One of the first things Lucy and I wanted to do in our new home was set up a compost. We have a garden waste/food waste bin that gets collected every two weeks, but composting has a lower impact on the environment (think of the trucks needed to collect the waste, and then the energy used to process it). We also need compost for the garden, so why not make it for free?! Our “brown bin” is still useful for cooked food waste and bulky garden waste like shrub branches, and weeds. In this post, I run through the basics of how to compost for beginners like me!
I encourage everyone to start a compost – I’ve even read that people keep small composts or worm farms in flats/apartments! Or, you can find a neighbour or community garden that has composts and see if they want your scraps.
Types of composting systems:
There are several different types of composts: plastic huts, wooden boxes, rotating barrels, trench composting, and decomposing systems like vermicomposting (worms). We opted for a wooden slat style compost with a lid because we didn’t want to buy a plastic container, and the rotating barrels had mixed reviews in terms of the durability of the crank handle. I don’t currently want to be responsible for the wellbeing of hundreds of worms. Also, I wanted to be realistic about how often we would be able to go out and turn the compost (i.e. mix it up to oxygenate the material, allowing it to decompose faster). The wooden box composts only require turning ideally once a month if it’s fairly full.
How we went about assembling our compost:
- Place your compost in a light shade to shaded area – if it gets too hot, it can kill the bacteria.
- Ensure that the surface is level, bare earth. You don’t want compost juice draining out down a slope, and you want to allow soil organisms to enter the bin.
- The compost bin we chose is self-assembly with slide to fit boards and a lid. As it is entirely wood, the manufacturer recommended that we position the posts on a non-earth surface to prevent rotting. We used some old tiles. Lucy did most of the assembly (I helped 🙂 ) and it took maybe half an hour.
- Depending on how much material you have right away to compost, add a layer of browns to line the bottom of the compost. We didn’t have much to compost straight away (e.g. no grass clippings in winter) so we added a thin layer of newspaper. I suppose if you had lots of material to add, then a 1-2 inch layer of browns like sticks would be beneficial. This can also help prevent vermin from getting in the bottom of the compost.
- If you have lots of material to add straight away, then add them in layers of browns, alternating with greens. We didn’t have a lot to add immediately, so we’ve just been adding our veg and fruit scraps as we go along, tossing in some shredded paper/card as needed.
- Too lazy to go out to the compost? Me too. We keep two bowls by the back door – one for cooked food waste, and one for compost scraps, which we take out when full. This might change in summer and we will need to get a mini compost pail with a lid to prevent flies.
Tips on making compost:
Keep the compost moist in dry weather. Too much water or nitrogen with make it stinky and slimy. Too much carbon, and it won’t rot.
You want a balance of browns and greens – usually around 50:50.
Browns – Carbon
- Non-coated cardboard and paper, shredded
- Dried Leaves
- Some people say yes to sawdust, some say no
Greens – Nitrogen
- Vegetables and fruits scraps
- Coffee grounds and loose tea
What the internet says to not put in the compost:
- Animal poop
- Lint and hair from your dryer/vacuum – this is synthetic material like carpet microfibers and contains chemicals
- Onion skins – they are technically fine but the strong odour can attract pests – the internet suggests burying them if you choose to add them. Do not add onions to vermicomposts because the worms won’t eat them.
- Potato skins – can cause fungus that causes potato blight which can come about if the eyes in the peels grow into new plants. If you bury the peels and turn the compost regularly, it should be fine.
- Citrus peel – the wax and pesticides on the skin can be harmful. Too much acid can disrupt the composting process.
- Large branches/sticks because they take a long time to break down
- Tea bags – the tea is fine, but most tea bags still have plastic in them. Bags marked home compostable are fine.
- Too much coffee grounds – they change the pH
- Cooked food – mainly because of the oil
- Meat (including fish) and dairy
- Egg shells – you can add these whole, but they will take forever to break down. You can also add them crushed, but that requires some effort. We decided to put them in our food waste bin instead.
- Weeds – they will just sprout in your compost and then you will add more weeds back into the garden. Some people say weeds are fine.
- Diseased plants
How long does it take to make compost?
It depends. It depends on your climate, the amount of materials you are putting in, the biodiversity of the organisms in your soils, how often you turn your compost etc. The internet suggests anywhere from 6 months to 2 years.
I will keep you updated on when we use the first batch of our compost!
Do you have any tips on creating the perfect compost? Share in the comments!
For more gardening content see: My Flower Show – A Tour of the Flowers in my Garden and Sustainable and Eco-Friendly Changes to our House