Beneficial to boot, composting at home is an eco-friendly way to recycle household waste and put some goodness back into your soil. The great thing is, it’s never too late to get started. By next season, you might have a ready supply of free, perfectly proportioned compost, bursting with nutrients to give your soil and plants a beautiful boost.
Ways to compost
Compost heaps, which are piles of organic refuse, work well in gardens which have the space for them as, generally, they are easier to access. Site your compost heap in a sunny or partially shaded position on soil or grass as this encourages worms to join the party and speed up the process. Compost bins are good alternatives for smaller spaces and, unlike heaps, are portable too.
Bins can come in wooden, plastic or tumbler styles and each has their pros and cons. Wooden compost bins are open to the air, which supports the composting process with oxygen but can make them a bit smelly.
Plastic bins are covered, however, which can slow down the process but stops them from being on show.
Finally, tumbler bins are rotating and, as such, these speed up the process but they aren’t as easy to assemble or maintain as wooden or plastic types. Visit getcomposting.com for more information as some local councils offer heavily discounted bins to encourage people to recycle waste rather than send it to landfill.
Another great option is to install a wormery. Many are put of by the idea of keeping an army of worms but these little critters are really helpful. Rather than relying solely on micro-organisms to get the job done, the worms work towards breaking down waste as well so they tend to produce compost faster than other ways of composting!
You may find that wormeries attract creepy crawlies so I recommend siting these away from the house, but make sure to choose a sheltered spot so the worms don’t get too cold.
Just wrap the waste in newspaper to avoid fruit flies and avoid adding citrus, spicy foods or anything from the onion family, as the worms don’t like them. It will only take about three months to get crumbly compost that’s ready to use, so start now to have homemade compost ready for spring!
Items to add
You can compost most household waste that breaks down naturally. Try fruit and vegetables that are past their best, stale bread, coffee grounds, ripped up cardboard, crushed egg shells, tea bags and vacuum cleaner dust to name a few!
Compostable waste is split into two categories: ‘Brown’ waste—rich in carbon and slow to rot—and ‘green’ waste—rich in nitrogen and quick to rot.
To identify which category items belong to, think about whether they go off quickly.
For example, banana skins are green waste because they rot quickly in your fruit bowl while hedge trimmings are brown because they break down slowly and take longer to disappear.
It’s best to avoid adding dairy products, nappies, cat litter, and meat or fish scraps to compost—these can smell putrid and attract rats.
Method to mud
Now you’ve got the plot and the ingredients, it’s time to get started! Put a 10cm layer of coarse material like twigs, straw or scrunched up cardboard on the bottom as to create air circulation and drainage.
Now add equal quantities of alternating green and brown material in 15cm layers. You can also add a sprinkling of garden soil on top of each layer to add vital micro-organisms and start the breakdown.
For swift results, fill the entire compost bin or heap at once as a larger mass will generate more heat. If you’re filling as you go, each time you add green material, add some brown too. Turning the heap once a month is usually recommended.
This means using a garden fork to move waste form the bottom to the top. The idea is that this oxygenates the heap and enables micro-organisms to thrive, aiding breakdown.
Eventually, you can stop adding ingredients and leave the heap to mature, covering it to keep out rain.
You will know your compost is ready when it’s deep brown, crumbly and sweet-smelling. If it still smells rotten, wait a bit longer before harvesting.
Whatever the weather
Your compost may go through stages of decomposition as the seasons change.
Too little moisture in summer will slow down the composting process, and too much in the rainy seasons will create a slimy mess.
When turning your heap, check its moisture levels too – it should look damp, but not wet, all the way through.
If it’s too dry, add some water. If it’s too wet, add dry materials like cardboard or dust to balance things out.
In warm conditions, your compost could be ready to go in 2-4 months but a small amount will take less time than a heap that’s piled high.
It will also depend on the kinds of materials you’ve added – bulkier items can take as much as a year to decompose fully but it’ll be worth the wait!
Save broken stems, dead foliage
and even dog fur as nesting materials for birds,
suspending them in a tree using
a kitchen whisk.
Can I use my Christmas tree in the garden?
Yes! Save fallen needles and spread them around your plants as a mulch to deter slugs and protect plant roots from temperature fluctuations, heavy rainfall and soil erosion.
The needles will add nutrients to your soil as well so it’s win-win!
How can I remove worm casts from my lawn?
Casts are present on lawns where soil has been ejected from the earth by worms. Casts are good for lawn health but can be unsightly. Use a wire rake with the teeth pointing upwards. On a dry day, move it side to side over the surface of the soil as this won’t damage the grass but will disperse the casts.