The price of compost is increasing, and with the cost of living rising, it almost feels like a luxury to buy a bag of compost now. However, it is a necessity if I want to supplement my diet with home grown food. That is ok as compost is basically organic matter that has rotted down. I can make my own as it is a natural process. Years ago, I thought that if I threw all my plants and kitchen waste into my compost bin that it would just quickly into compost, but I found that it took ages to decompose. I now know that you need a correct mixture of carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and water to speed the process up. Luckily, this isn’t as complicated to do as it sounds.
Do I need to buy a compost bin?
There are different methods to make compost, but I am just going to write about the easy way. The kind of bin you chose will depend on how much compost needed and the amount of space that you have in your garden. I have a plastic bin that I bought from a hardware shop, but it is worth checking with your local council as some sell them at a better price as they are trying to encourage households to compost to reduce land fill. I like this kind of bin in my garden because of the lid that seals and it does not encourage rodents and other pests into my garden. I add waste at the top and access my compost from a flap at the bottom of the bin. Unfortunately, the downside to these kinds of bins is that it is hard to add oxygen to the mix, which slows down the process a bit. There are bins on the market that you turn a handle, and they tumble to add oxygen, but they are expensive. You don’t need to buy a bin, though. When I had an allotment I built a compost bin out of pallets, and other plot holders built them from chicken wire and stakes of wood. I just used a piece of canvas on the top to protect it. Every so often I would turn the compost with my garden fork to add oxygen.
Where is the best place to keep my compost bin?
A lot of people like to hide the compost bin away at the bottom of the garden, but I keep mine on a bit of land at the side of the house as it is accessible and makes it easier to put my kitchen waste into it regularly without getting muddy in the middle of winter. A shady area is best, and if it is near a water source that is even better.
What can I put in my compost bin?
I used to just throw anything into my compost bin but there is a science behind having a healthy compost bin. You need a good balance of materials that contain carbon and nitrogen. Items rich in nitrogen include vegetable peelings, rotten raw fruit and vegetable waste, green waste from the garden and grass cuttings. The carbon rich items include paper, shredded newspaper, cardboard, straw, eggshells, dried leaves, wood ash, saw dust, and small bits of bark or wood. It is better to have a bit more carbon (brown) materials than green (nitrogen) materials as these larger materials make room for oxygen. Having too much green waste in your compost bin can lead to smelly, sticky compost and so I add at least half and half green to brown materials. A good constant source of cardboard is the middle of loo rolls. I don’t add weeds to my compost in case they contain seeds as I don’t want to make myself extra work. I also don’t add diseased plants as I don’t want to spread them to future crops.
It is also not a good idea to add fish, meat or cooked kitchen scraps as these will attract vermin. As my compost is to be used for food crops, I also avoid manure and straw that has been used for animals. You also have to be careful which fruit peels you add as well as some can contain pesticides, especially citrus fruits and bananas. Citrus fruit and onions contain a lot of acid that can harm worms and so I avoid those too. If you add potatoes or peel your compost bin could end up growing them and using your precious nutrients and so I avoid adding those too. I am also careful about the kind of paper I add and avoid plastic coated or glossy, shiny paper.
How do I start my compost?
Start by placing your bin on bare ground and not on concrete or anything. Place some big branches or sticks at the bottom. Next you want a layer of green materials, for instance garden waste or kitchen scraps. This is then followed by another brown layer of things like shredded paper or dry leaves. Continue to build up your compost in layers. I make sure that when I empty the scraps from my kitchen that I also take out some paper or cardboard to put on top. Compost needs to be damp and so I water it whenever I add something to it. It does not want to be soaking wet. Before I had a tap nearby, I would keep an old bowl next to my compost and it would collect rainwater that I would use to water it. The compost then needs to be covered, either with the plastic lid, or if you have built a wooden one, with a tarpaulin.
How do I look after my compost?
In my kitchen I have an old ice cream tub that I collect all my vegetable scraps in. I tip this into my compost bin daily with any green garden waste, making sure that I balance the nutrients by adding at least an equal amount of brown waste at the same time. In autumn I have a bag of dry leaves at the side of my compost bin to add to make this easier. I also add a bit of water. Turning the compost will also add oxygen which will speed up the decomposition, but that is hard in a plastic bin and so I try to make sure that I don’t pack my bin too tightly so that there are natural pockets of air.
Making your own compost can save you a lot of money. I will often add it to old compost to enrich it when planting my containers, or it can be added to your garden beds. It is very rich and so I don’t tend to use it to grow new seedlings in. By making your own compost you are not only saving money, but you are helping the planet, saving waste, and making the best use of your resources.