Posted by: dorsetcpre | March 1, 2010

Home Composting

How to turn organic waste into useful compost Domestic waste should always be regarded as a resource and we should try to find ways of re-using as much of it as we can. We all recycle glass bottles, steel and aluminium cans and much else, but quite the most obvious and useful thing we can do is to recycle all (well almost all, see below) sorts of waste organic matter to make compost for the garden.

Just think, all this waste material which would otherwise have to be disposed of and possibly sent to landfill (now taxed at £32 per ton and increasing every year) can, with very little effort, be left to break down naturally into dark-brown sweet-smelling crumbly compost which will help you to grow highly nutritious vegetables and fruit, and also help the flowers in your garden to grow as well.

You will need a compost bin. A plastic one of about 200 litres from one of the garden centres will be suitable for a smaller garden. If you have a bigger garden it is worthwhile making a larger one out of pallets or scrap wood and constructing it so that it lets in plenty of air. It should be compact: a long thin bin will not get warm enough to do much good.  It does not have to look pretty, any old wood will do and if one plank does not last then you can just replace it in due course. Better still would be a series of bins so that you can be filling one, letting another rot down by itself, and using one more to spread well-rotted compost on the garden.

The compost bin should be easily accessible. It should be kept warm by being covered with some thick old carpet and fairly dry with a roof of tarpaulin or corrugated iron. As far as possible it should be sited in the sun and out of the wind.

All sorts of fruit and vegetable matter can be composted together with hedge cuttings and to make the best compost you should add some finely chopped woody material. You can chop it all up with secateurs or, if you have larger quantities, it is well worth buying an electric or petrol-driven shredder. Small amounts of potting compost or soil will provide the necessary bacteria which drive the composting process.

You should always try to have a good mix of components and avoid adding too much of any one sort of stuff at once. It is a good thing to add torn up cardboard and shredded or crumpled paper to the mix: your bank statements and private letters will be quite safe in your compost heap. This will help to provide little pockets of air which the composting process needs if it is to work properly. In the same way it will help greatly if you turn the material in the heap over from time to time. All sorts of paper and tissues, brown paper and cardboard can be used but not waxed paper or glossy paper which rot down very slowly. When you start a new heap it will help to get things moving if you add a few spadefulls of good stuff from one of your other active heaps.

The compost heap needs to be kept moist with modest amounts of added water especially if you are adding dry grass or woody material. Proprietary additives such as Garrotte will speed up the composting process.

If you are in a hurry you can turn the heap several times and produce good useful compost in three or four months in the warmer summer weather, but it is much easier to turn it perhaps once and leave it to work in its own time over a year or more.

Commercial companies compost all the same sort of materials (see elsewhere in this issue) in the same way but on a much larger scale and sell the resulting composts and mulches at a profit.

To sum up, you can compost fallen leaves, nettles, pot plants, grass cuttings, straw, tea bags, coffee grounds, crushed eggshells, hay and general garden waste, but it is important to cut up the larger items. You can also use anything woody including sawdust, wood ash, fruit stones, nutshells and wine bottle corks. Seaweed, pond weed, chicken and pigeon faeces, human hair and pet fur, and small amounts of natural textiles (shredded cotton, wool or silk but not synthetic fibres of any sort) are all good materials for the compost heap. Perennial weed roots and blighted potatoes or tomatoes should be burned.

Do not try to compost biodegradable nappies or any other sanitary pads, cat or dog faeces, coal ash, cooked foods of any sort, glossy paper, plastic coated paper, or, indeed, plastics and synthetics of any sort or metal or foil or glass.

Common sense and the advice given here should help you to get started or, perhaps, help if you are already into home composting.

Dr John Larkin

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