The aim of composting is to speed up the rotting process of organic waste so it can be returned to the earth as a soil enricher.
Making your own compost not only provides your garden with a valuable supply of useful organic material, it also reduces the amount of waste ending up in landfill sites. Best of all, it’s free!
Composting is a purely organic process, so all you need is a supply of the right type of waste and a container in which the composting will take place. The rest is down to nature with a little help from you.
The most convenient way of producing your own compost is through the use of a plastic compost bin. Plastic compost bins are cheap and will last for years with no maintenance. They retain heat and moisture very well and are available in a range of different sizes. It's a good idea to start off with a single 250-300 litre compost bin and then buy additional bins if you find you need the extra capacity.
It is also possible to build your own timber compost bin or buy one in kit form.
Tumbler compost bins
Turning and mixing is a vital part of the composting process and you can either do this by hand, or use a tumbling compost bin. Although more expensive than a conventional compost bin, a tumbler compost bin not only makes turning the compost significantly easier, but emptying becomes much more straightforward.
This tumbler compost bin has a capacity of 200 litres (ample for the majority of gardens) and comes with a drip tray. Compost Tumblers.
Compost turning & aeration tool.
A clever tool to help with turning and mixing your compost is this compost aerator (also known as a compost stirrer). The plastic wings fold back against the shaft as the tool is pushed into the compost and open as the tool is pulled out, mixing the contents of your bin. Compost aerators.
Turning your compost helps speed up decomposition and helps to eliminate odours.
There are two types of material needed for successful composting in a plastic bin - the greens and browns.
Nitrogen rich material such as young hedge cuttings, old flowers and plants, fruit and vegetable scraps and grass cuttings.
Carbon containing material such as straw, autumn leaves, sawdust, paper and cardboard.
Good compost is made from a mixture of greens and browns. Too much green material will lead to a smelly, wet, mushy mess. Brown material on its own will break down very, very slowly. The key to a good compost is a mixture of the two types of waste, preferably layered within the compost bin with a couple of handfuls of soil added occasionally. The soil will introduce micro-organisms to aid the decomposition of the waste.
Positioning the compost bin
Position the compost bin on earth or grass. This will allow worms to make their way into the compost and do their bit. If possible, position the compost bin where it will receive some sunlight. The added heat will help with the decomposition.
Getting started with composting
Oxygen plays an important role in this type of compost making so place some thicker stemmed material in the base of the compost bin to help with air circulation and drainage. Kitchen waste and grass clippings can be added to the compost bin without preparation. Paper and cardboard should be torn into pieces. With garden waste such as twigs, hedge clippings, stems and leaves, the smaller the pieces are the better.
If you have a garden shredder, use it to shred as much garden waste as possible. A shredder is designed to produce the ideal material to add to the compost bin. Shredded garden waste will decompose quicker and insulate against heat loss better than un-shredded material.
Bear in mind that a garden shredder does not work in the same way as a wood chipper. A wood chipper processes garden waste material in a different way. Wood chips take a long time to break down in a compost bin and are best used as a ground covering.
If you don’t have a shredder, you can mulch leaves by spreading them on the lawn and running your mower over them. If you’re serious about producing good compost from the majority of your garden waste, a garden shredder is a very useful tool to have.
It’s helpful to layer the greens and browns in the compost bin, a few inches thick of each. This will help keep the consistency correct. You are looking for a moist environment but not soaking wet. If the mixture is to saturated, add more in the way of dry leaves, paper and cardboard. If it gets too dry, you can add a little water.
The mixture will start to heat up as the rotting begins. The more material you add in one go the hotter it will get. When it starts to cool down (normally within 2 weeks) it’s time to mix the contents. After mixing, the compost will heat up again. Always check to make sure the mixture isn’t too wet or too dry. A tumbler compost bin will make mixing a lot easier.
The finished compost will be accessible from the bottom of the compost bin. It should be dark brown in colour and of a light crumbly consistency. Making compost using this method usually takes between 6 months to a year.
What not to put in the compost bin:
- Meat and fish
- Cooked food
- Diary products
- Cat litter
- Large quantities of pine needles
- Paper with glossy print
- Sawdust from treated timber
Dealing with leaves
Many gardens produce large quantities of leaves each autumn. A clever method of producing a useful soil enricher are these biodegradable leaf sacks.