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. Soon you’ll have a supply of free compost, bursting with nutrients to give your soil a boost.
Compost heaps work well in gardens which have the space for them as, generally, they are easier to access. Site it in a sunny or partially shaded position on soil to encourage worms to access 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 air, which supports the composting process with oxygen.
Plastic bins are covered, however, which can slow down the process but stops them from being on show.
Finally, there are tumbler bins which rotate. 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. Some some local councils offer discounted bins to encourage people to recycle rather than sending waste 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 quickly to break down waste.
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!
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.
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.
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!
Through winter, the process will slow down, but do try to keep adding waste because this will help to increase the temperatures.