Are you thinking about starting to compost your waste?
The process of getting a composter up and running is often intimidating to first-timers, but it doesn’t need to be. All it takes to learn how to make compost is a little understanding of the fundamentals. Let’s get started with some compost basics.
What is Home Composting?
Before we talk about how to make compost, it’s essential to understand what this practice entails.
For anyone who composts at home, the process means taking the organic waste from your kitchen and garden and recycling it.
'Compost is organic material that can be added to soil to help plants grow.'Environmental Protection Agency
Hot vs Cold
There are two primary types of compost: hot and cold. Cold compost is what we just described—putting yard waste and organic material in a composter and letting it decompose over time. It’s a passive method of composting.
Hot composting, meanwhile, is an active method that involves keeping the ingredients at high temperatures of up to 70°C to decompose the materials. It is a faster process that involves specialized equipment, copious amounts of content, and the ability to maintain a constant high temperature.
Though hot composting is faster, it also requires more dedication and is for more seasoned gardeners. You have to pay special attention to pile size, the ingredients, and how they’re arranged in layers. We’ll focus on cold composting in this article since this method is what most novices will start with.
Benefits of Composting
Why should you learn how to make compost? This practice has lots of benefits, not just for your garden, but also for the environment!
Did you know that each person in the UK throws the equivalent of their own body weight in food waste away every seven weeks or so?
Composting diverts this waste away from landfills, so we end up putting less biodegradable waste there. Less waste means less methane gas, which is fantastic news for our carbon footprint.
Compost is also a fantastic addition to our gardens. The mixture that emerges from your composter helps condition soil for gardening, which may mean you could end up ditching commercial peat-based fertilizer altogether. And even if no one in your house has a green finger, there are still many things you can do with your compost, which we’ll talk about later.
When to Compost
The great thing about composting is that any time you’d like to start is a perfect time. There are better times of the year than others. However, the ideal window is towards the end of summer and into the start of winter. But if you want to get started during another time of the year, that’s fine, too.
Types of Compost Containers
To get started, you’ll need a compost container and a dedicated space outside for it. This dedicated space must be at least a 3meter square, and the bin should be at least a meter in diameter. To ensure animals are kept out, it’s a good idea to put up a fence or some other protection around your composter.
Some people choose to build their own, though there are plenty of options to purchase a container. You can even get one from your local council by getting in touch with their waste and recycling department.
Regardless of whether it’s homemade or purchased, your composter should have a few features. It must be:
- Easy to get to
- Free of holes in the sides
It should also be in an ideal location. The best place for your composter is somewhere sunny, directly on soil or turf, and in a well-drained area. Water should not collect in and around your composter.
What to Put in a Composter
So, what should you put in your composter? Luckily, lots of everyday waste items will be right at home in your pile. It should have two types of elements that you’ll need to familiarise yourself with to be successful at composting.
Nitrogen-rich materials, or “green” materials, are one type that is made of ingredients that decompose quickly. Carbon-rich materials, or “brown” materials, are the other type. They decompose more slowly but add critical fibre and carbon and permit the formation of vital air pockets. The right mix of green and brown ingredients is essential to having success with your composter.
Some examples of nitrogen-rich, or green material, include:
- Vegetable peels
- Fruit discards
- Plant clippings
- Ground coffee
Some examples of carbon-rich, or brown material, include:
- Paper bags
What Not to Compost
While you may be ready to throw all organic material in your composter, be aware that some kitchen waste is off-limits. Here are some items that should stay out of your composter if you want it to thrive:
- Meat and dairy
- Diseased plants
- Animal excrement
- Materials like plastic, glass, metal
Getting the Right Balance of Materials
Composting is all about balance, as each material type provides different benefits to the mixture. The brown waste we mentioned before is carbon-rich, which means that it feeds the organisms that break down the substances in your compost bin. Green waste, on the other hand, supplies nitrogen, which is essential to developing the cell structure in the soil.
The mixture should have roughly one part of the green materials we mentioned before and three parts of brown waste. Try to keep these ratios in mind as you add ingredients to the bin. Your compost also needs oxygen, which we’ll discuss in greater detail in the next section, plus a bit of moisture. Moisture is an essential part of helping the bacteria to thrive.
How will you know if you’re doing it correctly? When your bin has the right mix of components, it should have an earthy, dirt-like smell to it. If the heap is too wet, it will be slimy and smelly. To remedy this, add brown items. If it’s too dry, on the other hand, the composting process has likely slowed. In this case, you’ll want to add some green items and some water—but don’t overdo it.
Turning the Heap
Once every week to two weeks, you should turn the heap. This step involves moving the mixture using a shovel or garden fork (or compost aerator, if you have one). Turning the heap allows air to mix in with the contents of your container. Oxygen is required for composting to occur, which makes it a critical part of maintaining your composter.
If you’re having mixed results with your composter, you may need to turn the heap more often. A lack of air among the substances in your bin is one of the typical mistakes those new to composting make. Another way to add oxygen is by mixing in crushed up pieces of cardboard, after turning the heap is a good time to check to see if the mixture is damp enough.
How Long Until My Compost Is Ready?
It can take anywhere from six to eight weeks to be ready for use, but more often than not, it can take up to a year. The main thing to keep in mind is that your results will depend on how much you tend to your compost. Staying on top of turning the heap and ensuring a proper mix of ingredients will go a long way.
You’ll know your compost is ready when it has reached a dark brown colour. If there is any material left over, like visible eggshells, that material should be set aside for your next batch.
What Can I Do with My Compost?
You may be wondering what you can do with your compost—great question! It’s the perfect addition to your garden beds, where you can sprinkle the mixture on top or add it directly into the soil. You can also offer it to neighbours, use it in your potted plants, donate it to your favourite cause, or see if a local farm might be interested in it.
While composting is less complicated than it seems, you may still run into some problems. Here are some common issues you might experience:
- Using just one material. Composters require a healthy mix of ingredients to flourish.
- Letting it get dry, especially in the warmer months. Check your heap regularly for adequate moisture in the summer.
- Starting with too few materials. Your composter needs a healthy amount of organic waste to get up and running.
- Smelly and slimy compost. Add brown materials to correct the ratio.
Now Let’s Get Composting
Learning how to make compost is a fun adventure filled with trial and error. But with a little bit of dedication and affection, you’ll be well on your way to reducing your emissions and doing your part to help the environment.