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Home composting

Leaf with recycling symbol

Home composting is a natural way of recycling garden and kitchen waste.

It is a natural process where bacteria, fungi and invertebrates break down organic waste and change it into rich useful soil for the garden.

What are the benefits?

  • Environmental friendly - uses one third of your household waste, which would otherwise go to landfill and produce harmful green house gases
  • Free soil - great for your garden and households plants
  • Improves plant health and growth - increases yields of fruit, vegetables, flowers and herbs. It also increases the nutritional quality of homegrown food

What can you compost?

Greens (aim for 50%)

  • Grass cuttings
  • Weeds
  • Fruit and vegetable scraps
  • Old flowers and bedding plants
  • Young hedge clippings

Browns (aim for 50%)

  • Tea bags, coffee grounds and filters
  • Egg shells
  • Dried grass and weeds
  • Old straw and hay
  • Wood ash
  • Cardboard (scrunched up) - avoid waxed cartons, glossy paper, newspaper and sticky tape
  • Herbivore pet bedding
  • Hair collected from brushes
  • Toilet paper and paper towel tubes (these are ideal as they help with airflow)

How to make compost

Compost can be made in a simple heap on the ground covered with old carpet to keep it moist.

However, most people use a container as it is neater, easier to manage and speeds up the process.

What you need

For good compost you will need:

  • Green materials for nitrogen
  • Brown materials for carbon
  • Air
  • Water

Setting up your compost heap

  1. Put your compost bin or heap on grass or bare earth in the shade.
  2. Collect some brown and green materials, spread them to the edges of your bin and press them down.
  3. Chop up tough items using shears, a sharp spade or a shredder.
  4. Fill the container as you produce organic waste, aiming for a good mixture of items.
  5. Keep your compost heap moist (like a wrung-out sponge). Sprinkling it with water can help.
  6. Get air into the heap at least once every couple of months by turning it with a gardening fork.

Please note: if you have room, it is a good idea to have two compost heaps or bins so you can leave one pile to decompose when the bin is full and start filling another.

When is it ready to use?

Making compost can take two months to two years.

Your compost is ready to use when it is dark brown and most of the materials used cannot be identified. Don't worry if it is lumpy, sticky or stringy - it will be quite usable. It's best to use compost in the spring or summer as it will help give nutrients to plants during their growing season.

Buying a compost bin

For a wide variety of compost bins and possible discounts visit Get composting - offers in your local area.

Making your compost bin

Compost bins must keep rain out and moisture and heat in.

To make a compost bin, you will need:

  • Wire mesh with wooden stakes at each corner. Line with cardboard and top with a piece of old carpet
  • An old dustbin. Cut the bottom out, turn it upside down and replace the lid
  • Breeze blocks with a slatted wooden front
  • An old coal bunker
  • Old tyres in a stack
  • Old pallets tied at the corners (use another as a base)
  • Wooden planks fixed onto wooden posts
  • An eleven-foot length of 2" x 4" x 36" welded, medium-gauge fence wire joined to form a cylinder

Additional composting advice

Please remember the following when composting:

  • Pernicious weeds such as couch grass, ground elder, bindweed and oxalis may not be killed during composting and can re-sprout after the compost is harvested. To avoid this, put them in a black plastic bag and leave in the sun for several weeks. Then chop them up and place them into the compost pile
  • Poisonous plants such as oleander, hemlock and castor bean can harm soil life and should be added only in small quantities
  • Ivy and succulents should be chopped up before composting, or they may sprout in the compost
  • Leaves from plants containing acids and resins toxic to other plants should only be used as a mulch around the plants they came from. Examples are eucalyptus, bay laurel, walnut, juniper, acacia, cypress and rhododendron
  • Do not put in invasive weeds such as such as Japanese knotweed and Himalayan balsam. They will survive the composting process.

Potential problems and solutions

If you are having problems making good compost, the following advice may help to sort the issue:

Compost has a bad smell

  • Problems - Not enough air/too compacted/too much green material or Too much water
  • Solutions - Turn the pile and add browns. Decrease watering; protect from heavy rain if no lid; turn pile and add browns.

Centre of pile is dry

  • Problems - Not enough water
  • Solutions - Moisten and turn pile.

Pile has slumped and seems slimy

  • Problems - Too much green material
  • Solutions - Turn pile adding lots of browns

Lots of fruit flies

  • Problems - Exposed kitchen scraps
  • Solutions - Cover kitchen scraps with leaves, grass or a sheet of newspaper

Attracts rats

  • Problems - Seeking warmth in winter
  • Solutions - Sprinkle cayenne pepper liberally around the pile

 Not heating up

  • Problems - Poor aeration
  • Solutions - Turn pile


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