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
- Very easy to make
- Finished product not very nutrient-rich but 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!
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.
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.
Ingredients for great compost…
‘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!
‘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:
- 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.
Using your compost
- Spread on garden beds – adding 1-2 inches of compost just before planting will give your plants a nutrient boost!
- 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!
We’ve also written a guide to growing at home on a budget – check it out here.