Composting seems to be one of those areas that requires just a small amount of knowledge to get that perfect mixture. Composting and wormeries, the reasons why we should compost, how to compost and what to do with that lovely compost.
What is composting?
Composting is a natural process which involves micro organisms which transform organic waste materials into a soil- like product called humus. That is the technical bit over. By simply collecting kitchen scraps like veg peelings, used tea bags, coffee dregs etc as well as a variety of other materials and placing them into a suitable composting container you are not only reducing what you put into landfill but producing a very valuable material which can be used to nourish your garden or veg patch.
The Darlek as in the image above is the modern day composter, quite often available free of charge from some local councils or at a reduced cost from others. This composter is quite large, has a sturdy lid and a front opening, they are easy to use and effective. Many people get by by using an open patch in the corner of their garden although this can be smelly in hot weather and attract fruit flies and other pests. Compost bins can also be made from wood again left pretty open and also liable to attracting pests and flies. Other alternatives involve digging trenches in the soil and burying waste or spreading fine layers of waste onto the ground to perish over the winter. Rotating composters can also be purchased, these turn the contents which in turn adds oxygen which aid the rotting process and produces compost at a much quicker rate.
What to compost?
Here is a list of the most common things that you would compost, the list is much longer but we will stick to the basics for now.
Fruit and veg peelings are a firm favourite. Coffee dregs, egg shells, stale bread, paper towels, waste from wine making, garden soil, grass cuttings, hair, shredded paper, cardboard and newspapers.
What not to compost!
Meat, cheese, fish and cooked foods must not be added to the composter, they attract pests and vermin and do not break down adequately. Other things include disposable nappies, dog and cat excrement, the roots of weeds, coal ash, shiny card, metal and glass.
How to compost.
Compost bins work best placed on bare soil as this allows worms and garden insects to get inside of the composter, placing the bin on a layer of twigs to raise it up slightly to allow air inside also helps. If you do not have an area of soil you can place twigs on the available surface, cover with soil and then place the composter on top. Mixing certain types of materials or changing the proportions will make a difference in the rate of decomposition, by getting the balance of materials layered correctly will produce a good compost. Heat and water is also important, look at your composter and consider that like a human it needs food, water and warmth to function although warmth will accelerate the compost process the temperature only needs to be above 50 degrees F, so whilst your composter might not be active during the colder months, as soon as spring temperatures start to rise it will start to work and the material inside will start to break down and the level inside the composter reduce.
So you have laid your fist layer of twigs and covered with earth. Earth is a great addition to the composter at intervals, it helps to mask smells and adds weight to the composter, it is also a lovely medium for the worms and creepy crawlies to play in. Now you need to alternate layers of dry and then wet materials. Dry materials often known as the "brown" layer include straw, leaves and wood ashes. leaves can take a long time to break down so limit the amount that you add in any one level. It is handy to store leaves in bags at the side of the composter, they can take up to two years to decompose and this process will happen in the bags. Sawdust, shredded brown paper, hair, egg shells are all carbon rich and make up an excellent brown layer.
The next layer should be the wet layer also known as the "green" layer or the "nitrogen" layer should now be added, this includes your veg peelings, lawn clippings and plant matter taken from the garden. This layer can get particularly smelly so it is wise if you have a lot of grass cuttings to add that layer last. Again saving grass cuttings at the side of the compost bin until they are needed is a good tip. Grass cuttings help to keep down flies too.
As mentioned your composter needs water, this can come from coffee dregs, cold tea or rain water but make sure that your composter does not get too wet, a lid is advisable or cover an open heap with plastic covering. A good pile needs more carbon than nitrogen so saving that dry brown matter is important for times of the year when it might not be as available. It is very easy to fill a composter with vast amounts of veg peelings but this leads to a nasty smelly bin that struggles to break down to a healthy compost.
Turning your compost will add vital oxygen which is needed for the breakdown process but you can avoid turning your compost if you add layers of material like straw which allows air to circulate in the composter. vegetarian pets like rabbits provide a wonderful source of aerating material and their bedding can be added to the composter. Alternatively take a garden fork and turn the material inside the composter every few weeks.
Composting can have it's problems, and they ain't pleasant. Removing the lid to be swarmed by millions of little fruit flies isn't nice. As mentioned above adding a fine layer of grass clippings which are best stored at the side of your bin will help with this. the flies are attracted to rotting matter and so grass clippings are best layered over the veg peelings and wet matter.
Smelly bins can be a problem in the summer as the temperatures get higher and hit that rotting pile, to avoid whiffs do not add cooked food, meat or fish, as above add a layer of grass or straw to keep smells to a minimum.
Rats! A compost heap can become a lovely home to rodents and in the south even snakes. Always be careful when opening the compost bin, signs that you might have visitors are burrows near and around the compost bin. A composter is rather a lovely environment for a rat and although it doesn't seem to be a common habitat it has been known.
These far outweigh the problems and once you have managed to get the balance in your composter right you will have the most wonderful enriched nutrient that your garden will need, thus saving you money and the effects on landfill. A composter really is a must in any garden.