Making your own compost not only saves you money but it is a great way of getting rid of waste from your kitchen and garden too.
The process of making compost is actually very simple. You add compostable items to a compost heap or bin. This will decompose producing compost. This can take as long as two years so it is not by any means an instant process. However, by sticking to a few simple rules you can speed up the process significantly. With ideal conditions it might take less than six months
Good compost needs an equal mix of “green” and “brown” waste. Green waste is high in nitrogen whilst brown waste is rich in carbon.
Green waste items include:
- Grass Cuttings
- Nettles – not including roots
- Comfrey leaves
- Horse, cow and chicken manure
- Tea leaves and coffee grounds. Tea bags themselves often contain plastic elements so are not desirable but the contents are suitable
- Uncooked fruit and vegetable peelings
- Soft green plant pruning material
- Diluted urine – usually at a rate of one part urine to twenty parts water
Brown waste items include:
- Waste paper – finally a good use for junk mail!
- Cardboard – packaging, toilet rolls, food boxes (eg cereals)
- Paper bags
- Vegetarian pet waste – bedding, straw, hay from rabbits and guinea pigs
- Woody pruning material from shrubs or hedging
- Wood chippings
- Dead leaves
- Spent bedding plants
Other compostable items:
- Egg shells
- Wood and cotton fibres
- Cut hair and nails
- Wood ash
You should never add:
- Cooked food
- Dairy products
- Fish products
- Cat and dog litter or faeces
- Human faeces or baby nappies
When adding material to the heap or bin
- To speed up the composting process you can add products such as Garotta at regular intervals.
- The smaller the pieces of material that are added to the heap the quicker they will compost. You can for example shred paper and chop up woody pruned material.
- Layering is important for good compost making. If your bin is all one item it will not compost well. Having layers of “green” grass and “brown” cardboard for example will work much better.
- You should always cover food waste with other composting material to prevent flies and other animals from swarming.
The site of your compost heap or bin
- Compost bins or heaps should retain heat, exclude rain, let in air and allow drainage. Bins less than 1m3 are much less effective. Plastic composters are not bad at this. Heaps are good too especially when covered with plastic sheeting this retains the warmth and reduces the rain that penetrates the mix.
- To turn the waste into compost you need the help of bacteria and fungi. These work best in constant temperatures. This means if your bin has extreme sunlight in the afternoon but extreme shade in the morning it will not help. Best locations are generally in light shade all day.
- It is best if the bin or heap has an earth base to allow drainage without damaging paving.
- Your bin or heap will need to retain some heat and moisture to speed up the process of composting.
Turning the heap
The key to good compost making is mixing. This adds air which is vital to the entire process. Heaps that are compacted, wet or claggy will compost much more slowly as there is less air in the mixture.
- You should aim to turn the heap monthly.
- In hot weather you need to water the heap to keep it moist
- If your bin or heap is wet and smells it is likely to be too wet and lacking in air. You should add some “brown” waste and turn the heap.
- If you bin or heap it not decomposing and is dry they it is likely you need to add water, an accelerant such as Garotta, some additional “green” waste, turn the mix and cut up the contents of the bin into smaller pieces.
When is the compost ready?
When the compost is dark brown and crumbly resembling Garden Centre purchased compost it is ready. It is important to remove large pieces from the compost that have not decomposed. These can be added to the next compost heap.
Home produced composts will often need the addition fertilisers as it will on its own, as indeed with Garden Centre purchased composts, not be suitable to maintain strong and effective long term growth. Home produced compost is excellent for mulching trees and shrubs. You can also mix it with Garden Centre purchased compost to create a more fertile, water retentive growing medium.