If you are growing your own plants, whether flowers or vegetables, you want them to grow well and be strong and healthy.
Many gardeners resist using artificial fertilisers and there is a great interest in learning how to compost.
Generations of gardeners have done this and only fell out of favour when chemical fertilisers were first produced.
Today, with increasing awareness of the need to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and landfill, and to garden without too many chemicals, composting is definitely back.
Is making your own compost eco-friendly?
It certainly is.
Not only do you prevent most of your garden waste going off to landfill, where it rots down to produce methane, it helps you garden more organically.
You can also use some of your kitchen waste, reducing what goes into your bin and reducing your household contribution to landfill.
What do I need for composting?
Even a small garden can have a small compost bin.
You can buy one of these; different designs are available, including ones that are easy to turn over, to mix the composting material inside.
This allows air to get in and mixes everything up so that it has a more even texture.
You can also make your own, or have a local ‘handyman’ do it for you.
A simple wooden frame just over a metre square is a good design, made with slats of wood nailed to posts put into the ground.
The wood doesn’t have to be specially treated, but it will rot down itself over time.
When that happens, just knock it down and start again with more wood.
How do I build up material in a compost bin?
There is a bit of an art to building up a successful compost heap.
The science behind composting is quite complex but what you need to do is create the conditions that will allow dead plant matter to rot quickly, with plenty of oxygen, so that bacteria can get to work to break down the plant tissues.
Keeping the compost aerated is important – the plant material that goes to landfill produces methane because it is so tightly compacted with other stuff that it becomes cut off from oxygen and rots anaerobically.
- Add material in layers: you will probably have grass cuttings to compost, but these don’t rot down well unless they are put into the compost bin or heap in layers, interspersed with other plant matter such as weeds, small plants, cuttings or leaf sweepings.
- Keep moist: water is important for composting as damp conditions promote the growth of bacteria and moulds. Water your compost heap or bin occasionally to add moisture, but don’t leave it waterlogged.
- Get things hotting up: leaving the compost undisturbed for a few weeks will get the inside of the compost heap nice and warm.That will accelerate the rotting process, but will happen more in the centre.
- Create a good turnover: mixing a compost heap allows the faster rotting material at the centre of the heap to mix with the material on the outside, which will rot more slowly as its drier and cooler.
What can I put into compost?
Adding material to your compost bin in layers is best.
Alternate grass clippings with:
- Household waste such as potato peelings, carrot peelings and tops, tea bags, coffee grounds, egg shells, the contents of your vacuum cleaner (particularly if you have cats and dogs – lots of organic matter there).
- Weeds that you have pulled up from the garden. The only weeds to avoid are ones that you have pre-treated with weed killer.
- Hedge trimmings and shrub trimmings. Try to keep the size of the additions small though; adding larger branches is a waste of time as they will take too long to rot down.
- Dead leaves. It is worth saving autumn leaves in bags so that you can keep adding them to the compost over the next spring and summer. They will start rotting down, but once in the bin will help the texture of the compost no end.
What can’t I add to the compost bin?
Larger plant material such as branches from a tree trim, but it’s also best to avoid:
- Waste food containing meat. Having rotting meat in a compost bin is a bad idea because it smells and it can attract rats.
- Leaves from rhubarb. These are high in oxalic acid and can produce compost that is toxic to some plants.
Image Attribution – Compost. Created 6/12/2006 Photographer: Kessner Photography.