Composting kitchen and garden waste rather than throwing it in the dustbin, will produce a free, environmentally friendly source of organic matter which can be used throughout the garden.
Composting is a biochemical process where organic matter is decomposed by naturally occurring micro-organisms.
You can make compost by simply piling the materials up in a corner of the garden, but using a bin or purpose made container is a neater and more efficient alternative.
There are a wide range of containers, some purpose made and others that are built from re-cycled materials, e.g. pallets.
The size and design of the garden may affect the choice of container, for example; purpose made bins are aesthetically better than open heaps and the organic matter is hidden from view, plus the lid helps to insulate the contents and accelerate the process of decomposition, whereas decompisition in an open DIY container will be much slower.matter more slowly.
As mentioned above location should be considered;
a) Ensure that it does not become an unsightly focal point in the garden.
This can be avoided by strategically siting a shrub or screen to hide it from general view.
View from Left
View from Right
b) Consider the length of walk you will have from the kitchen to the heap with the kitchen waste.
c) Using a secondary bin/bucket with a lid can to save numerous visits to the heap/bin.
This bin can be located in a convenient place e.g by the house entrance or in a storm porch.
When it is full it can be emptied into the larger heap/bin.
Build the heap or place the bin on a soil base, this will allow surplus liquid matter to drain away and also allow access for soil organisms to enter the heap / bin.
Pallets & Purpose made bins
(Pumpkins growing on top)
When building the compost heap remember that compost is usually produced more quickly from larger containers, aim for a minimum volume of around 1m x 1m x 1m.
Consider building two side by side if you have the space, as this will allow you to transfer the contents of one into the other when turning the heap over.
This method will also speed up the process of decomposition.
Plus, when you come to use the compost you will not have to move organic matter that has not yet decomposed to get to the material you want to use.
Prior to filling the compost heap f irst loosen the soil in the base area with a fork to aid drainage, then place a 75-100mm(3"-4") deep layer of twiggy material or straw in the bottom to provide good aeration.
The bacteria that breaks down the vegetable matter in the compost heap needs air, warmth, moisture and nitrogen to decompose successfully.
To speed up decomposition it is advisable to regularly turn the material in the bin/heap and / or consider using an accelerant.
If using a heap it is advisable to cover it with a sheet of black plastic to keep heat in.
Some people use old carpet which is OK to a point, but when this gets wet, it can be quite heavy to remove and replace.
Plus there is the consideration of what the carpet is made of e.g. synthetic materials and dyes, these might leech into the compost.
What to compost?
Many people think that garden waste is the only thing that you can put in your compost bin.
But there are actually many more everyday waste items from your home and garden that you can add to enrich your compost.
In fact, over 30% of an average household bin can be composted at home.
Most materials of organic origin will decompose eventually, some quicker than others.
Do's and Don'ts:
- Try and not let single material dominate the heap, e.g. grass clippings.
- It is better to fill the bin / heap in layers with different materials e.g. grass clippings/kitchen waste/annual weeds/straw/paper/ then perhaps grass clippings again.
- If composting woody material, it is best to shred it first.
- Avoid diseased plants, perennial weeds, material that has been killed of with weedkiller.
- Similarly avoid cooked food scraps, and cat or dog waste.
- Household waste tends to be added in small amounts and can become compacted.
To counteract this, turn the compost periodically to introduce air or as mentioned above place it in an adjacent heap.
Compost breaks down more quickly if aerated.
When is it ready?
Garden compost can take between six months and two years to reach maturity.
Mature compost will be dark brown, with a crumbly soil-like texture and a smell resembling damp woodland leaf mould.
Separate un-decomposed material from the mature compost and put back in the bottom of the heap as a start to the next batch of compost.
If required riddle it through a 12mm (½") riddle and bag it up to be used as an when it is needed, e.g. when making potting compost or filling containers, return the material that did not pass through the riddle back into the comost bin.
Compost that is wet and foul smelling is generally down to lack of turning the heap!
Bagged up for future use
Basic compost heap tasks:
Circa Week 2:
Ensure that garden compost heaps are insulated from severe cold, and that air can flow freely under and through it.
A covering of sacking, straw or black plastic placed over the top, will help reduce heat loss and deflect much of the rain that might cause water-logging.
Any material added to your bins over the last six months or so should have broken down by now and be ready to use on your garden.
If the material doesn't look dark and crumbly like my compost then you may need to leave it a bit longer.
If you haven't turned your heap already, do it now.
Or for those who use purpose made bins, empty the bin/s and mix up the material thoroughly with a garden fork, then return it to the bin.
Leave it for another few months before using it on your garden.
Check quality of compost in bins / heaps.
If suitable bag it up for use in other parts of the gardens.
If you decide to sieve the compost after removing it from the bin return the detritus / lumps that did not go through the seive back into the bin and this will ensure you have an adequate supply of worms and bacteria to work on future composting material.
Fork over compost bins / heaps.
If you don't have access to supplies of farmyard manure or are unable to make suitable amounts of garden compost, a green manure crop may provide the solution.
As ground becomes vacant, hoe or fork out weeds, then rake down before broadcast sowing a green manure crop such as Alfalfa, Annual Lupin, Clover, Fenugreek, Grazing Rye, Mustard and Winter Tares / Vetches.
All of these are subsequently dug in during autumn or winter.
Autumn clearing work will mean there is plenty material for the compost heap.
Do not to use plant materials that have been affected by disease.
Woody material is unsuitable unless it is shredded into compostable sized chips.
Apply a proprietary activator or sulphate of ammonia, and turn over the composting material regularly to assist the rotting down process.
Worms can be purchased* to speed up the rotting down process.
*Try the local fishing tackle shop!
Cover exposed heaps in wet weather to prevent them becoming saturated.
If you only have one compost heap or bin, remove fully decomposed materials to make room for the influx of autumn plant debris from the garden.
Continue to add waste and sprinkle a proprietary accelerator or sulphate of ammonia over each 150-200mm (6”-8”) deep layer.
If the latter is used it will help if you add a 25mm (1”) deep layer of soil, plus a sprinkling of lime at intervals.
This helps to avoid over-acidity which can slow down decomposition.
Collect leaves, except for tough, evergreen foliage and put on the heap.
If winds make collection difficult, erect a temporary catch net in a corner facing the breeze.
Items to Compost:
These take longer to decompose - up to two years - but the resulting leafmould is ideal for use as potting or seed compost.