With recent snow on the ground, gardening is probably the last thing on your mind. However, many readers have asked for a beginners guide to composting, so here it is!
Composting at home is a great way to divert things from landfill such as fruit and vegetable peelings but it has many other benefits for the soil and the environment:
- Compost improves the water-holding capacity of the soil which increases the availability of some nutrients to the plants.
- The addition of compost to the soil improves resistance to pests and disease.
- The activity of soil microbes is increased, so that the overall balance of nutrients, soils structure and pH is improved.
- Compost encourages the slow release of its nutrients into the soil, ensuring long term benefits throughout the growing season.
- Any trace minerals or elements that may still be present in the ‘waste’ products, go back to the land, thus maintaining the natural biocycle.
Successful compost needs the following 4 things:
- Organic waste made up of 50:50 green (wet) and brown (dry) ingredients by volume.
- A spadeful of Garden soil or good quality compost as a source of bacteria and fungi (microorganisms)
- Water – compost needs to be kept moist for the microorganisms to live
- Air – compost needs oxygen for the microorganisms to breathe
Green or wet ingredients include:
- Fresh grass clippings
- Fruit and vegetable peelings
Brown or dry ingredients include:
- Shredded paper or cardboard – perfect for junk mail or shredded bank statements
- Straw or hay
It is estimated that up to 60% of the contents of the average household dustbin can be composted such as:
- shredded cardboard egg boxes
- the contents of your vacuum cleaner (providing you have natural floors and carpets)
- Pet fur and human hair – when you clean your brushes or comb, add them to the heap!
- coffee grounds and wrung out tea bags
- soiled pet bedding from vegetarian animals such as hamsters, rabbits or guinea pigs
- chicken poo
- small twigs and hedge prunings
- pond weed
- the odd few nut shells
- crushed egg shells
- odd bits of textiles, such as threads from sewing projects (only if they are natural fibres)
How to compost – 6 steps
- Dedicate your space – one of the easiest and cheapest ways to make a compost bin is to tie together 4 wooden pallets in a square (ask on Freecycle for freebies), or simply find a space for a ‘heap’ in the garden.
- Combine the ingredients you have gathered – remember, aim for equal VOLUMES of green and brown ingredients.
- Water the ingredients if necessary. The compost should resemble a squeezed out sponge. If the compost becomes to dry, add water or fresh grass clippings; if it becomes too wet add straw or some other dry material.
- Mix the ingredients to ensure oxygen reaches the compost, and thus heat is produced to speed up the process. Turn the compost every couple of weeks or when you add fresh ingredients.
- Cover the ingredients with an old piece of carpet or thick plastic to seal in the heat.
- It is the same procedure every time you add new ingredients: add, water, mix, cover!
If the compost is started at the beginning of Spring, it should be ready by the end of the Summer. The compost is ready when the individual ingredients are no longer identifiable, the mix is dark brown with a soft, crumbly texture and it has a rich, sweet smell. You’ll usually take finished compost from the bottom of the heap while unfinished compost from the top can be used to start your next batch.
Want to know more?
How to tame slimy compost
Dealing with wasps in the compost
Dealing with fruit flies in the compost
Wiggly Wigglers – for everything compost related
The Compost Bin – tips from a master composter
Recycle Now’s compost site.
This is a very basic guide, if you run into difficulties or have any other questions please ask in the comments below. And if you have advice to share, share away!