Welcome to the GreenHome guide to composting! Are you one of the many people who think that composting requires a lot of time, effort, resources and space? This is for you!
Well think again. Home composting can be an incredibly simple and rewarding process that not only produces healthy and nutritious soil, but also benefits society as a whole.
Composting of organic waste significantly reduces the amount of waste that ends up in landfill, which reduces pollution of soil and groundwater from leachate, and the production of the greenhouse gas methane.
An aerated compost heap will not produce methane.
Where to Compost?
Bins do tend to make compost easier to manage and they look neater. A heap with a big piece of cardboard or old sheeting for a cover will do the job, but you can build your own container and there are many different options available for purchase. (Find out where to buy bins here).
Ideally your compost heap should be situated on soil or turf in either full sun or semi- shaded position (so it get’s nice and hot) and away
from any water supplies. Your bin should also be easily accessible, have a lid or cover and any gaps on the sides should be kept to a minimum.
What to Compost?
Basically, anything that was once living is compostable. Avoid cooked food, meat, fish and dairy in a heap as they can attract vermin. For the best results you need equal quantities of‘ green or wet ingredients (nitrogen rich) and brown or dry ingredients (carbon rich).
‘GREENS’ (nitrogen rich ingredients) rot quickly and and act as activators getting the composting started, however they turn into a smelly, soggy, rotting mess on their own (which is why you need the brown.
Uncooked fruit and vegetable peelings
Tea bags, tea leaves and coffee grounds
Soft green prunings
Animal manure from herbivores
‘BROWNS’ (carbon rich ingredients) are older, tougher plant materials that usually make up the bulk of the compost. They are slower to rot and it is best to shred or chop where necessary. Browns include:
- Cardboard (including toilet roll tubes, egg boxes etc)
- Newspaper, waste paper , magazines and junk mail
- Paper towels & bags
- Biodegradable packaging
- Hedge clippings
- Woody prunings
- Old bedding plants
- Wood shavings
- Autumn leaves
Other items that can be composted are wood ash (in moderation); egg shells; natural fibres such as wool and cotton and hair and nail clippings.
NEVER compost meat, fish, coal ash, cat litter or dog faeces. More about what not to compost here here.
Add compostable items to your pile as you feel like it, and it will turn to compost, It really is as simple as that.
But there are ways to optimise the time it takes for it to compost (we want compost as soon as possible) and the quality of the final outcome (your plants will love you). A little bit of effort goes a long way with composting and mixing more or less equal amounts of both ‘green’ and ‘brown’ ingredients by volume will produce the best results.
You can choose to make either a COOL HEAP or a HOT HEAP, or a hybrid of both. A HOT HEAP is a bit more work but it produces compost in the shortest time.
Build layers in your compost heap. Put a layer of dry ingredient, then add your kitchen wet ingredients as they come available, then add another dry layer on top. Remember to stick to more or less equal amounts of browns and greens and to create spaces for air flow and moisture drainage. So if your waste is mostly green waste, add straw or shredded cardboard/ newspaper as well as a few old wooden branches.
When and if the container is full, (this may never happen as the contents will sink as it composts), cover and leave it to finish making compost which could take up to a year. You may be able to use the compost from the bottom of the pile while still adding new ingredients to the top. This just depends on the rate at which you are adding ingredients and the rate at which compost is being produced.
Collect enough material to fill your container in one go. Some of this may have been stored in a cool heap and have started to rot slightly. Ensure you have an equal mixture of green and brown materials. Chop up or shred any big/tough items
Mix ingredients together as much as possible before adding to the container. Fill the container, watering lightly as you go and give the heap a good mix. Cover and let it sit in the sun.
After a few days, the heap should get hot to the touch. A week or two later it should start to cool down. Mix it all up, trying to get the outside to the inside. Add water if it is dry, or dry material if it is soggy. Replace in the bin / heap and leave again to “cook”.
The heap will heat up again because the new supply of air you have mixed in allows the aerobic microbes to continue with their work of making compost. This step can be repeated several more times, and the heating will lesson each time. When it no longer heats up again, leave it undisturbed to finish composting. This could take anything from 2 months to a year depending on various factors such type, position, composition and amount of turning.
Your compost is ready when it has turned into a dark brown, earthy smelling material. It is then best left for a month or two to ‘mature’ before it is used.