Introduction: Home Composting
Why buy a bin and start Composting?
Composting is an inexpensive, natural process that transforms your kitchen and garden waste into a valuable and nutrient rich food for your garden. It's easy to make and use.
Do your bit to reduce the amount of waste sent to landfill. Even for households that are already composting, new research has found that almost half of the food waste in their rubbish bins could have been put in the compost bin.
Did you know, composting at home for just one year can save global warming gases equivalent to all the CO2 your kettle produces annually, or your washing machine produces in three months?
We're often asked "Why do I need to compost when my waste will break down in landfill anyway?"
When waste is sent to landfill, air cannot get to the organic waste. Therefore as the waste breaks down it creates a harmful greenhouse gas, methane, which damages the Earth's atmosphere. However, when this same waste is composted above ground at home, oxygen helps the waste to decompose aerobically which means no methane is produced, which is good news for the planet. And what's more, after nine to twelve months, you get a free fertiliser for your garden and plant pots to keep them looking beautiful.
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Step 1: Getting the Right Bin
Getting the right bin for your garden is essential. you need to find a bin that will blend in with your garden but at the same time do the job it is there for.
If your in the UK try one of these bins. there are cheaper then anywhere else because a company subsidises the cost. http://www.recyclenow.com/home_composting/buy_a_bin/index.html
If you are in the US Wall Mart do good deals.
Step 2: Choosing a Site for Your Bin
The perfect site for your bin is on soil in a sunny area. If you have to put your compost bin on concrete, tarmac or patio slabs ensure theres a layer of paper and twigs or existing compost on the bottom so the worms and other creatures can colonise. Choose a place where you can easily add ingredients to the bin and get the compost out.
Partial shade or sunny spot?
Placing your bin in either partial shade or a sunny spot can help speed up the composting process.
The reason you should site your bin on soil is that it makes it very easy for beneficial microbes and insects to gain access to the rotting material. It also allows for better aeration and drainage, both important to successful composting.
On wire mesh
One of the best ways to set up your bin is on a wire mesh base. To do this you need to dig a shallow hole (approximately 1 inch deep) that is equal to the diameter of your bin. Cut a piece of wire mesh to slightly larger diameter than the base of your bin and place it over the hole. Place your bin on top of both.
If it is possible to remove the paving below the compost bin, then this is the best solution for paved or courtyard gardens but, if not, there are a few things you need to bare in mind.
Some liquid might seep out of the bottom of the bin and stain paving both underneath the bin and sometimes around it. If this is likely to be a problem, then you should consider building a small raised bed filled with soil to put your compost bin on.
Liquid should be contained within the soil in the raised bed and you can always plant up around the bin to make it a feature. If you are putting your bin onto old paving and staining is not an issue, you will need to introduce the soil-dwelling organisms manually.
You can do this by adding a shovelful or two of soil to the bottom of the bin or, better still, get some home compost from a nice mature bin. It may take a little longer for your bin to get started but it will soon be full of life.
It is best not to put a compost bin directly onto a deck as the liquid that sometimes seep out of the bin will stain it. The only real solution here is to build a raised bed directly on top of the deck.
You can use deckboards to build your raised bed so that it compliments the deck. Seal the deckboards under the bed with decking seal, just to be on the safe side, then line the bottom of the raised bed with plastic to protect the deckboards underneath and cut some drainage holes though the plastic where there are spaces in between the deckboards.
Fill the bed full of soil or peat-free compost and this will capture any liquid that seeps out. Anything you plant in the bed around the bin will be nice and healthy because it will be getting a good liquid feed.
You can easily put your bin onto gravel, whether it be in a gravel garden or on a gravel driveway or path. If you have laid a membrane beneath the gravel, you will need to cut a hole or slits in the membrane so that the soil-dwelling organisms can get through.
If you are concerned about compost messing up your gravel when you empty the bin, you will need to lay out a plastic sheet to keep the gravel clean when it is time to empty the bin.
If you must place your bin on concrete, remember to add a thin layer of soil to get it started. This will help attract worms and other beneficial organisms.
Step 3: Making Compost
What can you put in your bin?
Brilliant things to put in your bin are:
Uncooked kitchen scraps
Shredded cardboard and paper
Teabags and coffee grounds
Pet bedding (rabbit, hamster etc)
Old plants and flowers
Wood chips and sawdust
These things take a while longer to turn into compost:
Scrunched up paper
Twigs, branches and bark
Things that shouldn't be put in are:
Dog poo or cat litter
Perennial weeds or weeds with seed heads
Step 4: Using Your Compost for Your Lawn
If your lawn is looking a bit parched after the summer months, you can put your home made compost to good use by turning it into a top dressing.
Dig out plenty of home made compost from the bottom of your compost bin or heap.
Sieve the compost to remove the lumps use a garden sieve to break up the compost and shake it into a wheelbarrow or other large container. The compost needs to be fine so it can penetrate the soil.
You can put the bigger pieces of compost left in the sieve back in to the top of your compost bin. They will go through the compost cycle again and break down further.
Use the same volume of sharp sand as compost to make the mixture kinder for your lawn. Sharp sand will even out the mix and more importantly add weight so it can get down into the soil.
Mix together the sharp sand and sieved compost in the wheelbarrow until you have an even mixture.
Use a garden fork to make holes in the lawn. Make your rows of fork holes about six inches apart and about three inches deep over the whole of the lawn. This process aerates the lawn and allows the compost mix to get to the grass roots.
Spread the compost mix across the whole lawn, making sure you cover all the holes you have made.
Using a rake or broom, spread the compost mix evenly across the lawn to a depth of about one inch. Dont worry that your lawn looks grey and muddy. This effect will last about three weeks as the compost works its way down into the soil.
If you have not had any rain two days after you have spread the compost mix, give it a good watering to make sure the compost penetrates the soil.
Your lawn will look untidy for three weeks or so this is completely normal. Over the following weeks and months you should see a more superior quality of grass and below the surface the soil structure will be much improved for months to come
Step 5: Using Your Compost
Before starting, you'll probably want to find out if it actually is ready to go! You can do this by making sure your compost is dark brown and smells nice and earthy. It should also be slightly moist and have a crumbly texture.
It probably won't look like the compost you buy in the shops and it's very likely that yours will still have twigs and eggshell in it!
Don't worry... it's still perfectly good to use! Simply sift out any larger bits and return them to your compost bin.
Your fresh compost is nutrient-rich food for your garden and will help improve soil structure, maintain moisture levels and keep your soils pH balance in check while helping suppress plant disease. It has everything your plants need, including nitrogen, phospherous and potassium and it will help beffer soils that are very acidic or alkaline. Compost improves your soil's condition and your plants and flowers will love it!
... on flowerbeds
Help your new plants and flowers bloom by digging a 10cm layer of compost into the soil prior to planting.
If your flowers have already been planted, you simply need to spread a thin layer of compost-enriched soil around the base of the plants. Nutrients will work their way down to the roots and your plants will enjoy the healthy boost compost provides.
It is important that you leave gaps around any soft stemmed plants.
...to enrich new borders
The borders of your garden will also greatly appreciate your compost.
Spread up to a 5cm layer of compost over the existing soil. Worms will quickly like getting to work mixing it in for you! Otherwise you can dig your finished compost into the soil prior to planting.
It is important that you leave gaps around any soft stemmed plants.
Using your compost as mulch is a great idea.
By using 'rough' compost (where not everything has completely broken down) over flowerbeds and around shrubs, helps prevent soil erosion and will replenish much needed nutrients.
A layer of 5cm should do the trick. Make sure that you leave a gap around any soft stemmed plants.
Adding mulch after it has rained will help keep the moisture in the soil.
Compost is great for your trees. Spreading a 5-10cm layer around the roots will provide them with important nutrients and can protect against drought and disease.
Avoid the base of the tree and do not spread too close to the trunk. Your trees will also benefit from less weeds growing around them. Doing this once or twice a year will help your trees grow taller and bushier in no time at all.
...to replenish pots
Give your potted plants and containers an extra boost by removing the top few centimetres of existing soil and adding your freshly made compost.
Leave a gap around soft stemmed plants. This will provide food for your plants and flowers and is a great way to make them more healthy and robust.
...in patio containers
You can mix home compost with regular soil or leafmould to create your own healthy potting mixture for patio containers.
Your plants and any new plants from seeds will enjoy the additional nutrients and minerals that your compost enriched potting mixture contains, and outdoor container plants will love it too.
About a third of the mix should be compost, slightly less when you are planting seeds. The reason for this is that home made compost is too strong to use on its own for planting into.
...healthier herbs and vegetables
Compost is excellent for growing herbs such as chives, parsley and mint.
Simply crumble it around the base of the plants for heathlier, leafier herbs. Your vegetables will also grow better with compost added to their soil. Apply compost with each rotation - it's exceptionally good for planting potatoes and carrots.
...feeding your lawn
Dressing your lawn with compost helps young grass take root and can make your garden heathlier and greener.
First, you'll need to sieve the compost and remove any large twigs or any other items that have not quite broken down. Next, mix it with an even amount of sharp sand to compost as this will allow it to spread more easily. You will need a layer of about 2.5cm.
Mature lawns can really benefit from this little extra kick of nutrients but be aware that newly seeded or turfed lawns can be scorched by it.