Compost for beginners

I wasn’t looking forward to a lesson from my green fingered friend Paula on composting-  I shouldn’t have worried. Composting is not difficult and saves money!! Here are the tips I learnt :-

  1. There’s no set size for a compost heap; it depends on how much garden and kitchen waste you have to get rid of and the size of your garden. I have now created a ‘peely bin’ in my kitchen where I put all my vegetable and fruit peelings, any fruit or veg that has gone off, egg shells and bits of kitchen paper that haven’t been in contact with meat or meat juices. Don’t put any meat in the compost because it will smell dreadful, attracts things like rats, mice and flies  and will slow down the rotting process.
  2. The compost heap doesn’t have to be in a container, so long as it can drain well but not get very dry either. I put my garden and kitchen vegetable waste in a compost bin (in fact two, so that I don’t have to visit the tidy tip too often!). I found out I could buy them cheaply from the council, rather than pay some of the shop prices, so it’s worth looking round for bargains. They have lids on which stops the contents from getting too wet.
  3. Ideally compost should stand directly on soil, so that the worms and other useful things can get into it to break everything down. It also helps drainage so you don’t get liquid compost which can be very smelly! The bins or heap could be kept on paving slabs, or concrete, so long as a layer of soil, twigs and/or matured compost is put down first to get things going (it may take longer to mature, but the compost will still be good).
  4. Keeping the compost pile in a shaded area helps keep the temperature fairly constant, and this is supposed to produce a better compost.
  5. There needs to be a mixture of ingredients; about 50% green waste (plant and vegetable), and 50% brown waste (torn up paper and cardboard, straw, egg shells, prunings or wood chippings and dead leaves). It doesn’t matter what order they go in as the contents also need to be turned over regularly to get air in. Paula does it once a month. The worms do a lot of turning as well, and it’s free labour!
  6. It can take 6-18 months for the compost to be ready. You’ll know it’s ok because it will smell ‘earthy’, have a texture like soil and be dark brown in colour. If anything hasn’t rotted down completely it can be left in the bin and mixed in with new green and brown waste. Paula often takes out bits of compost that have matured as and when she needs it—waiting for two years can be too long.

Once you have the compost, it’s then a question of what to do with it. Mulching and planting here we come!

Alice C

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