How to start composting at home
Composting is a practical and environmentally friendly way of disposing of plant based food waste and caring for your garden. It reduces the amount of rubbish we throw into landfills by 30% and provides you with a source of chemical free fertiliser, which you can use for gardening and soil conditioner.
Why is it important to reduce food waste in landfills? Well, as food is buried under mounds of rubbish, it doesn’t receive enough oxygen to properly decompose, so it releases methane gas. This is called anaerobic composting. As methane is estimated to be 23 times more potent than carbon dioxide, composting plays a crucial role in reducing methane emissions.
To add to the problem, many councils across the UK have suspended their collection of green food and garden waste bins, due to limited resources in the lockdown. This combined with people spending an increasing amount of time in their garden means that composting has become an important and popular activity.
What is composting?
Composting is essentially decomposing organic matter and involves mixing your garden waste e.g. leaves or grass cuttings with your household organic waste, like food scraps, in an indoor or outdoor area and providing conditions that encourage or facilitate decomposition.
Items that are compostable include: fruits and vegetables, plastic free tea bags, nutshells, non-greasy food scraps (including rice, pasta, and bread), flowers, branches, paper bags, coffee grounds and filters, eggshells, shredded newspaper, cardboard, paper, grass clippings, houseplants, hay, fur, dryer and vacuum lint, cotton and wool rags, wood chips, sawdust, and leaves.
Items that are not compostable include: meats, greasy food waste, chicken, fats or oils, fish, dairy products, coal, charcoal ash, diseased or insect-ridden plants, pet waste, and anything with oil residue on it. These items can cause odour issues, attract rodents and flies, or spread diseased seeds.
Materials to Get Started
To begin composting you need a few materials to get started. You can find many of these items at your local garden centre or hardware shop. For indoor composting, you can buy home composting starter kits. These kits come with everything you need and provide a relatively odour free composting experience. You need to make sure you have a bin with a lid as the materials will be decomposing, you also need to place it in a warm, dark location inside your home.
If outside, you’ll also need a compost bin, or build an area in your garden. Location is really important; it should be dry and shady but also near a water source. Don’t set up your compost near trees, because they could root into your compost for the water and nutrients — then, you’ll end up hurting the roots as you turn your compost pile. Also, avoid being too close to a wooden fence, because you don’t want to cause the fence to rot. You will also need a garden fork to turn and mix the compost regularly.
How to compost
Once you have your area set, you need to collate all the ingredients. The ideal compost recipe includes:
- Green: grass clippings, kitchen scraps including eggshells and coffee grounds.
- Brown: dried leaves, straw, wood chips, paper bags and drier lint.
- You will also need water to ensure the compost pile stays moist but avoid soaking it.
To begin your pile, lay your first brown layer, then continue to alternate between green and brown layers. Make sure you shred or chop any big materials. The first and last layers should ideally be brown, to increase the decomposition process and mask the odour. If needed, sprinkle water onto your brown layers to keep them moist.
Turn the ingredients every week from the centre out making sure the pile stays moist. This will aerate your compost pile and ensure it doesn’t get too dry.
When to put compost on your garden or household plants
It takes on average about three months for full decomposition, as long as temperatures are hot, and the compost pile stays moist. However, if you don’t have those conditions then it could take up to a year for full decomposition. When the bottom of your compost pile is dark and rich brown, it’s ready for use. You should then have a powerful pile of compost to place in your garden, household plants or flowerbeds.