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Composting Guide

How to set up your home compost heap or bin.

Composting is a really easy way to make use of your garden and kitchen waste, saving it from expensive and environmentally damaging landfill. Over 30% of household waste is recyclable. This means real savings for you and the environment. Compost is also a great sustainable alternative to peat moss. Your garden will love it! Wormeries work in a similar way to composters.

What is composting?

Composting is a process that turns organic waste — up to 50% of household waste — into rich compost that your garden will love. When a mix of organic waste is composted, a simple process happens. First, tiny micro-organisms like bacteria break down the softer elements of the waste. Once this has been consumed, larger organisms like worms and beetles move in, and work in the tougher parts. By the end of the process the original ingredients have been broken down, mixed together and resemble soil.

A mixture is the key

In composting, greens are fresh plant materials, fruit and vegetable scraps, and coffee and tea waste; while browns are dry and dead plant materials like straw, woods chips, dry weeds and autumn leaves. Greens and browns break down at different rates, and it has been found that you'll need about two parts green waste for every one part brown waste in your compost environment. The greens get the process started, while the browns give body to the compost. Be careful: too much green waste will result in wet, messy compost.

What can be composted?

Basically, anything that once lived may be composted. Nearly a half of your household rubbish can be composted, as well as some garden waste.

  • Greens: Garden clippings, leaves, weeds, grass cuttings, fruit and vegetable waste, bread, pasta, rice, tea bags, and coffee.
  • Browns: Kitchen paper, sawdust, wood shavings, straw, paper, wood, crushed egg shells, feathers.
  • Don't compost: Meat, fish, bones, grease, butter, oil, glossy paper, weed seeds, nappies, dog and cat litter (most of these will attract pests.)

Constructing a compost heap/bin

Depending on your needs, and amount of waste, decide on a heap or a bin. A compost heap is useful for gardeners having large quantities of waste to decompose. Minimum dimensions should be one metre squared and one metre high, enclosed in bricks or timber. A compost bin is better for smaller gardens. Bins may be purchased or simply constructed from a large drum with open ends. Remember to put it directly on the ground so earthworms can enter. You may also consider constructing two bins or heaps so material can be accumulated in one while matter is composting in the other.

Getting started

Place your bin close to the kitchen door for ease of access. Put it on bare soil or grass (not paving or concrete), so that organisms can get access and excess water can drain away. If you can, break up the ground by digging over it lightly. The bin needs to be in partial shade, and shouldn't be too exposed to the rain. Put in a layer of garden waste like leaves or weeds, a little loose soil, some broken pieces of cardboard and some vegetable peels. Finally, simply let nature take over.

How long does it take?

Anything from two months to a year.

Useful composting links