Reduce your waste: Home composting
Did you know that up to 60% of your household waste could be composted? Why not save money for yourself and your local authority by composting your own waste – our handy guide can help you avoid common mistakes and get started producing good quality compost for your garden, whether large or small.
What is composting?
Composting is an entirely natural process where organic waste from your home or garden break down to produce a nutrient-rich food for your soil and plants.
Bacteria, insects and earthworms all help to decompose your waste to produce compost – don’t worry, you don’t need to go hunting for any of these creatures – by creating the right conditions for them, you can manage the decomposition process and they’ll get to work for you, free of charge!
Why should I compost myself? What are the benefits?
Composting saves money! You won’t have to buy compost at the garden centre, it’ll be right there in your garden, ready to use.
It’s a great source of nutrition for your plants and vegetables, while also improving your soil structure.
Home composting reduces the amount of waste that has to be collected by your local authority, conserving non-renewable resources and reducing emissions from collection vehicles – both helpful for your council budgets.
It can also help you become more active and is a great way for the family to get involved in nature, gardening, growing vegetables and more.
Okay, I’m sold. How do I start composting?
The simplest way to start is to get a compost bin – these start at just fifteen to twenty pounds for a small ‘dalek-shaped’ one suitable for the average-sized garden. Most compost bins have a secure lid and a hatch at the bottom to access your compost once it’s ready.
Once you’ve got a suitable compost bin, you need to decide where it’s going to live:
- Choose somewhere reasonably level
- The ground should be well drained; bare soil or grass are ideal as they allow the helpful creatures to access your waste and get composting for you
- A sunny spot is great
- Make sure it’s practical for you too – you want to make it easy to fill and retrieve compost
Right, now you can start filling your compost bin…
What should I put in the compost bin?
Ideally, you should have a good mix of ‘green’ and ‘brown’ items, and you might be surprised by what you can actually create compost from!
Aim for a 50-50 mix of the ‘greens’ and ‘browns’ – too many ‘greens’ will be slimy and smelly, and too many ‘browns’ will result in nothing happening! A good balance will result in compost with a nice consistency and texture.
Here’s our non-exhaustive list to give you a good idea for getting started:
- Tea bags/tea leaves
- Coffee grounds and filter paper
- Leftover fruits and vegetables, e.g., peel, stalks, flesh, cores etc. (not too many acidic fruits or onions though, you’ll upset the worms!)
- Grass cuttings
- Dead flowers
- Rhubarb leaves
- Old and young plants
- Young weeds (before they go to seed)
- Egg shells (crushed up)
- Paper (preferably shredded or torn up), e.g., newspaper, paper bags, tissue paper, paper towels etc.
- Cardboard (preferably shredded or torn up), e.g., cereal boxes, egg trays, toilet rolls etc.
- Garden clippings and prunings, e.g., hedge trimmings, fallen leaves etc.
- Animal bedding, e.g., straw and hay (including the droppings if they’re vegetarian – hamsters, guinea pigs, rabbits etc.)
- Sawdust and wood shavings
- Wood, paper and charcoal ashes
- Natural textiles (cut into small pieces), e.g., cotton and wool
- Contents of your vacuum
- Hair, fur and nail clippings
- Nut shells
Don’t put these in your composting bin
- Cat and dog faeces
- Cat litter
- Cooked food scraps
- Meat and fish bones
- Any glossy papers or foils, e.g., magazines, leaflets, wrapping paper etc.
- Biodegradable nappies
- Diseased plants
- Other man-made items, e.g, plastics, metals etc.
So, I just leave it now?
Not quite; the organisms busy breaking down your waste also require oxygen – so you need to aerate your compost by ‘turning’ it. The simplest way is to just mix it up with a garden fork every three to four weeks.
It also needs to be kept moist. If it gets very dry – in summer, for example – sprinkle some water in, but you don’t want it to be soaking wet. If it gets too wet, add some cardboard to soak up the excess. Make sure the lid is fitted properly to stop rainwater getting in.
When will my compost be ready?
If you’ve followed these few simple rules, then you should have some lovely compost in around 9-12 months. It’s ideal for anything that you’d normally use compost for – potting plants, mulching, improving soil, etc.
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