Composting made easy

Composting offers an easy way to provide extra nutrients to your garden's plants and soil. As a totally natural process, composting is one of the environmentally friendly activities that a household can employ. It lets you utilise natural processes to nurture and feed your lawn and plants, and acts as a great way to recycle food waste and cut down on the rubbish you produce.
It's also incredibly simple, and requires little in the way of tools or equipment. Whether you choose compost bins, or compost bags, or even a compost pile at the far end of the garden, the process is the same. You can even use a small kitchen compost bin to easy dispose of your organic kitchen waste while you cook and prepare food.

Composting benefits

If you want to enjoy free fertiliser, while being extra green, then composting is for you. Compost boosts the fertility of soil and supplies nutrients to the micro-organisms in the earth. By producing essential chemicals like phosphorous and nitrogen, composting promotes healthy development of all the plants in your garden. It also offers a great way of getting the kids involved with the gardening.

Composting bins

The first step to make compost is finding a suitable composter. Composters act as the container to store your waste products while they break down and turn into compost. There is a wide variety of choice available, with a range of different features, but the principle is the same. For a temporary solution you can choose a composting bag, or even a pile of compost in a garden corner. That being said, a robust composting bin offers a sturdy and more long-lasting solution.

It is a good idea to place the composter somewhere that gets plenty of sunlight as that helps speed up the process, and ideally the composter should be placed directly on the garden soil, somewhere that is easy to access so you can fill it up and empty it easily.

How to make compost

The underlying processes in the creation of compost as it breaks down and decomposes may be complex, the formula for successful compost is not. As a rule of thumb you should opt for a mixture that is around half green material and half brown. This ensures that the mix is balanced and will break down at a decent rate.

The 'green' things to put in your compost include anything from old plants, fruit skins like oranges or apples, the stocks of vegetables such as broccoli or cauliflower, dead flowers, cut grass, hay, and even coffee grounds and old teabags. These materials break down quickly and ensure that the compost has plenty of moisture so that it doesn't dry out.

The 'brown' materials needed for composting take a longer time to decompose, and ensure there is plenty of fibre in the final mixture,as well as plenty of carbon. These items include cardboard, egg shells, corks, paper bags, wood ash, straw, dried leaves, and even old Christmas trees.

When adding things to compost it is best to use common sense; most plant-based materials are fine, some will take longer than others to rot, but this is a natural part of the process.

However there are things you should not use for compost. These include fish and animal products, bread, plastic containers like bags or bottles, disposable nappies, sawdust, and oil. While you want to provoke the natural process inherent in composting, using the above items will make your compost bin a haven for all manner of pests and insects that could overwhelm your garden.

Layering your compost

To make the compost you first need to add a layer of course twigs and straw at the bottom of your composter or pile. You want this material not to be too compacted as you want there to be space for the air to flow underneath the compost.

The next step is to take a layer of the 'brown' materials on top of the layer at the bottom. If you want to increase the pace of the process you can add an optional extra layer of garden soil at this point. The bacteria and microorganisms in the fresh soil will help move the process along. Then add a layer of your 'greens' and keep alternating the layers until your bin is full. You can add another optional layer of soil at the top for faster results.

It is important not to pack the materials in too tightly, as you need to allow for air to reach all levels of the compost. If the mixture is too dense it could take a lot longer until the compost is ready. If you feel like the mixture is too dry, feel free to liberally add extra water as you go.

The next step is just to wait for nature to take its course. If the compost is correctly mixed it should need little help on its way. Another way to quicken the process is to use an aerator or garden fork to turn the mixture and to help make sure there is plenty of air in the compost.

You'll know that the composting process has begun when it starts to heat up. This exothermic reaction demonstrates that the materials are breaking breaking down and the natural chemicals and gases are being released.

The compost shouldn't have an unpleasant odour, but if you notice that there is an eggy tinge to the smell this could indicate that it's too wet, not receiving enough moisture, or that you added non-compostable items. To fix this, try adding some extra 'brown' materials to offset the problem.

Using compost

Depending on the amount you are trying to make, your compost can take anything up to a year until its ready. As there is no exact science you'll have to use your judgement. If the compost is earth-like and damp, with a soil-like texture and consistency, then it is probably ready. Don't worry if any larger or hard to break down items are still visible, these can easily be removed or re-composted. Now you're ready to use it, and to help make your garden flourish!