What is composting?
Composting is all about recycling – in this case by taking dead or cut plants, old vegetables and even egg shells, paper and cardboard, and letting it rot down to create a rich soil-like compost that you can dig back into your own garden to feed your plants.
Creating compost from garden and household waste is one of the most sensible things that a gardener can do. It’s simple, costs very little in time or effort, yet it will help reduce pollution by cutting down on rubbish going into landfill sites, help keep your plants healthy and save you money on fertilisers.
What goes in?
The general rule is if it can rot it will compost. This includes vegetable peelings and waste fruit, hedge trimmings, grass clippings, leaves, weeds, twigs, scrunched up paper, tea bags and coffee grounds, straw, and even old cardboard like egg boxes.
Some items are best avoided. Woody branches or twigs decay very slowly; they are best chopped or shredded first, where appropriate. You should also avoid persistent weeds like Japanese Knotweed, and any weeds in seed as they could end up sprouting in your compost.
How do I get the right balance?
Compost bins rely on worms and bugs that live in the soil, so you should put your compost bin in the garden on bare soil. This allows the critters you need in to the compost where they can get to work. If you add too much of a particular material, your compost may become too dry or wet. For the best results, always use a mixture of types of ingredient.
The right balance is something you learn by experience, but here’s a guide: Soft green things like grass mowings and small weeds rot quickly. They work as activators, getting the composting started, but on their own will decay to a smelly mess. What you need for balance is some older, tougher plant material. This will rot more slowly but gives body to the finished compost.
How can I improve my compost?
There are a few composting tips that can help make your compost even better. Firstly always chop large items into small pieces to help speed up the process. Keeping the compost bin covered with an old carpet helps keep the compost warm and speeds up the process.
Every now and then introduce air into your bin either by using a garden fork to mix the material or add more scrunched up paper and card. And to help speed up the composting process add a handful of soil, finished compost or a commercial compost accelerator. The Composting Association has more information.
How do I know when it is ready?
Your compost will be ready to use when it resembles dark soil and has a sweet, earthy smell. This can take anywhere between 9 – 24 months. Now you can put it to good use by digging it into your soil. Adding compost to clay soils will help break up heavy clods. It will also add body to fine, sandy soil and help retain moisture.
Spreading the compost across your flower beds will help keep moisture in so you won’t have to water so often. Earthworms will transport the important elements like phosphorous and nitrogen from the compost down into the soil – so you shouldn’t need to use artificial fertilisers, which is just the thing if you are an organic gardener.