A Super Simple Guide To Composting
Do you end up with a fridge overloaded with rotting, putrid and dissolving fruits and vegetables, that you never got around to eating?
And what about when you mow the lawns, or weed the garden? Where do you deposit all that garden waste?
Do you take a trip to the refuse station? Or do you dump it in the plastic ‘green’ bin the local council provide and let them deal with it?
If you said yes to any of the above, you’re not alone. It’s estimated that, for the majority of households, 40 percent of the home’s waste was, at one time, edible or living and perfectly good organic waste.
The big problem is that our landfills are overloaded with waste that doesn’t really need to be there.
We could reduce landfill by up to 40% if we process our own organic waste instead of dumping it.
And we could reap the benefits as well!
Benefits Of Composting
Composting has more benefits than most people think about:
- It provides a means of reducing waste, processing organic food and garden waste
- Takes advantage of useful, natural resources rather than wasting them
- Creates a rich, nutrient soil conditioner with beneficial micro0orngamisms
- Supports the environment by adding nutrients back into the soil without the need for chemical fertilizers
- Reduces the load on landfill sites which are already overloaded
How To Compost
The thing is, composting is pretty simple.
We could get all fancy and start talking about pH levels and micro-organisms but, at a basic level, composting is simply creating a pile of organic waste and then letting nature break down that waste into a reusable product.
The how is a bit more technical, of course. A combination of oxygen, heat, moisture and micro-organisms all make a difference to how effectively your compost pile works, but to get you started, let’s just take the easy steps first.
First, locate a suitable area where you can let your compost sit for as long as it needs to. It’s going to be there for a while, so make sure you pick a spot that you’re not going to want to use any time soon.
Depending on the size of your garden, you might choose to just create a big pile in a corner of your garden, or you could build a special compost bin with old pallets or recycled wood. If you have a smaller garden and want a bin that is compact and easy care, you can buy a special composting bin from the hardware store. Some of these bins have the added advantage of being able to be rotated (tumbler bins) with paddles inside that stir everything up. Great if you don’t fancy hand turning your compost!
What Goes In Your Compost
Most organic waste is suitable for your compost.
Organic waste can be categorised into two groups – ‘Greens’ and ‘Browns’.
Greens tend to be more moist and nitrogen rich, and break down more quickly. Browns tend to be dryer and carbon rich, and break down more slowly.
While you can get serious about your composting, making sure you have just the right ratio of greens and browns, the easiest way is to simply add a good mix of both green and brown waste.
Sure, getting the perfect ratio will certainly help speed up the composting process, but if you’re happy to wait it out, then just keep a good variety of waste going onto your pile and it will all happen in the end.
A good mix of green and brown waste for your compost might include any of the following:
- Green – Unwanted food and food waste
- Brown – Leaves
- Green – Grass clippings
- Brown – Soft twigs and branches
- Green – Weeds
- Brown – Paper (avoid the glossy stuff though)
- Brown – Cardboard
- Brown – Old carpet
- Green – Seaweed or kelp
- Brown – Fire ash (as long as you don’t burn treated wood)
- Green – Chicken manure
- Brown – Hay and straw
- Brown – Sawdust or wood shavings
- Green – Coffee grinds and tea bags
- Brown – Dryer lint and vacuum cleaner bag dust
- Brown – Hair
There are a few items that you don’t want to add, if you want a healthy, productive compost and a good end product.
- Avoid adding any meat, dairy products, fats or oils – these encourage pests
- Don’t add any treated wood or diseased plants
- Leave out perennial weeds – these will only spread again with your compost when you redistribute it
- Do not include cat or dog litter
- Disposal nappies are also a no go
The great thing about compost, versus other waste management systems like Worm Farms, is that you can put more in your compost without worrying as much about the living environment. Worms can be a bit fussy. There are food wastes they don’t like (like citrus, onions and tomatoes), they need just the right balance of moisture and they don’t like it hot so adding too many items that create heat (like grass clippings) is a bad idea.
Your compost pile will be much more forgiving. While you want to pay some attention to how you manage your compost pile, for the main part you can just keep adding waste and let it do it’s thing.
A ‘healthy’ compost will turn your waste into rich, black soil within about 6 months. If you add larger pieces to your pile, it may take up to 12 months.
But, there may also be times when the balance of your compost is out, and composting will slow down or the contents might become compacted or sludgy.
To help your compost pile out, and get it churning out ‘black gold’, follow these simple compost maintenance tips:
- Regularly turn your compost over with a garden fork – this helps to aerate the pile and mix the waste in that needs more heat and moisture to be broken down
- Water your compost during warmer months – your compost needs to be warm and moist to works best so add a bit of water if it is particularly dry
- Add dry ingredients during winter months – balance out the extra moisture during the winter months with dry leaves, paper and cardboard
- Cover up – add a cover to your compost pile (old carpet works well) to keep the moisture both in and out
- Mix it up – keep an eye on how much of any one type of waste you’re adding. If you just pile grass clippings on top of grass clippings, without any other type of waste added, you might find you compost just turns into a wet, matted mess.
For best results add a mixture of waste in layers. Some that provide nutrients (food waste), some that airate the pile (small twigs and branches) and some that helps to balance moisture (newspapers or cardboard).
Using Your Compost Gold
Once your compost pile has converted your waste into lovely, black, rich soil, you can start using it in your garden.
How you get access to that soil depends on what kind of compost pile you have created.
If it’s in a bin, usually there is a shoot at the bottom of the bin that lets you dig out the new soil. If you’re using a wooden bin you may have to take the top layer off, harvest the new soil and then put the top layer back on the bottom to start again.
I personally run two different composting systems which allow me to make use of the new soil, reasonably easily.
The first is a two bin compost where I have a working bin and a spare bin. When I want to use the new soil, I fork off the top of the working bin, into the spare bin and take the soil from underneath. I then add future waste to what was the spare bin and is now the working bin.
The second compost pile I have is one that is casually piled on top of one of my raised garden beds along the fence (we have two 12 foot long garden beds for bigger crops). At the end of each Summer I take all spent plants that have done their job for that season and I put them on this garden. I then add all my other garden waste to it throughout Winter and Spring, until I am ready to use that garden bed again next Summer. When that time comes I again take everything that is un-composted from the top, move it to the working compost bin (usually much less by this stage) and the garden is pre-fertilised and replenished, ready for another Summer crop.
Composting really doesn’t have to be difficult, or a lot of hard work. With just the simple tips above, you can have a productive and successful compost pile that will reward you and your garden year after year.
And you really can’t get it wrong, as such. Even if you don’t do it perfectly, composting will happen naturally along the way, anyway. It might just take a little longer.