Getting Started With Compost

Composting can seem a bit daunting if it’s not something you’ve attempted in the past. The good thing is though, it isn’t at all complicated. With so many benefits, it’s something every gardener should consider doing. And wouldn’t you know, you can start your composting any time of the year so there’s no excuses!

Composting is a way of creating a nutrient rich soil for use in your garden. Compost has more than one benefit because not only are you getting rid of waste materials in an environmentally friendly fashion, but you are also reducing the amount of fertilisers your garden is likely to need. You will have less kitchen and garden waste to try and dispose of as around 30% of this can be composted rather than thrown away. Your finished compost can be used to condition the soil and the lawn, and add important nutrients. The moisture levels will be improved, as well aeration, and disease prevention.

It’s actually rather difficult to think of a single valid reason why you wouldn’t want to compost.

1. Starting the pile

When you’ve decided to get started with the wonderful world of composting, you’re going to need somewhere to put it all. Compost bins are readily available, and can help to speed up the process. For a small garden a bin is perfect because it is self contained and unobtrusive. If you have slightly more materials to be getting rid of, you might want to build your own heap. Hard soil or a solid surface tends to make the best bases, but read this article from Gardener’s World for simple to follow advice.

Level spots with good drainage will work best for your compost heap, and somewhere shaded will prevent the pile from drying out in summer or getting too wet in rainy months.

2. Adding the ingredients

When you first start your pile, you might want to layer it up. Start with around 10cm of straw or twigs to aid drainage. Next you’re going to want to add green waste such as:

  • Grass clippings that haven’t been treated with weed killers
  • Vegetable peelings, fruit, egg shells
  • Tea bags
  • Weeds which haven’t gone to seed
  • Chicken, horse, or farmyard manure
  • Anything you’ve cut back from the garden

This will break down to add nitrogen to your pile, and also contains vital moisture. If it’s looking a bit dry, add some water as well. On top of that, add brown materials such as:

  • Wood chippings
  • Paper
  • Cardboard
  • Straw
  • Dead leaves

These will add carbon, and help to create air pockets. Between layers, sprinkle a little soil to help introduce important microbes into the mix. The layers aren’t vital, but when you get started they can help you to keep a balance to your compost heap.

Make sure that none of the organic matter which you put in is diseased. While it’s okay to throw some weeds into your heap, any perennials (that’s the persistent weeds which just keep coming back) shouldn’t be added, or you risk reintroducing them when it comes time to use your compost.

It’s best to avoid adding the following to your compost heap:

  • Meat or dairy products
  • Waste from cats or dogs, or babies nappies

Any of this can attract unwanted pests to your pile. The smell won’t be particularly pleasant either…

3. Turning the heap

Your heap needs air to stop the materials becoming compacted and to speed up the composting process. Ideally you’ll want to add a lot of ingredients all at once, and then just turn occasionally to add air. If you’re adding new ingredients on a regular basis (as most people will be), turn the pile to make sure they’re mixed in rather than simply putting them on top.

Composting problems

Composting isn’t difficult, but there are a few problems which you might run into. Usually this will be if the pile isn’t being turned enough, if the pile is too wet, or if the balance of materials is wrong.

While water is important, the pile should be moist, not dripping. If there isn’t enough air and there’s too much water than you could end up with slimy, smelly compost. Make sure your heap has a cover to stop too much rain getting to it, and add brown waste such as sawdust, paper or straw to absorb excess moisture.

If your pile gets too dry you will find the composting process slows right down. You’ve probably got too much brown material in your heap, so balance it out with some green waste such as grass clippings.

If you’re using a lot of kitchen waste, make sure you cover it up with garden waste, and check that the moisture levels aren’t too high or you could risk attracting flies.