packing materials, as pointed out in your article are good ideas.
    I have no preference about the shredder, just as long as it works and doesn’t jam too frequently!

    @Tammy Brackett: Hi Tammy; I can feel your enthusiasm in your post – thank you so much for sharing about your experiences. It sounds as if all is going well for you and I’m glad you enjoyed the article. πŸ™‚

  13. DIz says:

    I started a plastic compost bin for zero waste week. I have banned OH from putting grass cuttings in it, as he’d fill it all up in one go. I therefore just have fruit and veg bits, eggshells, teabags and shreddings. It is well mixed, but rather dry, just full of ants and attracting flies. I don’t want to have to give up with it yet, but need to solve this before it becomes a noticeable warm weather problem.

  14. Mrs Green says:

    @DIz: I would say your browns to green ratio is wrong, Diz.

    You need to add the same VOLUME of browns (cardboard and paper) to greens (fruit and veg peelings). If it’s too dry, then water it a bit, give it a mix around and look for that ‘well wrung sponge’ consistency.

    Remember to cover the fruit and veg scraps with shredded paper before adding to prevent the fruit flies and don’t worry too much about the ants πŸ™‚

  15. Penny says:

    wow, this site is amazing……answered all my questions, thank you very very much.

  16. Mrs Green says:

    Hi Penny,

    Welcome to the site and thank you for taking the time to leave a comment. I’m glad you found the article helpful – happy composting!

  17. Alexis says:

    Hello, i just stumbled upon this site after reading about the strauss family. what an inspiration =) i live in the philippines, it’s not very recycle friendly here, so i like to do my part as much as i can. i’m moving to a small condo soon so i won’t be able to have a nice big compost pile. what can i use to keep the compost without it smelling and irritating my girlfriend. i’ve never had compost, so i’m not really sure how to go about it. any suggestions would be much appreciated. thanks!

  18. Mrs Green says:

    @Alexis: Hi Alexis, welcome to he site. Can you tell me more about the land available to you or will you have no land at all? Give me more specific details and we’ll see if we can come up with some suggestions πŸ™‚

  19. Alexis says:

    Hi Mrs. Green! =) i will have no land at all! i’m moving to a small apartment. all i’ll have (maybe…) is hanging or window plants =( is there still hope?

  20. Mrs Green says:

    @Alexis: Hi Alexis, ok if you have the space for one a wormery is an option. Do you have a balcony, hallway or porch? You could certainly make use of one of these in a limited space. The other idea is a bokashi system; this ‘ferments’ your waste which can then be added to a regular compost heap (you may have a community allotment, friendly gardener or colleague who would be happy to take your bokashi offerings) or you can feed it to your worms. You’ll end up with some fabulous fertiliser / plant food – just the right amount for hanging baskets and window boxes πŸ™‚

  21. Tor says:

    I’ve been composting since I moved into this house last April, although in the winter months I got lazy and didn’t fancy traipsing down to the compost bin each day… In September I bought a compost caddy which sits on the side in the kitchen and all the vegetable peelings, tea bags, coffee grains, egg shells etc go in there and its working very well. My food waste has certainly been reduced! However, I am curious as to what you do with cooked food and meat waste? I use up as much as I can in soups, stews, pasta sauces etc but still there is some waste – such as the carcass from the chicken I just used to make stock. I don’t want to put in into landfill, but all the composting guidance I have read says it can’t be composted either. What can I do?

  22. Mrs Green says:

    @Tor: That’s a great way to reduce trips down the garden. Our kitchen caddy is emptied once every few days; which is fab as we have 6 inches of snow on our compost heap lid! For cooked meat, dairy, and fish you need either a bokashi, wormery or green cone. Each of these systems will take them, For bones, the best thing is a green cone. But if it’s just a few softer bones (ie not an entire carcass) a bokashi will deal with them

  23. Lesley says:

    I’ve just purchased a wooden compost bin.We’ve had a plastic one for years,and had moderate success…we have bokashi bins,the contents are added to said plastic bin.But it’s never been warm in there.So do we need to site our new bin in a warmer location? We have room to site it in a sunnier position.

    And our local news channel did a piece on composting.Apparently,only men should widdle in the bins.Something to do with hormones.And there’s the practical aspect as well! Much easier for them than the ladies…

  24. Tracey says:

    I’ve started using wood pellets on our cats’ litter trays. I scoop and flush any solid waste, but everything else goes straight in the compost bin once a week (the same time I empty the compost caddy! It seems to be working really well and have reduced our “black-bin” waste by about 2 full carrier bags per week! I just need a second compost bin now and some time to actually start using all the compost! πŸ˜€

  25. Tracey says:

    @Lesley: http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/gardening-blog/2009/nov/13/composting-urine confirms that any urine is good (one of the reasons I’ve started using the cat litter!) and it’s more a logistic problem for women – due to the not being able to pee standing up!

    Although you can now get a she-wee (http://www.shewee.com/) if you’re really keen! πŸ˜€

  26. Mrs Green says:

    @Lesley: I’ll be interested to see if you get on better with the wooden one. I’m dropping hints to Mr G about wanting a three part wooden system – watch this space!

    @Tracey: Great news on reducing your waste and putting your cats toilet habits to good use!

  27. Ant says:

    Does ink from newspaper or from the garish outsides of cereal boxes add toxins to the compost? Or the glue that they use to stick them together? What about the bleaches that they use when making white envelopes? Or whatever they use to make packaging shiny?

    I’d love to put all of the above into my compost but was concerned about the extra chemicals being added. But if it’s safe then I’d do it.

  28. Doc Boggle says:

    I’ve found that to prevent ‘sliminess’ in a pile the following step are useful.

    Cover your compost with a plastic tarp if heavy rains are forecast.

    Allow for maximum airflow, including the bottom of the pile. Setting up your pile on a wooden pallet works, or starting your pile on a large pile of sticks and twigs allows for air access. Also if your pile gets rained on, excess dampness can drain out the bottom.

    • Mr Green says:

      Thanks for sharing what works for you, Doc. Maximum airflow is a must, right? I wonder if these plastic ‘darlek’ style bins have enough air around the bottom of the compost…

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