Composting Guide For Beginners
We are delighted to welcome Adam Johannes - the Compost Guy - to the Eco Ness blog! He has created a super helpful guide to composting for beginners and we hope that it helps you to get started or answers any questions you might have about the various options for composting at home.
Composting is a great way to move closer towards a zero-waste lifestyle. Here's some handy information about composting and its benefits.
It’s important to note that there are now more methods of composting with the advance in science and technology and you can read more about the various methods at the bottom of this blog post.
Why Is Composting Good For The Environment?
Composting reduces landfill waste and incineration, and therefore emissions that have a negative effect on the environment.
When you compost at home, the compost becomes a thriving habitat and nutritious living area for bacteria, bugs, worms and fungi. There is also zero methane given out through a well-managed compost heap at home.
When you add compost to your flower or vegetable beds, it holds water and avoids it running off. This is really important because it keeps your solid moist for longer, so you need to water it less! Compost is actually food for your plants - you don’t have to go out and buy compost from the garden centre. You are making your own!
What Is Compost?
Compost is made from materials such as uncooked kitchen scraps, leaves, grass clippings, twigs, and untreated paper/cardboard. Over time, these materials decompose to create compost.
Once ready, you can add your compost to your flower beds, or containers. Compost improves your soil by adding nutrients to it and will help your plants thrive. It will also reduce weeds by adding a barrier between the soil and the light from the sun.
What you need
Before you start composting, you will need a compost bin that is situated on top of bare soil in your garden. Ideally the bin will have a sealable lid, and a hatch at the bottom to get the compost out easily when ready.
Why does it need to be on bare soil? This is to attract worms who will rummage around and help break down your contents.
You will also need a kitchen caddy to be placed on a worktop in your kitchen close to where you prepare your food. When it’s full, or each day, you just need to empty the contents of the caddy into the outside compost bin.
What do you put in your compost bin?
As a general rule, only put in uncooked fruit and vegetable waste, along with green garden waste like grass clippings, leaves and twigs.
Top Tip! Chop up the fruit and vegetable waste into smaller pieces so they will decompose faster.
Your kitchen caddy is perfect for quickly putting your kitchen waste ready to be added to your outdoor compost bin.
The following materials are safe for putting directly in your outdoor compost bin:
- Fruit and vegetable peelings and waste
- Grass clippings
- Tree leaves
- Black and white newspaper
- Printer paper
- Eggshells (crushed)
- Lint from the tumble drier
- Pet hair
- Vacuum cleaner debris
- Home compostable packaging
- Most disease free garden waste (weeds are NOT recommended)
- Cardboard (egg boxes etc.)
- Vegetarian animal manure (e.g. cows, horses, rabbits, hamsters, etc.)
- Wood shavings or sawdust
It’s important to remember that the smaller you break down your waste, the quicker it will compost.
What about tea and coffee?
Tea bags can take a long time to decompose, but it’s still worth doing. Just make sure you are using plastic free tea bags! Clipper tea is Fairtrade and they have biodegradable, plastic-free tea bags that can be added to your compost bin.
You can also add fresh coffee grounds to your caddy.
What to avoid
Avoid composting the following:
- Fat (including butter and oil)
- Industrially compostable packaging (will not break down in your home compost)
Top Tips For Maintaining Your Compost Bin
Turning the compost
To keep your compost bin in good order, you need to aerate it. This reheats the contents and keeps it aerobic. It also speeds up the composting process and reduces bad odours.
Keep it moist
Water is required to keep creatures active and help them survive. These include microbes that are required for composting. The organic material being decomposed has to be moist but not too wet.
Balance your contents
Decomposition of organic materials in your compost bin is greatly increased when you create the proper balance between green and brown materials.
- GREEN (Nitrogen) waste is fruit, veg and grass clippings.
- BROWN (Carbon) waste is dry leaves, shredded paper, cardboard.
How Long Does It Take To Create Compost?
Generally speaking, it will take 12-18 months to create compost at home. If you can, have 2 or 3 bins, fill one each year and each year you will use the final compost from the bin that has been left to compost for a while.
You can make compost much quicker (30-90 days) with ‘Hot Composters’ like a Hotbin or Aerobin. Using hot composters also allows you to put a wider range of food waste that standard compost bins cannot take, so you will have even more of a zero waste lifestyle!
Looking for an easy way to start composting or a more efficient way to tackle your existing heaps? The HOTBIN composter may be for you!
Easy to use, the compact HOTBIN has a 200 litre capacity yet occupies the same space as a wheelie-bin. Steaming away at up to 60°c the HOTBIN speeds up your food and garden waste recycling producing compost in just 30-90 days.
Simply add anything from cooked food to garden waste then add some bulking agent and shredded paper or torn corrugated cardboard to the mix to keep the air flowing inside the bin. Once the bacteria are happily eating away, the heat in the HOTBIN will rise and the compost will follow.
All of this without an untidy compost heap, back breaking turning and stinky odours thanks to the integrated bio-filter minimising them and reducing the attraction of vermin and flies to the bin.
~ Learn More About The Hotbin
Put little wrigglers to work!
Worm composting is using worms to recycle food scraps and other organic material into compost called worm compost or vermicompost.
Worms eat the scraps, which become compost as they pass through the worm's body. Compost exits the worm through its tail end. You need to make sure what you add to the wormery is good for your worms.
This is great for getting the kids involved!
~ Learn More About Worm Composting
Subpod® - Below Ground Composting
Subpod is a below-ground worm farm that mimics conditions found in nature. Compost worms, working with diverse soil microbes, rapidly turn organic waste into worm castings, which is rich food for the soil and your plants. At full capacity, after around three months, it will process up to 15kgs (30L) of food waste per week. Subpod is simple to use, smell and mess free and can be maintained in minutes per week.
Bury your Subpod in either a raised garden bed or in the ground, with the ventilation above the soil line to maintain a clean smelling, aerobic system, whilst also preventing entry of pests. The secure lid at the top also doubles as a garden seat, connecting you with your veggies and herbs.
~ Learn More About Subpod
Bokashi Composting (errr Fermenting!)
Compost all food waste and make compost faster.
Bokashi, is an alternative type of composting to the more traditional garden compost bin. It’s a very different practice, but is fun and speeds up the composting process which can make it more fulfilling.
The method involves, placing all your food waste into fully sealed containers, and sprinkling the all important ‘Bokashi Bran’ over it before sealing the container.
Every few days you will need to open the tap at the bottom of the bucket and drain off the juice that is created. The great news is that this juice is plant food when diluted with a bit of water.
When the bucket is full, leave it outside for 4-6 weeks, and in the end you can use the organic matter as fertiliser and mulch. Of course, you should have two buckets, so you are filling up a new bucket whilst the full one is fermenting.
What you are left with is fermented food waste, that can be placed low down in a secure compost bin, or dug into the ground at least 6 inches down.
The three main benefits of Bokashi Composting are:
- The food waste can take just 4-6 weeks to turn to useful compost that can be used in your garden. So, for avid gardeners, who like to mulch (cover with organic matter) their plants are in for a winner with Bokashi, you get more compost, quicker.
- You can add ALL food waste to your Bokashi bin. That’s right - all food waste! For those interested in living a zero-waste lifestyle, you can tick the box in reducing your food waste to 0%.
- Bokashi bins/buckets are fully sealed, so they don’t give off any odours. This means no fruit flies! This is brilliant with small gardens and even those who live in flats.
~ Learn More About Bokashi
Leafmould is produced from decomposed autumn leaves that are left to rot down in a container that allows air to access the leaves. It is dark brown-black and has a nice earthy smell. It has a crumbly texture, very much like compost. You don’t need to add other organic materials, such as kitchen waste - just the leaves!
Leafmould is essentially a soil conditioner. According to some studies, adding leafmould increases water retention in soils by over 50%. It also improves the soil structure and provides a fantastic habitat for earthworms and beneficial bacteria.
You just need to collect leaves, and store them in black bin bags with a few holes pierced in them.
~ Learn More About Leafmould
Author: Adam Johannes