Composting

Composting made easy

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  • Choose a protected shady spot in the garden for your compost bin, enclosure or heap. You don’t want your compost to dry out.
  • Build your compost in layers of manures, food scraps, garden clippings and paper or straw- just like a lasagne! Smaller pieces are easier for your microbes to digest, and this helps your compost to heat up quickly, producing compost faster.
  • Keep your compost slightly moist and aerated. Turning your compost when it reaches a top temperature of 65 degrees keeps your microbes happy. If you don’t have a compost thermometer, turn your pile preferably weekly or at least once a month.
  • For compost to work well, it requires a balance of brown (carbon) such as dried leaves, shredded paper and twigs and green (nitrogen) grass clippings, manure, fruit and vegetable scraps. Your carbon: nitrogen ratio is key to keeping a healthy mix of bacteria and decomposing matter that doesn’t smell. Two parts green to one part brown usually does the trick. Details of materials that make up these greens and browns are listed below.

There are two types of composting anaerobic and aerobic. Anaerobic decomposition occurs with almost no oxygen. This process can give off unpleasant odours as gases (including methane a powerful and damaging greenhouse gas).

Aerobic decomposition requires oxygen as living micro-organisms and fungi are working to break down your waste and need air to work effectively. The aerobic process can be quite rapid and should generate substantial heat. Aerobic composting should produce a lovely rainforest smell.

Keep your compost aerobic by:

  • Adding both greens (kitchen and garden materials) and browns (dry materials like straw, autumn leaves, wood ash, shredded newspaper or sawdust) to your compost.
  • Keeping the heap moist, but not too wet (ideally about as moist as a wrung-out sponge). If your compost is too dry, then composting will slow down. However if your compost is too wet the ingredients will be so heavy that they will exclude oxygen.
  • Turning and mixing it frequently to aerate the organic material.

What to place in your compost:

  • Vegetable and fruit scraps
  • Egg shells
  • Tea bags and coffee grounds
  • Vacuum cleaner dust
  • Lawn clippings, prunings, leaves and flowers
  • Used cooking oil
  • Shredded paper and old newspapers
  • Straw

For a healthy compost avoid:

  • Meat and dairy products
  • Bones
  • Metals, plastics and glass
  • Magazines
  • Bread and cake
  • Diseased plants
  • Large branches
  • Pet droppings
  • Sawdust from treated timber (e.g. treated pine)

 

Results

green-wasteWhen your compost is dark and crumbly (about four months) you can spread it on to your garden and around plants, or turn it into the soil surface. Most plants will love the increase in soil nutrients and organic matter.

Remember safety first:

Compost is produced from natural materials which contain a variety of living organisms which, on rare occasions, have been associated with illness and allergies.

Therefore, always take the following precautions:

  • Wash your hands after handling compost or soil
  • Protect broken skin by wearing gloves
  • Avoid inhaling dry compost which could contain airborne spores or bacteria. This is best avoided by keeping your compost moist – if your compost is already dry, gently wet it before handling.