Composting

Benefits of Home Composting

  • Home composting is a simple and effective way of benefitting your garden and the environment. 
  • By home composting you: Reuse and Recycle waste that would normally be thrown away. 
  • Avoid sending waste to landfills thereby assisting in reducing the amount of methane gas produced. 
  • Methane, a powerful greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming, is produced when waste – including kitchen and garden waste – decomposes in a landfill. 
  • Assist in reducing the carbon emissions created in transporting waste to landfills.
  • Get black gold (gardener’s term for compost) that improves the quality of your garden.
  • Reduce the need for chemical fertilisers and pesticides as it makes your plants healthier and helps them build a stronger immune system.
  • Save the Earth’s natural resources by reducing the need for peat taken from endangered ecosystems.
  • All biodegradable material will compost over time. Home composting allows us to collect and use degradable material so that it doesn’t create the negative impact on the environment caused by landfills.
  • Compost is the ultimate garden fertiliser as it contains the nutrients plants need, delivered in a slow-releasing method. 
  • When you add compost to your soil it becomes a permanent part of the soil structure, helping feed your plants into the future.
  • You don’t have to have a big garden to create compost. You can use your compost to grow herbs and pot plants.
  • Home compost can be used as:
      • Mulch – applied to the surface of the soil
      • Soil conditioner – mixed into the soil
      • Lawn conditioner – fine compost mixed with an equal amount of soil 
      • Part of a seed and potting mix – mixed with soil

Creating Compost

  • Select the type of composter you want:
      • You can create a pile of free standing material in your garden. 
      • You can dig a hole and leave it open or cover it with hessian.
      • You can create an enclosed area either made of chicken wire, fencing or concrete blocks, or a wooden structure which will keep the pile neater.
      • You can purchase a compost bin
      • You can purchase a wormery.
  • Select the space for your compost heap:
      • Place your compost ‘container’ or bin a well drained area of bare earth (sand or grass) – not on paving or concrete. This makes it easier for worms and other creatures to get into your compost. They play a vital role in breaking down your garden and kitchen waste.
      • Select a site that doesn’t get too much wind. Some views say the bin shouldn’t be in too much sunlight while others say that the warmth of the sun assists the composting process. See what works for you.
  • Know what materials you can and shouldn’t use for creating your compost.
      • Use a variety of ingredients to make your compost as this provides even more nutrients for your garden. 
      • You need a balance of both green and brown materials in your compost bin.
Scales_C ompost

Green

  • Green materials contain nitrogen. 
  • Greens rot or break down quickly. 
  • Greens can become compacted.
  • Greens keep the compost moist.
  • Greens alone will make the compost slimy and smelly.
  • Mix with browns.

Green materials include:

  • Fruit, vegetables and peelings
  • Tea bags or leaves
  • Coffee granules
  • Crushed egg shells
  • Garden & house plants
  • Dead flowers
  • Grass cuttings
  • Weeds (don’t compost weeds with persistent root systems, and weeds that are going to seed.)

Brown

  • Brown materials contain carbon.
  • Browns compost or break down more slowly.
  • Browns add texture and structure to your compost.
  • Browns create air pockets – crucial for air circulation. 
  • Browns will to be too dry on their own.
  • Mix with greens.

Brown materials include:

  • Branches, twigs & hedge trimmings
  • Feathers
  • Shredded cardboard, paper & toilet paper tubes
  • Cardboard egg cartons
  • Straw & hay
  • Wood chippings & sawdust
  • Hair & fur
  • Vegetarian animals’ manure
  • Autumn leaves
  • Dryer lint

                         DO NOT ADD THE FOLLOWING ITEMS TO YOUR COMPOST:

  • Meat 
  • Fish 
  • Dairy products
  • Dog / cat faeces
  • Cat litter
  • Coal ash (used charcoal briquettes don’t decay much so avoid using them)
  • Nappies / used tissue 
  • Roots of persistent weeds
  • Diseased plants 
  • Coloured or shiny paper
  • Plastic 
  • Glass
  • Metal

Additional Tips

  • You can pour left-over wine onto your compost. Better than down the drain. (Or freeze into ice-cubes and use for cooking.)
  • Egg shells are 95% calcium carbonate. They raise the pH of the soil and act as a soil conditioner, so add them to your compost.
  • Scatter crushed eggshells around your plants.
  • Egg shells work as an organic pest control as snails and slugs don’t like the sharpness of the shells.
  • When you boil eggs, pour the cooled water onto your plants. Same applies to water used for cooking any veggies.
  • Lint from the dryer, hair from your hairbrush, cotton wool and cotton buds (minus the plastic stem, but including cardboard stems) can all be added to your compost.

Creating Your Compost Heap

  • Place a layer (about 15cm) of brown materials like branches and twigs at the bottom of your pile or bin.
  • This will allow air to circulate at the bottom of the composter once more material is added. 
  • Add green and more brown materials as they become available. Try add equal amounts of green and brown materials. 
  • This will ensure that your compost is the right texture – not too compacted or too full of large air pockets.
  • Add air by turning your compost in the bin using a garden fork or stick or by emptying the contents of your bin and turning them with a garden fork then returning them to the bin.
  • Check the moisture content.

Adding Material

  • When adding more materials, check that it’s not too wet or too dry.
  • When you add greens add browns too.
  • If you mostly compost greens and you don’t have enough garden browns, add in torn up cardboard boxes or egg cartons or toilet paper tubes.

Managing Your Compost

  • The more you attend to or manage your compost heap the quicker you will get usable garden compost. 
  • If you just leave it you will still get compost but it will take much longer.
  • Check the temperature inside the pile – either with a thermometer or feeling it with your hand.
  • If it is warm or hot, your compost heap is working.
  • If it is the same temperature as the outside air, add more greens, manure or ready-made compost mix to stimulate the microbial activity.
  • Organic waste needs air and water to decompose to form compost.
  • Organisms that decompose organic matter are aerobic – needing air circulation to survive.
  • Turn the pile with a fork or a stick.
  • Keep the pile as moist as a wrung-out sponge.
  • An overly wet pile slows down decomposition as the water replaces the air, creating an anaerobic environment.
  • Check the moisture level by gently squeezing a handful of compost. If it’s dry and dusty add some water. If it feels slimy or soggy mix in some brown materials like shredded cardboard or small twigs to absorb the extra moisture.
  • Too many ants are a sign that your compost is too dry.

Using Your Compost

  • When you want some compost, use the top uncomposted part to start a new compost heap, and use the bottom composted part in your garden.
  • Your compost should be crumbly and dark brown when it is ready. Other than some twigs and eggshells, you shouldn’t be able to recognise the original materials.

Time it Takes to Generate Usable Compost

  • The length of time it takes depends on the following:
      • The type and quantity of materials you put into your bin
      • The time of year
      • How often you turn your compost
  • It usually takes between 6 and 18 months for compost to be produced.
  • If your compost production is managed carefully – correct balance of materials, air and water – you will get compost in a much shorter time.
  • To speed up your composter:
      • Shred or chop up stems or prunings (this also reduces the bulk so you can get more in your composter) and everything else that will go on your heap 
      • Add some crumpled newspaper; 
      • Keep it moist – add a little water if necessary (re-use kitchen rinse water to moisten the middle of the pile but don’t over-moisten the pile)
      • Add ready-made compost mix (can be bought at a hardware store or nursery)
      • Manage your compost by turning the heap every few days.

Household Tip

  • Keep a small bucket with a lid or a container (like a use ice cream tub) with a lid in your kitchen to collect the kitchen waste you’ll use for your compost. 
  • Take it to your compost bin/pile every few days (or once a day if you have a lot of waste). Keep the lid on the container to keep insects away.

Bokashi

  • Bokashi is a Japanese term that means “fermented organic matter”.  
  • Bokashi has traditionally been used to increase the microbial diversity and activity in soils and to supply nutrients to plants.
  • A Bokashi bin or digester enables you to transform your food scraps into rich compost. By putting your food waste and a handful of bokashi bran into the airtight container you can substantially reduce your domestic waste and let your garden and drains benefit.
  • Bokashi Bran is a pleasant smelling, bran based material made with a culture of effective micro-organisms, which help to ferment your waste and act as a compost activator.

What To Do

  • Place your food scraps, peelings and plate scrapings (including vegetables, fruit, meat, fish and dairy) into the bin (an anaerobic digester), layer it with the bokashi (wheat bran infused with probiotic bacteria), squash is down (using something like a potato masher to remove the air) and let the waste ferment.  Because the food-waste doesn’t rot there are no bad odours or flies.
  • Repeat this layering process until the Bokashi Digester is full.
  • Tap off the liquid (Bokashi juice). (See below for more information) 
  • Bury the waste or add it to your compost bin/heap.
  • Reap the rewards of the magic of Bokashi.

One Bin System

  • Once the bin (digester) is full the contents can be moved to your compost bin/heap or buried in a patch in your garden.  The waste on the top will not have had time to ferment. However the waste will still break down quickly because of the micro-organisms mixed in.

Two Bin System

  • While not essential, it is advisable to have two bins. When the first digester is full, start using the second bin. Begin with a layer of Bokashi, and then layer food waste and Bokashi.
  • In the meantime the waste added last into the first digester will have time to ferment. Leave the waste in the sealed first digester and allow it to continue to ferment out of the sun for 10-14 (or longer) days. Thereafter, bury the waste (details below) and wash out the Bokashi Digester. It will then be ready to use when your second Bokashi Bin is full. And the process can be repeated.
  • The main advantages of two digesters is that:
      • The waste will have more time to ferment
      • You will get more of the precious and very effective Bokashi Juice
      • It is more convenient.

It Looks Different

  • Bokashi Compost will have a different appearance to other decayed compost. The food waste does not decompose or breakdown while it is in the digester, it ferments. A lot of the original physical properties of the waste will thus remain, and it may have a pickled look. The decomposition of the waste will take place after it has been buried in the soil.

Burying Bokashi Compost 

  • If you have a compost heap or bin you can add the fermented waste directly to the middle of your compost.
  • Otherwise find a soil patch in your garden where you can bury the Bokashi waste. The micro-organisms in the Bokashi mix speed up the composting process.  The Bokashi waste will add a microbe-enriched conditioner to your soil and your plants will be supplied with nutrition. 
  • Dig a hole or trench about 30cm deep, and fill it with the Bokashi waste, mixing in some soil. Cover the hole with the balance of the dug-out soil. 
  • Wait for 4-6 weeks and then add the microbe rich composted soil to your garden or vegetable patch. The compost is ready when it has turned black and the food waste is no longer visible.

Bokashi Juice

  • Bokashi juice is the liquid fertiliser by-product of your Bokashi digester.
  • As the food waste starts to ferment, a light brown liquid is produced called bokashi juice, which is alive with beneficial micro-organisms.  
  • The Bokashi Juice will drip into the bottom of the bin. 
  • This should be drained off as it builds up (every few days), as you don’t want the juice to fill up into the fermenting waste. 
  • Once drained off, add the juice to an empty two litre bottle and top up with water (dilution should be about 1:300) and feed your diluted mixture to garden plants or indoor pot plants. This should be done immediately or within hours of making the mixture. Waiting longer will make the mixture ineffective.
  • It can be poured, undiluted, down your drains to maintain healthy drains as it prevents algae build up and odours. It will also contribute to cleaning up our water ways by challenging harmful bacteria. This is a far healthier option than toxic drain cleaners! (Toxic for humans, aquatic life and the water system.) It is also safe to use in septic tanks. 

Tips For Users

  • It’s best to layer the food waste and bokashi bran, so that there is enough bran to mix in with the waste. It’s not realistic to throw a handful of bran on the top of a pile of food and assume that they’ll mix themselves.
  • The ‘pickling’ process is anaerobic, so each time you add waste to the bin, you should compress it down to get rid of any air, and replace the lid making sure it is sealed tight.
  • Don’t add liquids, oil, large bones or rotten food to your digester.
  • Avoid adding anything with too much moisture – so squeeze your teabags before adding to the digester (or add directly to your compost.)
  • Put a layer of Bokashi at the bottom of the bin first and then add your scraps.
  • Draining the juice regularly is essential. Fruit and vegetables cause a lot of juice to build up, which can lead to the bin smelling.
  • You need to put enough bran into the container, otherwise the whole process won’t work efficiently and the bins can smell. Some items seem to require more bran than others. Experiment. Err on the side of caution and add more if you’re not sure.
  • If your bin is smelling chances are you aren’t adding enough bran. 
  • The bran won’t fix food that has already started to rot. If it’s already smelly when you put it in the bin, it will continue to smell.
  • This is a WIN-WIN solution – it’s good for the garden and good for landfill!

Leaf Mould

  • Autumn Garden Leaves
      • Too many leaves can upset the balance of your compost bin.
      • Turn autumn garden leaves into leaf mould instead of adding them to your compost bin. You will get a crumbly and nutrient-rich, organic material that you can use as a lawn conditioner, mulch or soil conditioner. 
  • Collect the leaves.
  • If the material is shredded into smaller pieces it will speed up the decaying process.
  • Add moisture. Moisten the leaves with a little water if they are too dry.
  • Bag it. Put the leaves into a large plastic bin bag.
      • Punch holes in the bag to allow air to circulate.
      • Place the bag in a secluded area of the garden, and leave it for one to two years. The leaf mould will become finer the longer you leave it.

Vermiculture

  • Vermiculture or worm farming is a composting process that uses worms and micro-organisms to convert organics into nutrient-rich humus.
  • Vermicomposting is the practice of using earthworms for the production of compost. The worms consume organic waste and produce castings (an odour-free compost product) for use as mulch, soil conditioner, and a topsoil additive.
  • Organisms, such as bacteria and millipedes, also assist in the aerobic decomposition of the organic waste material.