Home composting tips

Composting tips

Home composting benefits your garden and your environment and it's easy. Compost is a complete and natural food for your soil, it improves its structure, its water retaining ability and its overall health. Simply place bio-degradable material in your compost bin and let nature do the rest.

Here are a list of things you can use to make compost:

Vegetable and fruit peelings

Chop up or crush stems and large pieces of tough vegetables. Brassica stalks are most difficult. They are best attacked with a lump hammer. Some people avoid potato peel as the eyes can sprout and produce plants. If they do, pull them out and re-compost them.

Tea leaves, coffee grounds and crushed egg shells

If you are using tea bags or coffee filters, try to make sure that they are the non-chlorine bleached kind. Egg shells should be rinsed then crushed.

Weeds

The compost temperature should rise to about 66C ⁄ 150F which kills off most weed seeds and diseases. Weeds tend to be high in nitrogen and can be used as activator layers, especially nettles. Never attempt to compost pernicious weeds such as couch grass, bindweed creeping buttercup. They simply love compost heaps and will keep on growing.

Grass cuttings

High in nitrogen and a good activator. Avoid thick layers as they compact and turn to slime.

Hair

From your pet or family - no problem.

Paper

Paper (and soft cardboard such as egg trays) can be added in small amounts but should ideally be shredded.

  • scrunch the small amounts of paper into a ball and add to the compost - this creates air pockets and therefore aids aerobic decomposition
  • avoid coloured inks (used by most tabloid newspapers)

Animal manure

Vegetarian pets only, such as Guinea pig or rabbit and it is best mixed with straw. All are good activators but pig manure tends to be a bit smelly.

  • pigeon manure is particularly rich and strong so use it sparingly
  • dog and cat litter should be avoided since they can spread disease

Evergreen clippings

These take a long time to decompose and should be added only in small amounts.

  • watch out for the resin you get from conifers - it is toxic and needs composting for longer

Leaves

Contain lignin and take a long time to decompose the same as wood. Best dealt with separately in leaf mould piles.

Prunings

Add only in small amounts and well chopped up. Again, they are best dealt with separately

Straw and hay

Old and chopped is best. Soak well before adding if dry.

Spent hops

You may be able to get them from your local brewery. High in nitrogen, they make a good activator.

Vacuum dust

The contents of a vacuum cleaner sack compost excellently particularly if you have woollen carpets. Do not try and compost if you have primarily synthetic carpets - synthetic threads

Things to avoid

  • body fluids, disposable nappies, used paper handkerchiefs (in case the pathogens which carry disease are not all destroyed by the composting process)
  • excrement - human/cat dog (for the same reason)
  • brightly coloured or shiny card or paper
  • hard objects, stones, bits of glass, metal, plastic
  • cleaning fluids and other household/garden chemicals
  • meat (cooked - raw) the smell can attract animals

Composting tips

  • chopping material for the compost bin speeds up the composting process
  • if your compost bin appears too dry, add a few sprinkles of water for moisture
  • make sure you have a good mix of green and brown compost material to ensure your compost is the right texture
  • green material can be vegetable peelings, egg shells, tea-bags, coffee grounds
  • brown material can be woody prunings, plant stems, twigs, egg boxes, crumpled paper, wood shavings

Harvesting your compost

It takes between six to nine months for your compost to be ready. However, after this time you don’t need to wait until everything in the compost bin is composted before using it.

Remove the top two thirds of material in your bin and take away the bottom third for use - this should be a crumbly, dark material, resembling soil with a fresh, earthy aroma. This is your homemade compost which you can now use to condition your soil, or as a potting mix or as a mulch ⁄ top dressing.

Then sit back to watch your garden and indoor plants come to life!

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