What is Composting?
Composting is a great way to recycle your garden waste, food scraps and more, while making wonderfully rich, free compost for your garden. You can add anything to your compost heap provided it is biodegradable, although some items can cause issues. Some items take many years to break down such as meat bones, twigs or branches. Some items may attract pests like rats such as cooked food, bread and dairy (although there are ways to deter them like making sure you cover up any food with brown material like compost or leaves). There are loads of great youtube videos online with experienced gardeners giving you their best tips.
Types of composting
There are loads of different variations of composting including different styles of bin, variations of materials that composters add, different methods of putting the material into the bin, and different ways to checking it and speeding it up. The basic types are:
Cold composting is the simplest, most common method for home gardeners. It involves putting biodegradable material (food scraps, cardboard and paper, garden waste, coffee grounds, etc) into your compost bin and leaving them to decompose. You can speed it up by watering regularly and turning it, but you don't have to. After around a year, you will have lovely compost.
Hot composting is for more serious gardeners. It involves collecting lots of materials for your compost heap and then building it in one go. You can encourage even decomposition by creating alternating 10-20cm deep layers of green materials (kitchen scraps, fresh leaves, coffee grounds) and brown materials (dried leaves, shredded paper, untreated sawdust), making sure there are lots of air pockets (screwing up cardboard and paper or putting in egg boxes can help with this). You then water your compost heap so it has the consistency of a damp sponge and turn it once a week.
You can also add an activator (such as a shop bought compost activator, or natural ones like rabbit pellets, blood meal, beer, urine, chicken poop and fresh grass). Within 6 weeks, you should have lovely compost.
Worm composting: See below for more information about this type of composting.
- Place your compost bin in a warm, sunny area of the garden to speed up the process.
- Place your compost bin directly onto freshly dug soil to encourage worms to migrate into your bin and to allow any juices to drain away. Watch out though, this does mean it's easier for rats to get in.
- If you're worried about rats, put less food scraps into your bin (especially avoid meat, fats, bread and dairy) and place the bin on paving slabs, thick wire mesh or a compost bin base.
Worm composting is a great way to turn kitchen scraps, pet waste and some garden waste items into nutrient rich compost and concentrated liquid fertiliser. It is not a substitute for traditional composting, but rather a great addition.
You can buy a worm bin or wormery or you can build your own very cheaply. Commercial wormeries usually have a few layers where you put the waste and where the worms live, and a sump at the bottom where the liquid fertiliser collects, although there are single compartment wormeries out there. Home made ones can be a single plastic box with holes and a tap, or can be made with multiple layers.
You will probably need to buy worms to get your wormery started as they need to be composting worms, rather than the standard garden earthworm. These can easily be bought online for around £10-15 for a starter kit (which should include worms, worm bedding and worm food - and may also include an instruction booklet).
- Feed your worms little and often. Try to cut down the pieces as small as possible to make it easier for the worms to get through.
- Wormeries don't like getting water-logged, so make sure to empty out excess liquid regularly. If it's particularly rainy, you are going on holiday or might forget, you could leave the tap open and a bucket underneath to catch the liquid.
- Don't add too much food waste to your wormery. If it looks like there are bits going mouldy, or if they have a lot in there already, don't add any more for a while.
- If you're worried about them not having enough to munch on while you're away, or if you forget to add food scraps regularly, try adding lots of shredded paper or pet bedding, or crushing down egg shells, as this provides the worms food, but doesn't rot as easily.