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08/01/2009

Composting guide


Compost, compost heaps, composting, organic, matter

Composting your organic kitchen and garden waste is probably the single most effective thing you can personally do to reduce the amount of rubbish you throw away. Up to 30% of of what goes into an average dustbin can be composted down to make a useful soil improver.

What is composting? Composting is is a natural process, which breaks down organic waste to make a soil conditioner that is packed with nutrients. Much of our uncooked kitchen and garden rubbish can be composted.

Why compost?
1. Good for your garden:

Digging compost into your soil compost binimproves on its texture and nutritional quality, which in turn produces healthier plants.

2. Good for your environment:

Organic rubbish that is sent to landfill breaks down without air, which causes methane to be produced. Methane is a greenhouse gas twenty times more powerful than carbon dioxide.

Making your own compost saves you from buying peat-based compost. Peat bogs are a natural habitat.

3. Good for your pocket:

Composting your kitchen and garden waste at home saves on car journeys and provides you with your own versatile, valuable free resource.

What can I compost?
Yes

  • Uncooked vegetable peelings and fruit
  • Rabbit and guinea pig bedding
  • Torn, shredded or scrunched up paper and cardboard (e.g. egg boxes/toilet roll tubes)
  • Coffee grinds and tea bags
  • Grass cuttings and young or annual weeds
  • Houseplants and flowers
  • Finely chopped or shredded shrub pruning's
  • Wood Ash
  • Eggshells
No
  • Cooked food *
  • Fish/meat scraps/bones *
  • Pernicious weeds (such as bindweed, thistle, dock roots) or weeds in seed
  • Magazines
  • Coal ash
  • Large un chopped woody branches
  • Cat/ dog litter
  • Soot


* Some composting systems will allow using cooked food and even meat. For example see the SmartSoil solution from Sweden.

Organic waste should be added in layers, some from the kitchen and some from the garden. This way the air pockets help speed up the process and by covering it up with a layer of old carpet or polythene, the warmth stays in too.

Common composting complaints
My compost bin smells

Cause - Compost is too wet. Often due to too many composting vegetable mattergrass cuttings or other 'greens'.

Solution - Add some scrunched up paper or other dry material and turn to let in more air. In future, make sure that a balanced mixture of different material goes in the compost, not too much of any one thing at the same time!

Nothing seems to decompose

Cause - Not enough heat. Lack of air. Too dry.

Solution - Position in sunlight or make a larger heap. Fork through and add material in loose layers. Moisten compost.

I've got rats!

Solution - Rodent proof your bin by putting wire mesh under the base and securing it around the sides. Remove any meat or cooked foods. Prod or stir the contents regularly to lessen the likelihood of them wanting to visit or nest. You can also move things around the bin (rats like familiarity and peace and quiet!)

There are lots of flies when I lift the bin

Cause - Adult flies have laid eggs on your fruit scraps (don't worry, they are harmless).

Solution - Leave the lid off (or half way off) the bin for a while. This allows access to larger predatory insects/creatures, which will eat the flies. Wrap up fruit waste in paper, or bury it in the heap. Make sure you collect fruit scraps in a covered container. Sprinkle some soil or finished manure/compost over the top to suppress them. Alternatively a layer of damp newspaper will do the same job.

What to do with the compost?

Compost can be placed on vegetable gardens and flower beds or placed around trees. It makes excellent mulch to discourage weeds and and keeps moisture in the soil. Light soil is improved by the addition of compost and heavy clay soil is made lighter and easier to work by digging in compost. Sieved compost is ideal for potting, window boxes and hanging boxes.

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