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, e.g.
Purpose made bins are aesthetically better than open heaps, i.e. the organic matter is hidden from view.
The lid helps to insulate the contents and accelerate the process of decomposition, whereas an open DIY container will decompose the organic 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.
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.
Open Compost heap
Purpose made bins
Bins situated behind shrub
Shrub hiding bins
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.
Consider building two side by side if you have the space.
This allows 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.
As mentioned above it is better to site the bin/heap on bare soil.
First 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.
Then all it remains to do is fill the bin/heap.
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.
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!
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.
Week 23: Fork over compost bins / heaps.
Week 32: 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.
Week 39: 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.
Week 43: 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.
Week 46: 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:
Animal manure is useful for splitting layers.
Annual weeds, not perennial weeds.
Bonfire ash / Charcoal is useful for splitting layers.
Cereal boxes cut up into small pieces or shredded.
Coffee grounds & filters.
Comfrey leaves - Limit layers to 75-100mm (3"-4") deep.
Corrugated cardboard packaging cut up into small pieces or shredded.
Egg boxes cut up into small pieces or shredded.
Egg shells - Crushed.
Grass cuttings - Limit layers to 75-100mm (3"-4") deep.
Kitchen vegetable waste - Limit layers to 75-100mm (3"-4") deep.
Nettles - Limit layers to 75-100mm (3"-4") deep.
Newspaper & private mail cut up into small pieces or shredded.
Old potting soil is useful for splitting layers.
Pet bedding straw & Sawdust - Limit layers to 75-100mm (3"-4") deep.
Pine needles and cones-
Pond algae - Limit layers to 75-100mm(3"-4") deep.
Seaweed - Limit layers to 75-100mm (3"-4") deep.
Spent bedding plants-
Straw & hay-
Thin prunings and hedge clippings - Limit layers to 75-100mm (3"-4") de
Vacuum cleaner waste from natural fibre carpets.
Wood Ash is useful for splitting layers.
Wood chippings providing they are quite small.
Autumn leaves -It is best to rot down autumn leaves on their own in a wire basket.
These take longer to decompose - up to two years - but the resulting leafmould is ideal for use as potting or seed compost.
Things Not to compost:
Cat & Dog waste this is a risk to human health.
Diseased plants - This can create the probability for disease to be carried on to other plants.
Evergreen leaves like holly or ivy.
Meat, fish and cooked food scraps may encourage vermin such as rats.
Perennial weeds and seed heads as these are unlikely to be killed off by the temperatures generated in a domestic heap.
Plant material recently treated with herbicide may leave residue that can affect other plants.
Woody material unless it has been shredded/chipped.