Composting

Creating homemade compost from your garden waste is a simple and eco-friendly practice. In this guide, we explore the fundamentals of producing this beneficial soil enhancer and mulch.

What are the benefits of composting?

Composting is an excellent way to turn your garden waste into a usable product. You can use grass clippings to weeds, dead flower heads, even paper and cardboard.

Composting is great for the environment, especially biodiversity. Fungi and micro-organisms break down the decaying material which also provides food for worms, woodlice, slugs and snails. Which in turn provides food for birds, hedgehogs, frogs and toads, and other wildlife. You also avoid sending materials to landfill.

Homemade compost can be spread over the surface of your beds, which adds organic matter and nutrients back into the soil. This also aids with moisture retention in the summer months and helps keep the weeds down.

Establishing a compost bin

It is possible to make compost by simply piling up your garden waste, but it’s more efficient to use a bin. You can buy compost bins in a wide range of shapes and sizes, including ‘Dalek’ bins or you can make your own from some pallets.

You can start composting at any time of the year. Find a spot in the garden that is in partial or full shade to avoid extreme temperatures. The bacteria and fungi that breaks down the waste, prefer stable and constant temperatures. Ensure your bin is on earth or soil and avoid placing it on a hard surface such as slabs.

Composting process

There are two types of material you will use in your compost bin; green material and brown material. Green material is usually leafy plant material such as grass clippings, green plants, kitchen scraps such as veg peelings. These are rich in nitrogen. Brown material is dry wood waste, such as prunings, straw, paper or cardboard. These are rich in carbon.

As a rough guide, you want between 25-50% green material and the other 75-50% chopped up brown material. The fungi and micro-organisms that break down the compost, work best when there’s a healthy balance of the two. Having too much of one material, such as grass clippings, can produce a slimy and smelly mess that will be difficult to break down.

Products such as compost starters or accelerators, claim to speed up the composting process, but in my experience, if you’ve got the right amount of green and brown materials, everything should compost down.

Turning your compost

If the materials in your compost bin become too wet or compacted, it will take longer to breakdown as less air is available for the micro-organisms. Turning or aerating your compost aids in uniform decomposition and accelerates compost production.

To turn your compost, you can either empty the bin and refill it, or move the contents from one bin to another. Doing this several times a year, will help speed up the composting process and ensure all the material gets broken down into compost.

How do you know when compost is ready for use?

Your compost will take between 6 to 18 months to breakdown completely. Compost is ready to use when it’s dark brown and a soil like texture. Any material that hasn’t broken down, such as twigs and sticks, can be added back into the compost bin for the next batch of compost.

Homemade compost is ideal to use as a mulch in the garden. This will help keep weeds down and hold in moisture in the summer months. Over time, worms will incorporate it into the soil, which will help with the soil structure and increase soil health.

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