There are many reasons why we should know how to compost. If you’re reading this, however, chances are you’re already aware of them.
For anyone that doesn’t know, here are just some of the reasons why it is becoming essential for us to know how to compost:
Why we all should know how to compost
- In the US, 20% of a typical landfill is made up of food waste.
- In the UK, 7 million tonnes of food is thrown away every year.
- When this food waste enters a landfill it releases methane.
- Methane is a damaging greenhouse gas that affects our climate.
It might seem like topics such as climate change and environmental pollution are just too daunting for one person to tackle. But composting is something we can all do. It is simple, takes little effort and if we all did it would make a huge difference.
Here’s a good example. Stopping food going to landfills is the equivalent of removing a quarter of the UK’s cars from the roads.
With this in mind, here’s everything you need to know about how to compost:
Where to site your compost container/heap
There are several factors to consider when it comes to siting your compost bin. A good compost heap prefers average temperatures throughout the year. This is because once your compost gets going it will attract tiny organisms such as bacteria, insects, worms, flies and fungi.
These creatures don’t like extreme cold or blazing heat. Therefore, the site of your compost heap is going to be very important. Too hot and it will dry out. Too cold and the organisms that need to flourish will lay dormant.
If you are using a bin then site it where it will get a little shade during the day. Place it on earth so that it can easily drain. Not to mention that by doing this it allows worms and such like to come up through the ground into the compost.
Your mixture will thrive if it is kept away from the rain, it stays relatively warm, allows air inside and can drain.
The last factor to consider is how far from your house the compost is. Remember, you are going to be walking out into the garden with kitchen waste at all times of the year. Therefore, it makes sense not to site is miles away so you have a far old trudge to get to it.
Likewise, you don’t want it too near the house in case you get flies or a bit of a whiff during the summer. Keep these things in mind when you decide where you want to position it.
When to compost
Of course, you can add to your compost at any time of the year. In order to give your compost the best possible advantage in its life, however, you should start it towards the end of the summer and the start of autumn.
This is because it’s likely that you will have more grass cuttings and leaves to go into your compost pile. In addition, the earth is going to be warm and wet. This allows those vital creatures to come up from the ground and work their magic on the materials inside the compost.
What to put into the compost
This is where some people get confused. But it doesn’t have to be difficult. What you should be aiming for is a good mix of different kinds of organic materials. A good mix is 50% soft green materials and 50% hard brown materials.
Experts suggest the following:
- Green materials – grass clippings, fruit and vegetable peelings, annual weeds, green leaves, uncooked kitchen waste, old pet bedding.
- Brown materials – wood pruning, hedge trimmings, paper, wood chippings, dead leaves, cardboard, plant stems, straw.
A good compost will have a lovely 50/50 mixture of both green materials and brown. You shouldn’t, for instance, put more brown material in than green. Brown material is dry and dead. Too much of it and you won’t have enough organic stuff to attract the living organisms.
These help to break down the mixture. Similarly, too much green stuff will clog the mixture up. This is the stuff that rots down and gets those creatures working. If there is a lot of green material the air cannot get in. And a good compost needs air.
Turning the compost
A good compost also needs turning over. This aerates the heap and mixes all the materials up nicely. Apart from putting in the wrong ratio of materials, not turning the heap is probably the biggest failure of most composts.
A garden fork is your best tool. As long as you do this once a month you should get good results. However, it is not a good idea to turn the compost during the winter months. This is because of certain creatures, such as slow worms, do not like being disturbed in the winter.
If you are learning how to compost for the first time you might come across a few problems. These are the most common problems:
- The compost is wet and slimy: Too many grass cuttings or green materials. Try adding some paper or cardboard and giving the compost a good mix.
- Compost is too dry: Not enough green stuff. Add some kitchen waste or vegetable peelings and mix well.
- Worms in the lid: The mixture is too wet and needs turning. If there are a lot of earthworms in the lid you can remove some and put them back in the garden.
- Flies in the compost: Too much fruit in the compost or you have laid the fruit on top and it has attracted too many flies. You shouldn’t get flies in a compost so if you have a lot of fruit, for instance, fallen apples in autumn, cover them well with brown materials.
- Compost is not composting: You can buy additives to kick-start your compost. These typically contain nitrogen or carbon. Alternatively, if you want to keep it natural, apparently a little amount of pee is good. However, get a man to sprinkle as it is less acidic than female pee!
“Peeing on a compost heap activates the composting process helps to produce a ready supply of lovely organic matter to add back to the garden.” Rosemary Hooper, Wimpole Estate – Cambridgeshire
By weeing on your compost heap you are also saving water. Flushing your toilet uses an average of anything from four and a half to nine liters of water.
When will the compost be ready?
Compost can take anything from 6 months to 2 years to fully break down and be ready. You have to be patient and let nature take its course. You’ll know when it is ready as the result will be a sweet-smelling, dark crumbly mixture.
Good luck with your composting!
By Janey D.