What is composting?
Composting is the converting of organic material that was once living into a black crumbly material which is of immense use as a natural fertilizer for growing plants. These could be flower plants or vegetables and the waste from these can then be turned into compost at a later date.
So with this we have a recycling process which is indeed the essence of composting.
What is compost?
Compost is what you get when you leave a load of green waste e.g. potato peelings, lettuce leaves and any leftover trimmings from vegetables in one heap. Overtime nature will take its course and break it down into what will eventually become compost. It’s a simple process which has been going on since time began.
Composting is something that’s so easy to do it actually happens by itself. Nature is in control of every aspect of it. Everyone is capable of making compost because everyone has access to the raw materials to be able to do it and with so many composting devices available if you put it all together there really is no excuse for not making compost. Check out the Rolypig compost tumbler at Rolypig.com.
To make compost there is one single ingredient that you need more than anything else and that is green waste that’s left over from the kitchen. This includes everything from apple cores to potato peelings and everything else that has a tendency to go mouldy if you don’t eat it before the best before date.
The power of composting
All of this material is available to you free of charge, indeed it may cost you in some cases to dispose of it if you don’t make compost. You could be paying to have this waste taken away and someone else will make compost out of it and make use of it. You wouldn’t want that especially if you’ve got a garden with growing plants and vegetables which could easily make use of it.
Some people are put off from attempting to make compost. They think it’s difficult, it requires a vast amount of knowledge, it’s smells and it might involve getting their hands dirty. Then there is the issue of flies and rodents. many take the view that it’s just not worth the trouble and you might as well put the whole lot in the trash can for the bin man.
But I would suggest that you think again. With a small amount of research, and maybe some investment, you can make use of what is, arguably, a valuable natural resource. Try not to spend too much time thinking about the green waste you are handling and how disgusting it might look.
Instead focus on the end result. You will have at your disposal one of the most useful natural components that any gardener would ever want. Some we’ll go as far as to call a well made compost ‘Black Gold’.
How to start composting
If you’ve never considered making compost before now, you need to think about where to start. Up until this point your routine has, most likely, been one of throwing green waste away then forgetting all about it. You’ve probably taken the view that seeing any value in this sort of waste is for ‘greenies’ who have a political agenda and knit their own toilet paper.
But it needn’t be like that. Green waste from the kitchen and any green waste from the garden does have a biological value. All you need to do is to gather it together in one place and leave it to nature.
To be able to do any level of composting you need a bit of spare space. Somewhere out of the way in the backyard. An area where there is no disturbance because your compost heat or container must be left undisturbed for long enough. You have to be aware that compost takes months and in some cases years to form. The rotting process of converting green waste into compost is not fast so don’t expect anything to happen within days.
So to get started the most basic of composting can be done as just a heap on the ground but this isn’t wise because it does attract vermin. The waste that you’re handling here is food to wildlife, some of which will take a delight in scattering it far and wide.
The best thing you can do right from the start is to either make or buy a containing vessel. Vermin can still find a way into this but it does make it a bit harder for them if your compost is being made inside a vessel.
There are a whole range of composting vessels available. There are simple compost bins which don’t cost very much. These are the easiest way to get started. You can start throwing your green waste from the kitchen straight in and the process will begin straight away.
And that’s it, it’s that simple anyone can do it. When you’ve started on the habit of doing this with your green waste you will eventually benefit from what nature will provide. It’s very important when you start making compost that you don’t have any expectations of an early result because early results just don’t happen when you are making compost.
How to make compost
Here’s the good news, compost makes itself. It really requires little or no effort on your part other than to set up the conditions. Provided that you have a vessel in place to receive the waste nature will eventually do it’s thing. The only intervention that may be needed from you is to agitate the contents of your compost bin. Use an aerator probe. Push it into the mass of compost and twist it as you pull it out. Doing this will allow more air to get into the mix which will assist the tiny microorganisms that are feeding on the waste.
In the early stages of green waste turning into compost you may see a small amount of steam appearing from the surface. This is because the microorganisms living in the waste are breaking down the material which often generates heat. This is nothing to be alarmed about and it will only persist for a short while. After this stage of warming the material will start to cool and the decomposition into a finished form of compost will continue
It would also help to cover the compost vessel to prevent heavy rain from saturating it. The compost, as it’s forming, needs to be kept moist so if it’s very dry you need to add water but you mustn’t add too much. An excess of water will result in nutrients draining away. If the compost is too wet the material becomes sealed within itself and air can’t get in to feed the microorganisms. When this happens the whole process becomes dormant and no decomposition can take place.
Looking at composting
This state is very often referred to as being stagnant. You may also notice a smell and in the summertime you will undoubtedly see a lot of flies. This can be avoided by monitoring the general moisture level. This is not a complicated thing to do, you can often tell what’s going on just by looking at it.
Garden compost can be bought ready-made in bags. This a very convenient way of cutting to the chase and getting what you want straight out of a bag instantly rather than wait for your own compost to be created. Your own compost can, of course, be progressing in the background.
It could be argued that the compost that you make from your own kitchen and garden waste will be better than anything you can buy in a bag. So be aware that the wait for your own compost will always be worthwhile.
One of the biggest advantages of buying ready-made compost out of the bag is that it’s ideal for propagating small seeds. There is a whole range of grades of compost that you can buy.
Some have a high acidity level which are suitable for plants that prefer acid soil for example the rhododendron. Others have white lime mixed in, these would be suitable for the vegetable patch or for spreading on a lawn. If you have ground that is heavy clay there are compost mixtures available that have added grit which will help to open up the clay and allow the air in.
When making a choice you need to study very closely what’s available and be aware of what your garden needs. All of these bagged composts will make a big difference to your garden. They all provide a healthy natural source of nutrients and can therefore do no harm.
But always be aware that the best compost of all will be the compost that you’ve generated for yourself from your own green waste because you know the source of the compost and you know that it won’t have been diluted in any way at all. You may find that when you compare your own compost, when it’s ready, with any compost that you buy, that your own compost is much more concentrated in terms of nutrients. For this reason you may find it necessary to mix in some sand or soil with it.
Doing this will help your own, much more valuable, compost go further and do more for you. It’s important to be mindful that your own compost is the’ real thing’ and that there will actually be a limited quantity available to you. Buy diluting it a little, you will be able to make it go further.
Vermicompost is what is produced when worms consume green waste. Worm composting is when the fun begins. When you have an established compost bin of any sort you will have the ideal haven for all sorts of soil dwelling creatures. Some you won’t see because they’re too small but the ones you will see will be the ones that are surely the most prolific of all, worms. These won’t be just any worm. These will be worms that benefit from the type of material that you have in your compost bin.
You can set up a wormery which is designed specifically for worms. These consist of containers some of which have trays where you place fresh green waste and as it rots the worms move into the waist and start consuming.
Most wormeries have a facility for collecting liquid that’s generated from the process. This can be used as plant food so it is worth keeping it to one side for when you need it. Then there is the solid that the worms generate from the waste. This Is worm castings also known as vermi-compost and can also be stored.
As a gardener this may be the most useful natural plant food that you can get your hands on. You can take satisfaction in knowing that this material has been generated from waste which you may well have thrown away. Life rarely gets better than that.
There are two types of worm that tend to live in compost. These are the Red Earth worm and the tiger worm. Depending on what type of soil you have in your locality the red earthworm will be everywhere. It will only take a small delegation to arrive anywhere near your compost while it’s forming and they will immediately take up residence.
If after a period of time you notice that your compost bin has no worms but you would like to have some worms at work there are options. You could go to a friend’s garden where you know there are worms and collect some or maybe take a sample of someone else’s compost heap that has worms in it and place it in your own compost.
Where ever your worms come from they will think they’ve arrived in paradise. They will immediately commence a lifestyle that will amount to a never ending orgy of eating and breeding. In the right conditions worms will breed very quickly. It’s understood that when they become established the numbers will double every 3 months.
If worms turn up in your compost bin having moved in from the surrounding habitat you may not necessarily now that they are there. It’s only when the numbers actually explode that they become visible by which time there is a significant and well established population.
It is possible to make compost without using worms and it wouldn’t really matter if no worms ever turn up. In most cases you won’t have the choice. They will turn up and you will be glad that they did.
What to put in compost
You can put anything in a compost bin that will rot down. This includes anything that is organic in the truest sense of the word. To be technical about it if something is genuinely organic it means that it’s carbon-based and once living. This would include all food waste that is left over after meals. It would also include vegetable peelings and fruit peelings.
We can also add to this trimmings from the garden including lawn clippings, hedge clippings and dead leaves. We can also add cut-flowers that have gone over. Some of the trimmings from large woody plants will need to be shredded. Small particles of woody plants will rot down very quickly.
In short if you see something going mouldy or decaying in anyway you can place it in your compost mix and the microorganisms will break it down into compost.
It’s very important to try and achieve a balance when adding material to a compost vessel. The balance that I’m referring to involves the quantity of nitrate material and carbon material. There needs to be more of the carbon material than the nitrate. The nitrate factor comes from the food waste, this will always be much higher in nitrate compounds. Left by itself without any carbon material to balance it, it will take a very long time to rot down.
The carbon Factor comes from materials like newspaper and cardboard otherwise known as’ Browns’. This sort of material helps in a number of ways it balances the food waste, soaks up surplus moisture and keeps the overall texture of the compost open allowing more air to get into the mix.
The ratio of carbon to nitrate mix needs to be in the region of 20 units of carbon material to one unit of nitrate-rich material. Given that you can get the balance right you will see compost form over a period of time but if you really want to accelerate the process it is possible. There are accelerators which will speed up the process a little.
There are two components that you can add that will make a difference. Firstly, because compost tends to be rather acidic, it may help to add white lime (hydrated lime). This is available as a powder and it’s quite safe to handle. It’s not the same as quicklime which should be avoided because it burns the skin. White lime will do much to neutralise the acid. If something is acidic it tends to preserve rather than decompose, rather like pickling.
The other ingredient is ammonium sulphamate (ammonium sulfamate). This is available in sachets of granules which you sprinkle on to the green waste as you add it to the compost. Ammonium sulphamate is a manufactured compound. It has the effect of accelerating decomposition of organic material.
There is another source of ammonium nitrate which you can use if needs must. This comes in the shape of your own urine. So if you are a dedicated composting enthusiast you may want to give this some thought.
What to do with compost
If you’ve never made compost before and you are just getting started you may wonder what it is you’re going to be doing with the compost when you’ve got it. A well made compost is a very valuable feed for any plant that you are growing. Because it’s a very concentrated material it would be wise to mix it with soil. not only would this help it to go further to do more for you but mixing it with soil in a seed bed where you want to grow crops, like vegetables and flowers, is probably the best thing you can do with it.
Most people will only have a small amount available to them at any point in time because it takes a lot of waste to produce a lot of compost. If you are being diligent with what you throw out the amount of waste available for compost should be minimal.
Therefore if you’re not throwing out vast quantities of green waste you won’t have a vast quantity of compost.
If you are lucky enough to have a huge amount of compost then you have more options. You can be generous when digging it in to a vegetable patch and you can spread it thinly over your lawn. This will help the grass more than anything else that you may add to lawn.
Take care when spreading it on the lawn because you need to scatter it thinly. If you leave areas of grass that are completely covered with compost, this will kill the grass because compost provides a high level of nutrients which in some cases are too much for plants to cope with.
Whatever you do with compost in the garden you can be sure that it will do some good somewhere. The benefits of using compost around growing plants will become obvious after a while and when you see this it will encourage you to carry on making compost of green waste into the future.
Composting in winter
It is well possible to make compost in the winter provided the weather isn’t so cold for too long. In really cold weather where the temperature is at freezing point or below little or nothing will happen. Any green waste that’s placed in a compost bin in these conditions will stay preserved.
This is not a problem because as soon as the weather warms up to a high enough temperature the microorganisms can start to function again and normal decomposition will then be resumed.
This is assuming that you are living in a part of the world where the temperature is agreeable enough in the winter months for something to happen. There are parts of the world where everything freezes up for the whole winter in which case nothing will happened at all. If you live in a part of the world with this sounds familiar then the best thing you can do is to allow your compost bin to fill up. When it’s full you will need another compost bin and start feeding that. You may have to keep doing this just to have somewhere to put your waist during the cold time.
When the spring comes and the temperature rises, everything you’ve got in all of your compost bins will start rotting. This won’t mean that you will have any more compost year on year it just means that half of the year’s compost will be produced all in one go. Green waste that’s only just started being broken down in the spring of the year should rot down enough to provide compost for the following year.
Compost bin ideas
There’s a range of composting bins and devices available to suit any budget. It depends on you and what it is that you want to achieve when it comes to making a choice over which system would suit you. If what you want is a compost bin that remains as a static fixture then a basic compost bin is all that you need. These tend to be a straightforward in at the top and out of the bottom system.
The most basic of composters is one that you can make yourself by using four wooden stakes and chicken wire. This involves a bit of work but it’s an option if you have an area of your garden which you can leave untouched. The ideal position for this is against a boundary fence. This type of composting sistem would be ideal if you get a lot of leaves each year or if you have large lawn generating a significant amount of grass clippings.
It really depends on your circumstances and the size of your garden. For most people a simple compost bin would suffice and they are not too expensive for the average home budget.
If you are thinking about more elaborate composting devices you may want to consider compost tumblers. There is a significant range of these available and all of them have a place. They all do very much the same thing. The idea of a tumbler is that it accelerates decomposition by introducing air every time a tumbler is rolled over. There is the Rolypig compost tumbler, see it at Rolypig.com.
Rotating Composter vs compost bin
Whichever system you choose you have to be aware that, at some point, you have to stop adding fresh waste to your chosen vessel. If you have a compost bin system it would be practical to have more than one compost bin. When the first bin is full you can close down that bin and start filling an empty bin.
This will allow the first bin to rot completely as a whole without being ‘contaminated’ by fresh waste. This will mean that when you do get the compost from that first bin it will be compost that you can use from top to bottom.
The same applies to a rotating composter or compost tumbler. You do need to have a cut-off point where you don’t add any more fresh material. Because a tumbler composter tends to accelerate decomposition the volume of compost in the tumbler will rot much more quickly. While you’re waiting for this to happen you may need to put fresh waste in a holding bin so as to avoid fresh waste going in the tumbler at this stage.
When you can empty out the tumbler, the waste that’s been held back can then be loaded in. This is not a problem with the Rolypig compost tumbler because the compost is being turned over regularly. With the Rolypig fresh waste goes in one end and comes out the other. Find out more about the Rolypig at Rolypig.com.
When it comes to making the choice over having a rotating compost bin or static compost bin, I would suggest having a combination of the two. That way you can take compost out of the tumbler before it has fully formed into compost and put it in a static compost bin.
Here you can just leave it and forget about it because it’s already largely broken down by the effective tumbling action. You can then start reloading the compost tumbler and continue with the process.
Biodegradable bags can be used to line a waste bin so that you can put the bag and contents straight into the compost. There are grades of biodegradable bags that are strong enough for them to be used as carrier bags.
These bags are made from materials that will break down when they get wet and are exposed to microorganisms. There are two categories of compostable bag. There is paper which we all know will breakdown and rot completely overtime.
Then there is the compostable bag which has the appearance of being a plastic bag and is designed to take the place of some plastics. This is to reduce the amount of plastic that finds its way into the environment where it can take decades to break down if ever.
Compostable biodegradable bags, will break down completely over a relatively short period of time. Thanks to modern manufacturing techniques it is now possible to make, what appears to be, a plastic bag using a recipe of naturally occurring organic commodities. These include cornstarch, wheat, tapioca and potato all of which can be described as appetising food to something or someone somewhere.
When using compostable bags you need to be aware that, because they are easily biodegradable, they have a short shelf-life. They begin to biodegrade as soon as they come in contact with moisture. This is particularly so with the paper bags. Anyone who attempts to carry a glass jar of pickled onions in a paper bag is inviting potential mishap.
You would stand a much better chance with a bag that’s been made from starch based compounds because these would survive a little longer giving you a much better chance of getting home with the shopping.
Compostable bags are an ideal solution as it fits in with the ‘ use once and throw away’ habits that we seem to have. You can be sure that, when you do throw a biodegradable bag into the compost bin, you will be able to make use of it again as plant food.
If you get a regular supply every autumn/fall of dead leaves turning up, grab as many as you can. Store them in big bags, temporarily, these are valuable in the right hands and if you’re the first one to arrive on the scene, they are yours.
Anyone who’s had experience of composting leaves will tell you that they can never get enough. So if you know that there are likely to be a lot of leaves blowing around at the next fall get yourself prepared. Have some empty bags ready and when you know you’ve got a good quantity you can then start arranging composting facilities to rot them down.
Leaves are as biodegradable as paper bags and modern biodegradable starch bags. All you have to do is make them wet and they will start to rot. It really is as simple as that. It may take a year or two for leaves to rot down completely. This will be accelerated if you add white lime and use a compost tumbler just like making compost from any other organic waste.
Food waste is what you will be handling on a regular basis and it’s what you will be working with most of the time. Because we’re always peeling potatoes and carrots there will be a constant supply buy food waste. It’s highly convenient to have somewhere to dump this waste knowing that you’re going to be able to make use of it at a later date.
Because food waste can sometimes contain the scrapings from plates Including remains of cooked meat you have to consider the potential of vermin. The best way to reduce this risk is to do what you can to accelerate the decomposition of this waste so that it isn’t available to them for very long.
One of the best things you can do when putting food waste in a compost system is to add white lime (hydrated lime). This will make it unattractive to vermin and you’re much less likely to have a problem. The white lime will do a lot to neutralize the acids that will try to preserve this material and so decomposition will happen very quickly.
It is worth persevering with making compost from food waste for two reasons. Firstly there is a plentiful supply that has no end and secondly food waste tends to have a higher nitrate content which is extremely beneficial when trying to generate a good quality rich compost.
Horse manure compost
Of all the banansas that life can bestow upon us this has to be one of the most valuable ingredients that anyone could wish for. That is if you have a garden and you grow lots of vegetables and flowers and you want them all to flourish. If you don’t have a horse make friends with someone who has In fact make friends with lots of people with horses because this may turn out to be the best friends you’ll ever have.
Let’s look at the statistics of what a horse can do, specifically from the rear end. One horse can produce about 50 pounds of manure each day. That’s about 8 tons a year. They can’t avoid being fed so they can’t avoid producing it. As long as the horse lives, this supply will go on and on.
In addition to this there is the used bedding which has to be thrown out on a daily basis. Then if luck is really in and the means are there with which to collect it there is 8 to 10 gallons of urine up for grabs. If you can possibly get together the combination of horse manure, used bedding and the urine you have the ideal mix.
The thing is with making compost from this combination is that the heap can generate quite a bit of heat. This happens when the microorganisms, that occur naturally, get to work at breaking down the material. The heat generated is enough to kill fly larvae, parasitic worm eggs and destroy the seeds of undesirable weeds.
As with any material that you are making compost from, you can accelerate the process by turning the heap over. When you turn over the compost heap that’s mainly horse manure with used bedding, you will find that clouds of steam will rise up in the process.
You also won’t be able to escape the fact that there will be something of a strong smell. Don’t be alarmed by this. It’s all part of healthy country living and above all natural. Just keep in mind the vegetables that you’ll be growing.
Coffee grounds compost
Some people worry unnecessarily about what they put in their compost. In general as long as it will rot down, anything can go in compost including coffee grounds. You can also add to this the coffee filters because they breakdown as well in the compost bin. In the mass of your compost that contains pretty much everything else the coffee grounds will hardly be noticed and they will breakdown along with everything else.
Coffee grounds don’t cause a problem with acidity because they are almost neutral on the pH scale. It’s unlikely that you will have large quantities of coffee grounds generated from your own use so putting them in the compost as you get them shouldn’t be a problem unless you drink a massive amount of coffee.
If however, you know someone who runs a coffee shop where people drink coffee all day and you have the opportunity of all the coffee grounds you may need to have a strategy where are you add small amounts on a regular basis rather than adding a huge amount in one go. The same would apply to tea and tea bags. All of which will turn into compost although you may find that some tea bags don’t break down completely.
Do you really need a reason for making compost? You could argue that you are doing your bit for the planet and you’re saving landfill space. If we calculated the amount of material that’s taken to landfill sites I suspect the tonnage is quite considerable along with the cost of moving it. So it can be argued that if everybody did their bit and make compost a lot of expense and effort would be spared.
The first reason why most people make compost is that they see and appreciate the value of this material. They see tangible results in their gardens from the vegetables and flowers that they grow and that when they have a process in place it doesn’t take too much effort just to keep it going.
The composting habit is a simple one and if you’re not doing it yet the sooner you start the better because if you don’t you’re missing out on a very valuable resource. If you’ve never made compost before just think about the quantity of material that you’ve been throwing away, possibly for years, and what you may have been able to do with it. I feel that this is the argument that would convince most people to get up and make the effort.
“The stronger the smell the
greater the beauty that’s generated”