In simple terms composting is the decomposition or breakdown of organic material(material that was once living) remains and other once-living materials to make an earthy, dark, crumbly substance.
That is excellent for adding to your garden vegetables pr plants or generally enriching garden soil.
Advantages of Home Composting
Bacteria, fungi, worms and beetles (the decomposers) all help the material to eventually breakdown, bins and heaps are a great way of turning your household scraps into this valuable material to enrich your soil.
In the environment this decomposition happening in nature as leaves pile up on the forest floor and begin to decay. Eventually, the rotting leaves are returned to the soil, where living roots can finish the recycling process by reclaiming the nutrients from the decomposed leaves.
Today to turn this waste into useful humus/soil is not only helping us have a fantastic growing medium for our tomatoes but is also helping reduce the pressure on landfill space which is growing increasingly scarce, you really are doing your bit for the environment.
To successfully compost you need to understand some composting basics to ensure the right environmental conditions are present to allow the micro-organisms (bacteria, fungi)to thrive. If you maintain your compost pile to provide for their needs, they will happily turn your garden and kitchen waste into compost a whole lot quicker.
Important Keys for Home Composting
You need to keep in mind the following when building your compost pile:
1# Air Circulation
Freely circulating air is vital to a compost heap. Composting microbes are aerobic — they can’t do their work well unless they are provided with air. Without air, anaerobic (non-air needing) microbes take over the pile.
They cause slow decomposition, and tend to smell like really bad rubbish. So it is important to make sure that there are plenty of air spaces in your compost pile.
Some compost ingredients, such as green grass clippings or wet leaves, mat down very easily into slimy layers that air cannot get through. Other ingredients, such as straw, do not mat down easily and are very helpful in allowing air into the center of a pile.
To make sure that you have adequate aeration for your pile and its microbes, thoroughly break up or mix in any ingredients that might mat down and exclude air. You can also turn the pile to get air into it, which means completely breaking it apart with a spade or garden fork.
The decomposers thrive in a moisture rich environment. It should be quite damp, but not soaking wet, there should be enough moisture to cover all surfaces of the organic matter, but not wet enough that its sodden as this will exclude air from the mixture promoting those nasty anaerobic conditions.
So if you have lots of wet leaves or grass cuttings, you will need to add more dry matter like straw or dry leaves just to balance things out a little.
Increased temperatures do encourage an increase in the activity of those vital decomposers, so the process of decomposition will decrease with a drop in temperature over the winter months.
To encourage a longer season for decomposition, then place it in the sunniest position you can to extend the season.
Important points to remember:- If you keep in mind that faster decomposers are aerobic(they like air) and they like to be warm and moist then you are pretty much on your way to mastering the composting basics.
What materials can I compost?
Deciding what composting materials you can use you use is relatively simple. It can basically be divided into two groups the “Greens” and the “Browns”.
Greens are rich in Nitrogen and Browns are rich in Carbon.
The correct balance between the two will result in a good compost. A 50:50 balance of each will result in a good compost bin or pile.
Summary of Greens
The list of Greens you can Compost are:
- Tea Leaves
- Tea Bags
- Coffee Grounds
- Fruit and vegetable peelings
- Grass cuttings
- Dried flowers
- Egg shells
Summary of Browns
The Browns that you can Home Compost are:
- Light card board- eg- egg box
- Kitchen paper
- Light Hedge Clippings
- Sawdust or wood shavings
- Wood and Peat ash(no coal ash)
A healthy compost pile or compost bin will have a good Carbon/Nitrogen Ratio.
Good compost hygiene means covering fresh nitrogen-rich material, which can release odours if exposed to open air, with carbon-rich material, which often exudes are better smell. I always add more Carbon if I can or if in doubt.
What materials should I not compost?
See summary below of materials not suitable for the home composter:-
- Meat and fish -attracts pests
- Oil and grease -attracts pests
- Cooked food -attracts pests
- Evergreen shrubs -too acidic
- Cat or dog waste -risk of disease
- Plastic, metal and glass -will not break down
- Corn on the cob, timber -takes too long to break down
Given enough time all biodegradeable material will decompose, but not all organic material is suitable for the home composter. Most home composting systems will not reach high enough temperatures to kill pathogens and deter vermin.
So, pet droppings, animal manure, meat and dairy scraps are best left to the professionals. You will probably have enough fruit and vegetable peelings as well as leaves and grass cuttings to start your home composting and keep it going.
Types of compost bins
There are many types of compost bins. They range from simple wire structures, others can be bought at garden centres or local authority recycling centres. The one you choose will most likely depend on how much space and waste you have!!
Here is a simple compare and contrast list of types of compost bins to help you decide.
1# Worm Bins
Worm composting is unique because it uses food scraps only, and no yard waste. It is ideal for people with very small yards, or no yard. Worm composting bins can be made in any size or can be purchased.
Worm bins are designed to exclude critters that might be attracted to food scraps. A successful worm bin will not smell, can be harvested every few months and can be kept indoors or outdoors.
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2# No Bin System or compost heap
This is the cheapest and simplest form of composting and is great if you have lots of yard trimmings and a moderate to large area to locate your heap.
You place your organic material at some place in your garden and build a heap there. It will, with time turn into compost. Just add new material on top of the heap. There are some issues to consider though:-
The heap will spread out as they get bigger. This can be stopped by installing a frame around it, made out of wooden boards, for example.
Composting using a heap is not the fastest method because the heap has a big surface where it looses heat and moisture. With rain, minerals in your compost are washed away if you don’t cover it.
You could fence this type of heap off to keep control of the compost pile as well as being able to easily cover in the rain to prevent the loss of minerals.
3# Plastic compost bins
These round black or green plastic type of compost bins that are readily sold at hardware shops or nurseries. They are common because they are relatively cheap to buy when compared to the cost of materials to construct a full sized three chambered timber compost bin and there is no work to set them up. Simply place them in a corner of your garden and start filling.
It has a separate base with holes in (to let worms and other soil organism through) and a flip top lid.
There is a door at the front to allow easy removal of the finished compost. It is very “neighbour friendly” as keeps any possible smells inside the plastic tumbler, however it does take longer to compost the materials- from 6 months to 2 years.
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4# Compost Tumblers
One of most efficient types of compost bins is the compost tumbler. This barrel type structure allows aeration of the organic waste materials by turning the handle.
The container is filled with the same ingredients as the usual heap, left for a few days to allow the composting to start, and then turned several times each day.
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The turning action of the tumbler ensures that the composting bacteria are never short of oxygen, so they keep working at full speed. The constant mixing ensures that all the ingredients are well composted and that there are no dry parts in the tumbler.
In order to function properly, the tumbler needs to be filled all at once, so is not suitable for adding material a little at a time. So you would need a good pile of organic material to get this type of composting bins started.
The one main disadvantage of these types of compost bins is that it can be really hard work physically to turn the composter.
The various types of compost bins available are huge, it will probably depend on how much space and expected waste you will have, I have a small garden and a small amount kitchen waste/scraps, so the plastic bin is ideal. If you have a large garden then a compost pile may be better for your situation, but no matter how small an area, you can compost for free!!!