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 at the side of the road by my neighbours who no longer wanted them, and haven’t looked back.
Along with kitchen waste, I’ve also reduced my recycle bin waste by adding into the compost bins egg cartons, shredded paper, cereal boxes and any other biodegradable cardboard. So it now feels like I’m doing that little bit extra than just regular recycling. There is something quite satisfying at turning bills into compost.
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 and is measured at 30:1. The microorganisms which break down the matter require this correct ratio to turn the waste into compost.
Carbon materials are known as “browns” and can include paper, cardboard, straw, leaves, shredded newspaper, wood chips, hair and my husband’s beard trimmings!, hoover bag contents and cotton wool.
Nitrogen materials are known as “greens” and can include vegetable kitchen waste, grass clippings, weeds and manure.
For my first attempt at composting I only included “greens”, and it turned into one big slimy wet mess. Similarly, if you only added “browns” it would be too dry. If there is excessive carbon, decomposition slows down, and if there is excessive nitrogen it will become very watery.
Ideally the compost bin should be positioned in the shade to maintain a constant environment for the micro-organisms, however I leave mine in a sunny spot to allow it to decompose quicker. When I lift the lid steam comes out. The bins must exclude rain, retain warmth, allow for drainage and let in air. The bins have an empty base and are ideally position onto earth. But if your garden is concrete and has no earth, 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 give you an opportunity to see if it’s too dry or too wet. Some years ago we rented an allotment near the river from the council and we found rats living inside our compost bin. Being close to the river was not the cause, as there are rats everywhere. A fellow allotmenteer suggested that the egg shells I was adding into the bin gave a cosy environment for the rats. They suggested to regularly add water as it will make their living arrangements less comfortable, and sure enough they left!
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 dark brown and crumbly soil-like texture, similar to that bought in the shops.
I am making compost for next years planting by using waste which would have been thrown away. I am not having to buy compost in non-recyclable plastic It’s completely free, and if I do it right it’ll be just as good, if not better, than the compost I would usually buy from the shops. If I fill it right up, the level drops within a matter of days. Slow worms love to hibernate inside. My daughter now loves slow worms, as well as all the bugs, worms and spiders. It is the most environmentally friendly way to deal with your kitchen, garden and paper waste. I am surprised not more people who have a large enough space in their garden are doing this. Even if you don’t grow anything maybe a community compost bin could be set up in your area to use for those that do. Our level of waste needs to be dealt with. We can’t just leave it to the councils. We must take responsibility and start resolving this problem at home, starting with our own behaviour towards waste.