Want to cut down on waste, save money and ensure your soil is healthy and nutrient rich? A great way to do it is to try making your own compost. Here is what you need to know about setting up and maintaining a compost area in your outdoor space.
Which Type Of Compost Bin Should I Use?
When it comes to choosing a compost bin, there are a number of things to think about. The key elements you need are air, moisture and heat - produced by the breakdown process.
There are so many options: plastic, wooden, tumbler and hot compost bins. But it really depends on how much waste you are going to compost, how much work you want to do and how long you’re willing to wait. For example, a hot compost bin keeps the temperature higher, speeding up the process. So you have usable compost faster. A tumbler compost bin makes turning your compost easier.
When considering the height of your bin and make sure you can easily lift a shovel into it and reach in to turn the compost. If it comes with a lid, you’ll need it to be big enough for the shovel, because don’t want to turn it by hand.
If you have the space, A larger compost bin with three-sections is a good option, as this allows you to fill one bin while turning another in rotation. It can be frustrating when your bin becomes full before you’ve produced anything.
Material is also a key factor in your choice. Dark plastic will absorb heat, which will speed up the decomposition process. They are also often smaller, so are well suited to smaller gardens. Wooden bins can be larger in size, and the larger the pile of material, the higher the temperature it can reach, speeding up decomposition.
How Should I Prepare My Compost Bin?
Compost bins should be laid straight onto the bare earth, with some brown, woody waste material at the bottom to help with drainage.
You could add shredded paper, a layer of grass clippings, autumn leaves — anything that allows the worms to get into the compost.
If your composter doesn’t already have a lid, you can use an old piece of carpet or a sheet of plastic or wood – anything that will completely cover the pile to help keep the heat in.
Laying a weed-control membrane on top, or something that lets the rain get into your compost, will help the microorganisms break it down.
Once this is all in place, you just start adding to it. Try to alternate between soft and woody materials. “
What Should I Add To My Compost Bin?
To get good compost, you need to put in a mix of hard and soft materials. You want it to cater to the tastes of as many microorganisms and worms as you can — too much of any one thing can cause problems and slow or stop the process.
Green Material (Nitrogen Rich)
The professionals recommend adding garden waste, such as lawn clippings and prunings, and vegetable waste. It’s best to mix lawn clippings with other stuff to avoid compacted layers that will struggle to decompose evenly. Every so often, add layers of cardboard to improve aeration.
Soft green waste - food waste - should make up to half of the compost bin.
Organic Material (Carbon Rich)
The rest can be woody materials, such as plant clippings and wood chips, but avoid putting in any very large branches, as these will take a long time to rot.
What Should I Do to Help The Process Along?
Aerate Your Compost Pile
It’s important to keep your compost pile aerated to give oxygen to the organisms that break down the waste materials. The best way is by turning or digging your compost frequently – ideally at least once a month. It’s hard work, but it’s essential for air to get through.
Poking holes with a broom handle can help, so can putting in coarse material, such as straw, to create air pockets throughout the pile. It also needs moisture, so in dry weather it should be watered.
How Long Until I Have Usable Compost?
An open bin will take around a year to turn waste into compost. Some of the more techy hot compost bins can turn it around much quicker.
The timeframe is also affected by what you add to your compost bin. The more woody material can take around three years to break down; for the softer plant material, it can be less than a year. You’ll know it’s ready when it’s broken down and looks like soil.
Can I Use Half-Ready Compost?
You can, but it’s not recommend. The decomposing process requires carbon (C) and nitrogen (N). If you add your unfinished compost to the soil, there will be a period in which the unfinished compost will take C and N from the soil to decompose itself, so there will be less available for the plants.
How Do I Avoid Pests?
Avoid any cooked waste. Try to stick with vegetable waste and other green material in order to deter rats.
Rats are drawn to the smell of decaying food, so if your compost bin is well balanced, the rats will be less of an issue. Thin layers of grass clippings and shredded paper help to keep a healthy compost pile.
Make sure your compost is well mixed, which will reduce the smell, which may attract pests.
Can I Add Compostable Bags?
They don’t decompose completely. After a year, you may still have some bags around. You can use bags but don’t put them into the compost.
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