Making your own compost is a very easy and rewarding process and is definitely a skill worth mastering. It is also something everyone can do even those without a garden or allotment. Focus on the Environment and re-cycling issues are widely debated across the world today and local councils now considering charging us for the removal of our green waste, we are bombarded with advice and ideas on this subject on an almost daily basis.
Under European law Britain must reduce the amount of waste that is put into landfill sites, particularly our green waste. Home composting is something that the individual can do, all goes towards cutting the amount of waste that needs to be disposed of. Up to 2 thirds of the average household dustbin is compostable, one third is organic matter, mostly food waste; another third is paper and cardboard (which is great for making compost).
Don't be put off by all the do's and don'ts, have a go yourselves and you'll be amazed with the results.
WHAT IS COMPOSTING?
Composting is a way of speeding up nature’s own re-cycling process. When green waste begins to rot down the heap becomes alive with many micro-organisms, bacteria and fungi and later on insects. Heat is very important in the composting process and the ideal temperature for this would be around 60 ºC (140 ºF). This temperature helps to ensure that any pests, diseases or perennial weed seeds are killed off.
TOP TIP - Composting takes time, so start making it as soon as you can.
As the temperature in the heap begins to cool down the 'wee beasties' move in. These can include worms, slugs, snails and millipedes which in turn can attract the beautiful slow worms who love the warmth a heap provides.
FACT - Heaps are great for attracting all kinds of wildlife to your garden, frogs, toads and birds love to pick at the insects and larvae found there.
GETTING THE BALANCE RIGHT
Getting the balance of your heap right i.e. the right quantities of different materials is not as hard as it sounds. If your heap is too wet then it becomes slimy and smelly, to dry and nothing much will happen. Materials for composting are divided into 2 groups the GREENS and the BROWNS.
Weeds (but try to avoid perennial weeds like bindweed or horsetail)
Human Urine (especially male, sounds gross but it is an excellent compost starter)
Raw fruit and vegetables (avoid using citrus skins as they can make the soil too acidic)
Tea bags and coffee grounds
Hair (pet or human)
All natural fabrics
Cardboard or any cardboard packaging
Toilet and kitchen rolls
Newspapers and magazines
Scrunched or shredded paper (a good place for all those shredded documents and bills!)
Straw and sawdust
Small twiggy materials
Do not use, meat, fish or any animal poo! Any diseased material i.e. brassicas that may have club root or any cooked matter as this will attract unwanted vermin. If your heap is smelly you may need to add some more wood shavings or newspaper to soak up moisture, a smelly heap is a sign of too many greens and not enough browns. Also make sure you don't have a leaky lid.
FACT - Composting seems to happen faster if you keep the heap covered, old plastic sheeting or an old carpet can do this job well.
WHAT'S HAPPENING IN YOUR HEAP?
The secret of a successful heap is to get the environment just right so all the little bacteria and organisms can get to work on the composting process. These organisms like moisture but not soaking wet conditions, they need plenty of air circulating.
TOP TIP - When you first start your heap try and put a good layer of twiggy material on the bottom layer. This will help the air to circulate.
Build up the layers in your compost heap using the wide variety of compostables from the above list i.e.
Layer 1 Twiggy material
Layer 2 Grass cuttings
Layer 3 cardboard, shredded paper as well as kitchen waste
Layer 4 Maybe a bit more twiggy material
and so on until full. You don't need to follow this to the letter but find out what works best for you with the materials you have available.
FACT - Too many grass cuttings will make the heap soggy and smelly, so don't overdo it!
Turning your heap regularly is a must, this will help speed the process up. Aim to do this every few weeks if you can. The process is easier if you have two composting containers or bays, it involves digging out the whole heap putting what was on top of the first bin to the bottom of the second bin and refilling it, this process also helps with air circulation and definitely does make the difference.
The compost can take anything from 6 weeks to a year until it is ready, depending on how well you nurture your heap. It will also have reduced down considerably in size and should be dark crumbly and have no horrible smell, YOU WILL BE AMAZED. Use your freshly made compost to improve the structure of your soil, mulch around your plants and borders or feed your houseplants. Whatever you do you just 'can't get enough of the good stuff'
If you don't have an allotment or large garden you can purchase compost bins of all sizes from your local council for a reasonable price.
These bins are great to have around the kitchen, when full transfer the contents to the bin of your choosing outside.
This is a typical style of bin provided by most councils and ideal for any garden.
This style of bin is easy to make and ideal for a medium to large garden.
This is a composting bay, typical on most allotment sites where you have a large amount of waste. These also make turning and moving your compost much easier.