What is composting?
Home composting is an easy and eco-friendly way to deal with kitchen and garden waste. Waste is put into a container, where it breaks down and turns into a soil-like product that we call ‘compost’! Known as black gold by gardeners, compost is a nutrient-rich product that can be put onto garden beds to improve soil health and feed plants.
Benefits of compost:
- Provides plants with a nutrient boost
- Suppresses plant disease
- Improves soil structure
- Helps maintain moisture levels
- Keeps your soil’s pH balance in check
- Compost heaps are great for wildlife
There are many ways to compost! Here are a few:
- Small-space friendly
- Limited volume
- Can take longer as its small size means it doesn’t get so hot
- Available for £18.50
- Cheap, if you can get free pallets
- Quick to make
Places to get hold of free pallets include industrial areas, supermarkets and department stores, construction sites, wholesalers and small businesses. Check out this step-by-step guide to making your own bin, or see below for how to make a 3-bin pallet system!
- Zero prep work!
- Easy to ‘harvest’ compost
- Requires more space
How to make compost from kitchen and garden waste
Add ‘greens’ – these are quick to rot and high in nitrogen and water. They include:
- Vegetable kitchen waste
- Annual weeds
- Tea bags and coffee grounds
- Grass cuttings
You’ll notice ‘greens’ are not always green!
Add ‘browns’ – these are slow to rot, high in carbon and often dry. They include:
- Prunings, twigs and hedge clippings
- Wood chippings
- Paper and cardboard (inc. egg boxes)
- Dead leaves
You’ll want a roughly 1:1 ratio of greens to browns.
What not to put in compost:
- Cooked foods, meat and dairy products, as these can attract pests
- Dog poo or cat litter, as these can carry pathogens
- Diseased plants
- Plants infested with pests
- Perennial/invasive weeds (such as bindweed and couch grass) and weeds with seeds may survive in your compost. These should be ‘drowned’ in water for a few weeks before adding to the compost heap. Otherwise they can be burnt or thrown in the bin.
The golden rules
- Bigger is better – bigger heaps get hotter and therefore make compost more quickly. For the same reason, it’s best to put your bin in the sun.
- Layer it – add greens and browns in layers to keep moisture levels right. Compost should be damp but not wet. Water if needed.
- Turn it with a garden fork or compost aerator once or twice a month to introduce air and mix the materials. This will speed up the process!
- Don’t sweat it – composting is a natural process, so whatever you do, it will happen eventually! It should take between 3-12 months.
Composting food waste using a wormery
Vermicomposters (also known as wormeries) are a quick and easy way to compost food waste using special species of earthworms. Wormeries take up very little space and the the process is clean and odourless. Two high quality products are produced: a very rich compost and a strong liquid plant feed. Shop-bought wormeries can be pricey, but it’s fairly straightforward to make one at home. Find out how to make your own wormery and look after and feed your worms.
Making compost from other materials
You can make compost from various types of organic matter, including wood chips, animal manure (make sure the animals were fed an organic diet) and autumn leaves.
How to make ‘leaf mould’
Leaf mould is made from autumn leaves. Not only is it super easy to make, it is an excellent soil conditioner, meaning it helps to improve soil structure.
To make it, rake up leaves after they fall in the autumn and put them into bin bags. Add a little water if they are dry, tie up the bags and puncture some air holes. Alternatively, make a cage from chicken wire. It will take about 12 months to break down. Simple!
It’s still perfectly possible to home compost even if you don’t have any outdoor space. Check out this wikihow guide to composting indoors.
Using your compost
- Add 1-2 inches to garden beds before planting. See here for how to make ‘no dig’ garden beds using compost.
- Use around fruit bushes and trees to help retain soil moisture and prevent weeds. Don’t place it directly against the bark as this could cause rotting.
- Feed your lawn – dressing your lawn with compost helps young grass take root and can make your garden healthier and greener!
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