Making your own compost sounds like a lot of hassle, especially when it is readily available to buy in garden centres and DIY stores. However, there are plenty of reasons to start your own compost pile. Not only is it cheaper than buying a ready-mix, but composting will also reduce your refuse waste, saving you money on your bin charges. Along with this, it is more environmentally friendly and promotes biodiversity which results in a rich, PH neutral soil for your plants to thrive in. Homemade compost also acts as a natural insect and pest deterrent, saving your garden from harsh chemicals and pesticides.
The First Step to Composting: Choose Your Bin
Technically, you can compost the old-fashioned way without a container, and simply form a waste pile in the far corner of your garden which will break down over time. This can be a messy option though, and with the odour difficult to contain, your pile might attract the wrong kind of wildlife to your garden. Composting bins don’t have to be fancy, and they will spare you the torment of visiting scavengers, as well as minimising the smell and keeping your pile nice and neat.
Any large plastic lidded tub makes a good compost bin, or you can even build your own wooden composter using reclaimed pallet wood, but if you are caught for time, purpose-made compost bins are convenient and inexpensive. Basic containers start at around £20 and are generally large plastic drums that have a hatch at the top for adding waste, and a door at the bottom for removing the compost when it’s ready. If you are willing to spend a bit more money, you should invest in a compost tumbler which is mounted on a rotating frame for easy aeration and turning of your compost. Using a tumbler will result in your compost breaking down faster, producing a batch up to 50% quicker than a regular compost bin.
There are 4 elements needed to fuel the composting process: organic material, air, heat and moisture. The warmer your compost gets, the quicker it decomposes, so make sure your bin is well-ventilated and situated in a warm spot of your garden.
The Right Mix of Ingredients
If you are using a regular compost bin, the first thing to add is a layer of coarse material for drainage. 4 inches of twigs or any organic straw-like material will ensure that any excess moisture runs off easily from your pile. Although it’s not strictly necessary, a few shovels of activator will give your compost pile an excellent start. Specially formulated activators can be purchased at your garden centre, but some manure will do the trick too.
A good compost pile needs the correct balance of green and brown materials, plus moisture to keep the decomposition going. Green material, such as grass clippings and kitchen scraps produce nitrogen and brown materials like dried leaves, straw and wood chips produce carbon. Consider buying a good garden shredder as it can help feed your pile all year road. A good ratio for composting is 25 parts brown waste to 1 part green waste. Too much brown waste will dry out the pile and cause it to decompose slower, whereas to much green waste will cause an odour and result in an unbalanced compost.
For optimal conditions, you should add your materials in alternating layers of green and brown, with each layer being 3-4 inches thick. Sprinkle some water over the top after adding each layer. Materials such as scrunched up newspaper and cardboard will keep air pockets in your pile, speeding up the composting process.
Materials That Aren’t Suitable for Composting
Even though they are considered food waste, you should avoid adding meat or dairy scraps to your composter. The same goes for diseased plants and perennial weeds, and you should never add pet faeces.
Compost Pile Maintenance
Apart from adding new material regularly, the most important maintenance task is turning your pile to aerate it. Compost should be turned every week or two using a pitchfork or a special compost aerator. If you are using a compost tumbler, you will simply need to turn the drum to aerate the pile. After turning, check to ensure that your pile is moist but not waterlogged or slimy. If it seems dry, add some extra water.
How to Tell When Your Compost Is Ready
Your compost is ready when it has become dark and crumbly, and smells like fresh earth. This generally takes at least 3 months depending on conditions, but will be quicker if using a compost tumbler. Adding manure and compost activator regularly will also speed up the decomposition rate.
Although making your own compost isn’t a quick fix, it is relatively straightforward and will give you a lovely, rich mix that saves you money, as well as being environmentally friendly. Happy composting!