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One of the new year’s resolutions that I have actually managed to keep was one that I made on Christmas of 2013. I was tired of smelly, full trash bins and wanted to find a way to reduce my carbon footprint. Take your part in reducing the waste you produce by learning how to compost.
For years I thought that having a compost bin would turn our garden into an insect-infested and smelly pit. To my disbelief, I have now learnt that it does the exact opposite. I have learnt how to maintain a compost bin which caused a lot of wildlife to flock to the corner of our garden. We have a lot of little new visitors like the cheeky robin that is very much at home in our garden now. On top of the wildlife boost, a compost bin not only keeps the neighbourhood vermin at bay by reducing the amount of food waste in our bins – but also helps with pest control in our vegetable patch by bringing a lot of beneficial birds to our garden.
It’s simple really. When I compost everything organic on top of all our paper waste we are left with about a half empty bin per week, and it smells of nothing. On top of this, we are not taking our part in filling our landfills and garbage dumps with more than the bare minimum. Our organic and paper waste that we produce gets turned into the great soil in which we grow most of our crops. In fact, we produce about 200 litres of the best organic compost from the organic waste that our household produces in one year.
I’ve never really been a very outspoken environmentalist but buying a compost bin and caddy have turned our garden into such a rewarding place.
Our compost bin attracts all sorts of wildlife. Birds have started to use our garden much more frequently due to the fact that there is an abundance of worms and food available for them. Instead of sterile shop bought soil ours is full of organic matter which makes the whole back garden teem with life. In turn, the birds eat caterpillars and other pests off our vegetables and we end up with beautiful, clean produce as you can see here and in the picture below that I took last summer.
How do I get started?
Most people can get a composting bin and caddy from their local council if they research it properly. For a measly £15, we received ours and it was up and running in an hour. Some people like to build theirs out of pallets but in our little garden, we did not feel like we needed this, however that would save even more money for those of you who want something that is made out of wood. There are plenty of tutorials online on how to build a compost out of pallets if you wish to do so.
What goes into the compost?
Garden waste such as grass cuttings. leafs, flowers and weeds.
Household waste like paper, paper towels, tissues, natural corks, cardboard, paper bags and hair.
Mixed foods such as vegetable and fruit peels, pulp. tea leaves, tea bags, coffee grounds and expired leftovers except for bread.
All vegetables and fruits can go into the compost but special attention should be paid to citrus fruits. That includes lemons, limes, orange, grapefruit and tangerine.
There are many rather contradicting and inconclusive statements when it comes to citrus. Some say the peels take too long to break down. Others say the oils in the peel can kill the worms and there is the fact that penicillin mould grows on citrus. This could affect your compost pile if you are a beginner and don’t have a routine for keeping your compost in a balance. In a well-kept compost heap, the temperature is too high for mould to thrive and the peel will decompose before this could happen.
What I would advise in the start is to not overdo it with the lemon and if you throw lemon peel in your compost slice it up and mix it in. Over time when you got more confident you can add as much as you wish.
What should I never put in a compost bin?
As already mentioned citrus peel can be an issue for beginners but you can compost them so I mentioned them here as well but you can definitely compost them in a long run. The following list might sound strange but it is needed because they should NEVER end up in the compost.
Anything made of plastic, disposable nappies, bread, cans, cigarettes, coal ash, dairy products, pet food and pet faeces, drink cartons, meat, bones and fish scraps.
I listed these because I have seen all of them numerous times mentioned on composting forums in the most bizarre ways. The comments ranged from nappies to plastic bags being labelled as biodegradable and therefore suited for the compost bin. Dog faeces got called organic matter and harmless. Neither belongs in the compost bin. Biodegradable does not mean it is suited for the compost bin in any way.
How do I maintain a healthy compost bin?
When it comes to a healthy compost bin there are four things to consider: air, heat, water and a balance of carbon and nitrogen. This might sound intimidating at first. Believe it me I was put off by this as well when I started out but it is a lot easier than it seems at first.
Whenever you add something new to the compost bin add it loosely. Never give in to the temptation of pushing the compost heap down and compress it by doing so.
There is no composting without water. Generally watering the compost is not necessary because both garden and kitchen waste provide plenty of moisture. During dry summer months, you might want to check your compost bin every now and then though and empty a small bucket of water onto it. The ideal way to check if your compost has enough water is to squeeze some of the compost. It should feel like a well squeezed out kitchen sponge.
Now I did mention this as a separate topic because the temperature is vital but you will have someone doing this for you. Yes, you read that right. Temperatures in a compost heap are controlled by microorganisms. All you need to do is feed them by adding to the compost and keeping the balance up.
Balance of Carbon and Nitrogen
You do not need a chemical degree for this, even though it might sound like it. The microorganisms that live in your compost heap require both carbon and nitrogen. A good balance is mandatory and easily achieved. The perfect balance would be one part of the carbon-rich material and two parts of nitrogen rich material.
Carbon-rich materials are paper, dry leaves, bark, wood shavings or sawdust.
Nitrogen-rich materials are grass cuttings, mixed food and potatoes, anything that is green is a good rule of thumb!
Whenever you add a considerate amount of kitchen waste or cut grass compensate by adding about half the volume of shredded paper or dry leaves. I usually opt for the shredded paper or dry leaves in the autumn.
Foods that are neutral and can be added whenever without having to compensate for anything are fruits. Happy days for all you fruitbats out there.
How do I know the compost is ready?
When finished, compost should be dark and crumbly and should smell earthy, not rotten or mouldy.
Now when you got to this point feel free to add your compost to your vegetable patches, flower beds or plant pots. This will be some of the best soil you will ever have given your plants.