Ever wanted to help save the planet in a small way? It is tough to do with so little control over carbon emissions, and you are only one person when it comes to plastic. However, a compost heap could add another string to your environmentalist bow. All our small actions can accumulate to make a big difference, so understanding how to use your food waste effectively and prevent more rubbish hitting landfill is one more opportunity.
The great thing about composting is that you produce the equivalent of black gold for your flower beds. The nutrients from your compost will help your garden bloom. Just imagine the increased pleasure from sitting on your backless garden bench.
Composting, in simple terms, is taking any organic waste that will rot naturally and mixing it with soil in a bin to create nutrients for your garden.
There are some common misconceptions about composting. Some people think it is complicated, like some elaborate science experiment. Others might tell you it is too smelly and too messy to be worth their while. If you are getting composting wrong, all these things can be true. If you follow the right approach, there is nothing simpler. You are essentially layering organic materials with soil to create humus, which is the perfect soil builder for your flowers or your vegetables.
There are different types of composting, which are suitable for different abilities and levels of keenness to purchase composting equipment.
Cold Composting: this is where you collect garden and food waste, such as old fruit, vegetable peelings, coffee grounds, etc. and pile these into a bin or an area of your garden. Over the year, this material will decompose, and you will be left with material that can be dug into your garden.
Fast-Cooking Hot Compost: this is a process for the more serious of gardeners amongst us. The aim is to get your compost within one to three months. You will need some ingredients to help this hot composting process, including nitrogen, carbon – as well as the more accessible air and water. You are basically nourishing the micro-organism that breaks down the decay, therefore speeding up the process. Gardeners tend to use this process when they want one batch of compost bagged and ready for use, while another is cooking. This is important if you are using greenhouses and polytunnels for all year round growing.
Worm Composting: you can create vermicompost using worms. The worms eat the food scraps and then process this in the way that creatures do. The castings are rich in nitrogen. Not any old worm will do, however. You will need redworms, also known as red wigglers, which can be purchased at garden centres or from the internet.
A lot of the materials from your fridge that may typically end up in the bin can be used in your compost. You can send all the following straight to your compost pile:
The following items will not work to make your garden healthy. They could also cause your compost to smell and may attract pests to your garden. If you want your composting experience to be successful, then avoid using:
You can build your composter, or you can buy a decent compost bin. Compost bins are great for maintaining the look of your garden while creating the right conditions for proper composting.
Select the perfect place for your compost heap/ bin. It is best to place it where the ground is level and the soil beneath drains well. You will be watering your compost, so you need this water to drain away well. Without this drainage, your compost heap could start to smell due to stagnant water. The well-drained soil will also help worms make their way to your compost.
Get your worms to do the hard work. Earthworms are nature’s waste disposal unit – it is what they live their whole lives for. They love the dark and moist atmosphere of a compost heap, and while you pile in the waste, you will be feeding them. In return for this life of worm luxury, they will convert your waste into compost. The Tiger Worm is said to be the most efficient of worms – and will munch all day happily on your organic waste.
Balance your greens and browns. Your green materials are the wet materials from your waste bin, including your coffee grounds, old cooked food, etc. Your brown materials are dry leaves, woodchip, plant material from the garden, etc. The best mix is three parts brown to one-part green. You need a decent three-foot pile of material to get you started. If your compost looks a little wet, then you should add in some more brown content. Adding scrunched up cardboard is perfect here. Not only will it balance the elements, but it will also create air pockets that will keep the compost healthy.
Stir your pile. You need to get air into the mix; therefore, it needs regular turning. This turning process will aerate and mix up the waste allowing for faster composting. Stirring the pile will also stop it compacting or matting down – this is the way your compost bin starts to smell. You will also combine the green and brown elements, which should also aid the process and keep it odour-free. There are special tools for stirring your compost that will make this job more accessible and more effective. You can purchase these from your garden centre, though a garden fork should also do the trick.
Water your pile. You want your compost pile to have the moisture level of a damp sponge. You do not want it soaked through, but neither can composting happen without water. It is about giving enough water for your micro-organisms to work, without drowning them. If you overwater then your heap will be a rotting mess rather than a pile of luscious hummus.
Give your compost heap a boost. You can encourage the decomposing process with a compost activator that you can purchase from your garden centre. This will help to turn garden waste into dark, rich and crumbly compost in about half the time. You just need to mix the activator into a small amount of water and sprinkle over your compost.
Use when ready. You should know that your compost is ready if all you have in your bin is a browny-black soil-like layer at the bottom. If you reach your hand in amongst the material, it should feel spongy to the touch. You can then dig this into your flower beds and vegetable plots. You should aim to add about 5 inches of compost to your soil at the start of the planting season.
Make your compost tea. Note: this is not for drinking. Compost tea requires you to take the remnants from your compost bin and soak them through with water, commonly known as steeping. You soak the vestiges of your compost bin for a good few days and then strain this to make your liquid fertiliser.
When autumn comes and goes, don’t forget to collect the leaves. Fallen leaves are an excellent source of brown materials for your compost. You can add these straight to your compost bin if it won’t unduly impact the balance. Alternatively, you can store them in leaf bags and add them when appropriate to your compost mix. This is an excellent way of improving your soil and acts as an excellent alternative to peat when wanting to add moisture to your ground.
A quality compost should improve the growth in your garden while reducing the need for chemicals and pesticides. Your soil will hold moisture better, and the compost will also help to suppress weeds.
There are lots of routes to the perfect compost, and you will choose the approach that best suits your lifestyle. Cold composting requires very little maintenance, but after a year or so should offer some quality compost. If all you want to do is feed your small garden once a year, this is perfect. If you’re going to grow all year round and maintain the nutrient mix in your soil, then you will need more intensive methods.
The good news is that composting is easy. It is also another way that you can help the environment. Not only are you using up old food waste, but you are not putting artificial chemicals into the land. You will have every opportunity to feel righteous, as you take your seat on your backless bench by the roses for a soothing cup of actual tea.
Anna is the marketing and office manager for Garden Benches – a premium supplier of high-quality wooden benches and other outdoor furniture.