Composting

Did you know?

Up to 30% of the average household's waste can be turned into valuable compost for your garden.

What is compost?

Compost is organic matter, such as garden waste or kitchen vegetable scraps, which has decomposed to form a dark brown, soil-like material, rich in plant nutrients. It improves soil structure and enhances the biological activity in your soil that is vital for healthy plant growth.

Composting is important because it is one of the few ways in which organic wastes can be reused, instead of being thrown away into landfill sites. Home composting reduces the amount of waste for disposal and saves valuable landfill space.

Why is compost better than fertilisers?

Adding compost to soil not only adds plant nutrients but also nourishes the soil itself. As well as improving soil structure, it attracts and feeds earthworms and other important gardeners' friends, which in turn improve the health of your soil even further.

Compost does not completely replace fertilisers, but it does greatly lessen the need for them. Its use is the key to an organic gardening approach.

What you can compost at home:

  • lawn mowings
  • shredded stalks
  • hedge clippings
  • young weeds
  • cut flowers
  • most crop remains
  • finished flowers
  • leaves (leaf mould)
  • rhubarb leaves
  • rabbit manure
  • chicken manure
  • vegetable & salad scraps
  • fruit scraps
  • tea leaves/bags
  • coffee grounds
  • egg shells
  • spices/herbs
  • bark

Compost these with care:

(These materials may take longer to decompose. Add them in small quantities for best results)

  • Potato/tomato remains
  • Sawdust
  • Wood chips
  • Newspaper (shredded)
  • Straw
  • Wood ash
  • Perennial weeds
  • Weeds in seed
  • Bracken
  • Nettles

Material to avoid:

  • Diseased plants
  • Persistent weeds
  • Soot
  • Coal ash
  • Dog and cat faeces
  • Cat litter
  • Used nappies
  • Medical materials
  • Plastics
  • Artificial fabrics
  • Glossy paper
  • Wood
  • Lawn mowings which have been sprayed with weed killer

What are the best ways of making compost?

The easiest way is to make a compost heap. It can just be a pile of organic waste covered in old carpet or polythene in the garden. This method is not ideal as it never gets very warm and takes a long time for the waste to decompose. A better way is to make a wooden framework, 1 metre x 1 metre x 1 metre, with wire mesh around it to keep the waste materials in.

Organic waste should be added in layers, some from the kitchen, some hedge trimmings, some lawn mowings and even some dust and small amounts of newspaper. This way the air pockets help speed up the process and by covering it over with a layer of old carpet or polythene, the warmth stays in too, which will also help to quicken the action and ensure that seeds are broken down.

Compost heaps that get too dry will not perform well so some water may be needed. In six to nine months you will have lovely compost to put on your garden.

But there is a quicker way! A compost bin is used like the frame to put the organic waste in. It should be layered in the same way. The compost bin helps to keep heat in even more effectively producing compost in about three to six months. And that's not all. Wormeries, either created from a dustbin or purpose made, can make compost even quicker. These are special compost bins containing tiger worms which work to break down the waste.

Heap or bin?

It all depends on the size of your garden, how much waste you have suitable for composting, your own feelings on garden tidiness and whether you have children and pets that you would like to keep out of the compost!

For large quantities of waste you may find it preferable to construct your own container. A container also acts as a garden tidy. Remember heaps tend to spread. If you want to be a really keen composter you could have two bins or heaps side by side so that you can fill one while the other is full of decomposing compost.

What to do with compost?

Compost can be placed on vegetable gardens and flower beds or placed around trees. It makes excellent mulch to discourage weeds and keeps moisture in the soil. Light soil is improved by the addition of compost and heavy clay soil is made lighter and easier to work by digging in compost. Sieved compost is ideal for potting, window boxes and hanging baskets.

That's not all the good news though! The compost you make saves money that you would otherwise spend on commercial brands which are often peat based. Peat is a valuable and natural resource that we should not waste. Another good reason is that the waste you do not send to landfill actually saves Council taxpayers money.