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Compost FAQ

Compost Is The Cornerstone Of Organic Gardening

If you want to ‘Grow Your Own’, there’s no better place to start.

The finished product is rich, dark, crumbly, and sweet-smelling. It is made of recycled garden and kitchen waste, and can also include paper products. It is used to feed and condition the soil and in making potting mixes. Around 40 percent of the average dustbin contents are suitable for home composting so it helps cut down on landfills too. Making compost is often considered to be complex but all you need to do is provide the right ingredients and let nature do the rest however, a little know-how will help you make better compost, more efficiently.

There are several options for composting.

  1. Pre-made bins. There are a variety of bins on the market some have turners to make the turning easier. They look neater, as well.
  2. DIY bins. You can just build your own out of pallets or block. You will need to self turn these with a rake or shovel.
  3. Start a heap and cover it over with some polythene or cardboard. You will need to turn the piles manually though often these are a fast compost method.

Easily accessible with no gaps in the sides. One employee created a bin from pallets and used weed fabric stapled on the inside to keep it breathable and items inside the bin. Place it in a sunny or partially sunny area. You can easily place it directly on the ground.

Anything that was once living will compost. For best results, use a mixture of ingredient types. The rough guide is "green" and "brown" ratio of 3 parts brown to 1 part green.

Brown: Best when chipped/shredded into smaller pieces for easier and quicker decomposition. Wood shavings, straw, non-glossy paper, leaves, small twigs, newspaper, coffee/tea filters, cardboard (that is not glossy)

Green: grass clippings, coffee/tea grounds, vegetable and fruit scraps, eggshells, trimmings from your annual/perennial plants, manure from animals such as horses, chickens, cows, & rabbits.

‘Greens’ or nitrogen rich ingredients -Urine (diluted with water 20:1) -Comfrey leaves -Nettles -Grass cuttings

Other green materials -Raw vegetable peelings from your kitchen -Tea bags and leaves, coffee grounds -Young green weed growth avoid weeds with seeds -Soft green trimmings -Animal manure from herbivores, such as cows and horses -Poultry manure and bedding ‘Browns’ or carbon rich ingredients – slow to rot -Cardboard, such as. cereal packets and egg boxes -Waste paper and junk mail, including shredded confidential waste -Cardboard tubes -Glossy magazines although it is better for the environment to pass them on to your local doctor’s or dentist’s office or send them for recycling -Newspaper although it is better for the environment to send your newspapers for recycling -Bedding from vegetarian pets, such as rabbits, guinea pigs, hay, straw, shredded paper, wood shavings -Tough hedge clippings -Woody prunings -Old bedding plants -Bracken -Sawdust -Wood shavings -Fallen leaves can be composted but the best use of them is to make leaf mold

Other compostable items -Wood ash, in moderation -Hair, nail clippings -Egg shells (crushed) -Natural fibers, such as 100% wool or cotton

Meat, Fish, Cooked food, Ash, Cat litter or feces,  dog or human feces, dairy, oils/fats, printed/shiny paper or cardboard, black walnuts, diseased plants.

Begin your compost pile with a 3" layer of brown items then add a 1" layer of green items and top that will a little bit of soil.

You add to the pile as you have compostable items keeping in mind to try to stick with the 3:1 ratio.  You can go up to a 50/50 blend of greens and browns if needed. You can do either of the following methods:

TRADITIONAL ROUTE

1. Try, if possible, to collect enough compost materials to make a layer of at least 5-6" in the compost bin. Weed the garden, mow the lawn, and empty the kitchen bucket! Mix in some straw, woody prunings, scrunched up cardboard packaging to help create air spaces within the heap. It may help if you place a few woody plant stems or small twigs on the bottom first as this will improve the air circulation and drainage.

2. Continue to fill the container as and when you have ingredients. If most of what you compost is kitchen waste, mix it with egg boxes, toilet roll middles and similar household paper and cardboard products to create a better balance.

3. Weekly, you will need to turn the contents of your bin. If you have a pre-made tumbling bin, this is simple enough. If you have made your own pile, you will need to manually turn the composting to allow for oxygen for breakdown.

4. Remove the container from the material, or the material from the container, whichever you find easiest. If the lower layers have composted, use this on the garden. Mix everything else together well.

5. Add water if it is dry, or add dry material if it is soggy. If you squeeze it and no water comes out, it's too dry. If you squeeze it and a couple drops of water come out, then it is perfect. If you squeeze it and more than a few drops of water comes out, then it is too wet.

6.Replace in the bin and leave to mature as you continue to turn weekly.

HEAP ROUTE

1. Gather enough material to fill your compost container at one time. Make sure you have a mixture of soft and tough materials.

2. Chop up tough items using shears, a sharp spade (lay items out on soil or grass to avoid jarring) or a shredder.

3. Mix ingredients together as much as possible before adding to the container. In particular, mix items, such as grass mowings and any shredded paper, which tend to settle and exclude air, with more open items that tend to dry out. Fill the container as above, watering as you go.

4. Give the heap a good mix

5. Within a few days, the heap is likely to get hot to the touch. When it begins to cool down, or a week or two later, turn the heap. Remove everything from the container or lift the container off and mix it all up, trying to get the outside to the inside.

6. Add water if it is dry, or dry material if it is soggy. Replace in the bin.

5. The heap may well heat up again; the new supply of air you have mixed in allows the fast acting aerobic microbes, such as those that need oxygen, to continue with their work. Step 4 can be repeated several more times if you have the energy, but the heating will be less and less. When it no longer heats up again, leave it undisturbed to finish composting.

When is it ready? Compost can be made in as little as six to eight weeks, or, more usually, it can take a year or more. In general, the more effort you put in, the quicker you will get compost. When the ingredients you have put in your container have turned into a dark brown, earthy smelling material, the composting process is complete. It is then best left for a month or two to ‘mature’ before it is used. Don’t worry if your compost is not fine and crumbly. Even if it is lumpy, sticky or stringy, with bits of twig and eggshell still obvious, it is quite usable. It can be sieved before using if you prefer. Any large bits can be added back into your new compost heap.

Autumn leaves These can be added to your compost heap.

Grass mowings Mix well with browns to avoid a slimy mess. Alternatively, leave on the lawn whenever possible – they will soon disappear and feed the grass; this will not cause ‘thatch’.

Diseased plants  We recommend staying ont he safe side and avoiding adding diseased plants to your compost pile.

Hedge clippings and prunings Chop or shred tough prunings and clippings from evergreen hedges before adding to a mixed compost heap. Compost large quantities separately; even unshredded they will compost eventually. Mix with grass or other activating material; water well. Tread down the heap, then cover.

Animal manures Straw horse and cattle manure composts well. Manure mixed with wood shavings should be left to rot until the shavings have decomposed. If it is dry, water well and mix with grass mowings, poultry manure or other activating material.  Small pets, like hamsters, don’t produce many droppings but you can still use their waste as a straw addition to the compost heap. Guinea pigs are marvelous – they love eating weeds and convert them quickly to prime compost material!

Paper products Newspaper can be added to a compost heap, but in any quantity it should go for recycling into more paper. Cardboard, paper towels and other paper items can be scrunched up and composted. They are particularly useful where kitchen scraps make up a high proportion of the compost ingredients. Glossy paper and glossy cardboard takes a long time to rot down and we recommend avoiding.

Sawdust and wood shavings They are very slow to decay. Raw or uncomposted wood shavings incorporated into the soil can lock up soil nitrogen, making it unavailable for plants for a year or more. Add in small quantities; balance with quick-to-rot activating materials. See also ‘Animal manures’ above. Do not use if treated with wood preservatives.

No. Sowing, potting and multipurpose composts that you buy in garden centers are mixtures of various materials such as shredded bark, sand, coir and fertilizers. These are used for raising seedlings and growing plants in pots.

Compost is made by a host of small and microscopic creatures. These are not pests and will not overrun your garden. Slugs and worms are often found in compost heaps some species feed on decaying organic matter and are a valuable part of the composting process.

To avoid flies, make sure to keep fruit/vegetable wastes covered under a layer of your brown composting materials.

A garden fork, rake, or shovel is the only essential item for turning and spreading compost. A compost bin keeps everything neater but it is not essential.

Rats may visit a compost heap if they are already present in the area but composting does not generally attract the rats in the first place. If rats or mice are nesting in your compost heap, this is a sign that the heap is too dry. Add water until it has the consistency of a wrung-out sponge.

Yes, if the usual garden hygiene rules are followed. Keep cuts covered, wash hands before eating and keep your anti-tetanus protection up to date.

No. A medium-sized compost heap can heat up to 60.