These are my two compost bins, hiding behind the potato plants. I love the idea that I am making my own compost from my own kitchen waste. Previously, I was throwing my kitchen waste into council bins then buying compost from the store. That made no sense, so I picked up these two left by my neighbours at the side of the road, and haven’t looked back.
Compost, or organic matter, is made up of a greater amount of carbon to a lesser amount of nitrogen. This is known as the carbon-to-nitrogen ratio. The microorganisms which break down the matter require a correct ratio of the two matters to break down the waste and turn it into compost.
Carbon materials, also known as “browns”, include paper, cardboard, straw, leaves, shredded newspaper, wood chips, hair (including my husband’s beard trimmings), hoover bag contents and cotton wool. Nitrogen materials, also known as “greens”, include vegetable kitchen waste, grass clippings, weeds and manure. If there is excessive carbon materials in your compost bin, decomposition slows down and it becomes very dry. If there is excessive nitrogen materials, decomposition speeds up and it will become very watery. For my first attempt at composting I only included “greens”, and it turned into one big slimy wet mess.
Ideally the compost bin should be positioned in the shade to maintain a constant environment for the micro-organisms. However, to speed up decomposition, I leave mine in a sunny spot for it to get really hot so that when I lift the lid steam comes out. The bins must exclude rain, retain warmth, allow for drainage and let in air. Ideally they should have an empty base and be positioned onto earth. But if your bin will be placed onto concrete, place a heap of soil at the base of the bin before beginning to fill it. This will give access for the micro-organisms.
The compost heap must be turned regularly to add air. I turn ours about once a month. This will also give you an opportunity to see if it’s too dry or too wet and whether you need to add more nitrogen or more carbon to the mix.
It can take anything from 6 months to 2 years for the compost to be ready. I dispense mine once a year. If there are unrotted elements in it, I remove them and place them in the next batch. When it is ready it will be a dark brown and crumbly soil-like texture, similar to that bought in the shops.
Some years ago we rented an allotment near the river from the council and found rats living inside our compost bin. As rats are everywhere in our environment, being close to the river was not the cause. A neighbouring allotmenter told me the egg shells I was placing in the bin was creating a cosy environment for rodents, sheltering them from water. They suggested to regularly add water or leave the lid off occasionally during rainy spells to make their living arrangements more wet and less comfortable. Sure enough, they left.
Benefits of composting
- Introducing the compost bins into our garden has reduced our council recycling bin waste. All biodegradable cardboard such as egg cartons, shredded paper and cereal boxes, which would have previously been thrown into our recycle bin, now get composted.
- Compost bought from the shop is packaged in non-recyclable stretchy plastic, which will end up in landfill and take hundreds of years to break down.
- It’s completely free, and if I do it right it’ll be just as good, if not better, than the compost you buy from the shops.
- A diverse range of creatures can be seen living in compost bins, such as slow worms who like to hibernate inside over the winter, and earthworms who churn up the waste and turn it into compost. With all the extra garden wildlife about, it has encouraged my children to have a growing interested in the many beetles, bugs, spiders and worms found throughout the garden.
- It is the most environmentally friendly way to deal with your kitchen, garden and paper waste. We cannot leave the problem of our waste with our council. We must take responsibility and start resolving this problem at home, starting with our own behaviour towards waste.