Compost Bins and Composting.
Turns your kitchen and garden waste into a valuable and nutrient rich food for your garden
Traditionally an allotment gardener would have a compost heap somewhere within their allotment. This heap would be added to throughout the year and as the waste broke down into usable compost, this would be shovelled out and used around the allotment to improve the condition of the soil – ensuring fresh nutrients were being added every year. With more and more people now growing crops within their back garden, gardeners need a place where they can turn their garden waste into valuable, usable compost – but without having to have a huge compost heap at the bottom of the garden. To achieve this, there is now available a wide range of composters, compost bins, compost tumblers and wormeries, with a wide range of shapes and sizes available so you are sure to find one to suit you and your garden.
What Is Composting?
Composting is an inexpensive, natural process that transforms your kitchen and garden waste into a valuable and nutrient rich food for your garden. It’s easy to make and use. Composting occurs when organic waste is mixed with air and moisture enabling the micro-organisms to break down the material. Worms, bacteria and fungi will all take up residence in your compost bin – earthworm activity is a good indicator that your compost bin is working.
Why Compost? Be Green
Although many households are already composting, recent research has shown that almost half of the food waste in our bins could have been composted. By composting at home for one year you will be saving global warming gases equivalent to all the CO2 your kettle produces in a year or your washing machine in three months.
You may wonder why you need to compost to be green – doesn’t your kitchen and garden waste break down in landfill anyway? The reason is when waste is sent to landfill, air cannot get to the organic waste. So, as the waste breaks down it creates methane, a harmful greenhouse gas, which damages the Earth’s atmosphere. However, if you placed the same waste in a compost bin in your garden, as oxygen can get to the waste it decomposes aerobically, which means that hardly any methane is produced and you also finish up with some free, nutrient rich compost for your garden.
What Good Is Compost?
The compost which you can be formed from your kitchen and garden waste is not the same as the compost you buy from the garden centre to use to pot your plants into. Shop bought compost is a mixture of various materials – such as sand, coir and grit – whilst the structure of compost which you make is not as fine as shop bought compost, and should be used to improve the soil structure in your garden rather than being used in seed trays or plant pots.
The compost which results from composting your kitchen and garden waste is extremely nutrient rich and is ideal for using to improve the structure of your garden soil, to maintain moisture levels and to keep you soil’s PH balance in check whilst helping to suppress plant disease. It will help clay soils to drain better and sandy soil to retain water. The compost you have made will contain everything your plants need to remain healthy, including nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium and it will help soils that are very acidic or alkaline.
Why Have A Compost Bin?
It makes a tidy home for your compost heap It makes it easier to manage - speeding up the composting process.
How To Make The Best Compost?
- By keeping your garden waste all together higher temperatures are achieved at the centre of the compost bin – higher temperatures result in waste breaking down more quickly, so speeding up the composting process.
- It keeps any curious animals from nibbling the garden / kitchen waste.
- What To Look For In A compost Bin?
- Needs to give easy access to the compost when it ready to remove – look for a compost bin that has a removable panel so you can shovel out the compost which is ready to use.
- To prevent overheating you need to place your compost bin in a location within your garden where it will receive some shade during the day.
Think of your compost bin as a place where you add the perfect ingredients to make a rich compost. By following a few simple guidelines you should be able to generate compost ready to mix into your garden soil after just 6 months.
When you have a new compost bin, to create good drainage and air circulation, first add a layer of coarse material – this could include woody plant stems, twigs and straw – this first layer should be about 4” thick.
You can now add in your garden and/or kitchen waste – ideally put in different layers of soft and tough materials – if it’s dry you’ll need to water the waste to help the composting process to work. Spread the waste so that it reaches the edges of the compost bin and firm down gently. To help speed up the composting process add some manure or soil into the compost bin in between some of the layers of waste – this will help to introduce the bacteria and fungi needed to break down the waste in your bin.
For the composting process to work efficiently the temperature needs to increase within the heap of garden waste – so ideally cover the top of your compost bin. If it doesn’t come with a top, make your own cover with a piece of sheet, polythene, tarpaulin etc.
Now it just takes time for your garden waste to decompose down into compost – on average it will take about six months from adding the waste to being able to remove compost ready to use. To help this process to progress, use a compost aerator to add air to the mix which will help the waste to rot down. Turn the compost every two to three weeks to reactivate the composting process – within this time the microorganisms breaking down the waste will consume the available oxygen and need more air to be added to continue to compost efficiently. Once the waste has turned into a dark brown, earthy smelling material, the composting process is complete. Ideally leave the compost in the bin for 1-2 months for the compost to ‘mature’ before shovelling it out and using in your garden.
Does and Don’t Of Composting
Having the right mixture of kitchen and garden waste to your compost bin will create compost that breaks down quickly and doesn’t produce an unpleasant odour. Basically, anything that has once lived will compost but some items are best avoided (for example meat, dairy products and cooked food will not compost well and will attract vermin to your compost bin).
Do add the following to your compost bin:
Add a mixture of ‘green’ and ‘brown’ items to your compost bin, including the following -
| Green Waste – sources of nitrogen
|| Brown Waste – sources of carbon – slower to rot
| Used tea bags
|| Cardboard – such as cereal packets or egg boxes
| Used coffee grounds
|| Woody prunings
| Young weeds (which act as an activator)
|| Dried flowers
| Tops of perenial weeds
|| Shredded newspaper – not the shiny type
| Soft hedge clippings (which act as an activator)
|| Shredded material – cotton or wool fabrics
| Grass cuttings (which act as an activator)
|| Dead leaves
| Uncooked fruit and vegetable peelings
|| Untreated wood shavings, sawdust and straw – very slow to decay
| Wilted fresh flowers
|| Peanut shells
|| Bedding from vegetarian pets – for example rabbits, guinea pigs or hamsters
| Tops of nettles (not the roots)
|| Old bedding plants
| Tough hedge clippings
|| Egg shells
| Comfrey leaves
| Animal manure from herbivores (cows, horses etc.)
| Poultry Manure
A compost bin filled with one part green to two parts brown materials will break down the most efficiently.
Since smaller pieces of waste break down more quickly, it is well worth the effort to shred materials before adding them to your compost bin.
Some waste rots down more quickly than others – these are called ‘activators’ (as indicated in the table above). These ‘hotter rotters’ will help to get the composting process started. But you can’t just have one type of waste in your compost bin – as although it will decay it will form a smelly mess – so it’s important to have a mixture of green and brown waste. Older, tougher waste than these ‘activators’ will break down more slowly, but will give body to the finished compost.
Don’t add the following to your compost bin:
Woody materials – such as prunings. If you want to add these to your compost bin they will need to be shredded first.
Manmade / Synthetic fabrics
Metals, plastics or glass
Cooked food scraps
Diseased plant material
Any weeds with seedheads
Dog or cat waste
If your compost bin starts to smell a lot this can indicate an imbalance in the material you’re adding or too much moisture. If the mixture appears too wet add some dry materials – such as dried leaves, shredded paper etc. To prevent a mixture to rich in either nitrogen or carbon make sure you are adding a mixture of green and brown waste to your compost bin.
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