Feed your soil with compost
Composting is the conversion of organic material such as leaves, food waste, animal manure, grass cuttings and even paper into soil material. Often referred to as black gold (no, not oil), composting has been around for centuries and was known to the Greeks and Romans. Modern composting as we know it began between 1905-1934 by Sir Albert Howard who invented modern organic agricultural methods. Former US President George Washington also was an advocate of composting.
Composting recycles organic waste, helps feed the soil and helps reduce food waste. With rapid industrial farming causing increasing amounts of food waste. Composting allows people to recoup some of the nutrients and energy in the waste food, by converting it into compost to feed the soil and the plants that grow in it.
Adding nutrient rich compost to the soil not only feeds the plants, but adds nutrients and minerals to the plants, encourages worms and other beneficial microorganisms and insects to enter the top layers of the soil and spread the compost throughout the layers of soil, ensuring greater soil health for future generations.
How to make compost
Homemade compost is a vital soil improver. To make good quality compost there needs to be a mix of materials, ensuring adequate carbon and nitrogen, usually in a 50:50 mix. Nitrogen comes from green materials such as grass cuttings, carbon comes from items such as cardboard and small pieces of wood or stems. Too much carbon in your compost bin or pile will slow down the composting process while too much nitrogen will make the compost turn to a sludge. So, a well-balanced mix is needed of both.
Many home composting units tend to attract too much nitrogen, and this can lead to problems. So, to ensure enough carbon enters your compost bin, throw in your cardboard egg boxes and toilet rolls into your compost bin or pile. Pizza boxes are also great in your compost bin, just make sure to tear them up into smaller pieces first. Don’t become overly concerned about the exact recipe, composting is a natural process, decomposition will happen, but you can use some of the tips below to ensure you get the best results.
- Place your home compost bin directly onto the soil. This allows worms and other insects to enter the compost bin and helps to speed up the composting process. Place some small twigs and branches on the base of the compost bin before adding your food waste.
- It is important to turn your compost every few weeks moving the compost on the outside into the center and vice versa. This helps increase aeration which speeds up the process. While digging in your garden if you find any worms, place these into your compost bin, worms help speed up the decomposition of organic waste.
- Compost should always be kept moist, but not waterlogged. If your compost bin becomes too moist, add more carbon such as cardboard or leaves.
- Indoors, select a container with a lid that can close fully, place it near the sink for your family members to throw their tea bags and food scraps into. Once full take this outdoors to your compost bin.
Once the compost has turned crumbly and brown and with a neutral or sweet smell, it is ready to be added to your soil and plants.
Benefits of composting
Composting allows gardeners and farmers to divert up to 30 per cent of regular waste from going to landfill, towards creating compost. This is one of the best reasons to compost, as when food waste, grass cuttings, etc., are added to landfill sites, it lacks oxygen to break down properly and instead produces methane which is harmful and causes global warming, which can impact climate change.
Composting introduces beneficial microorganisms and bacteria to the soil. It also offers gardeners the option to reduce or completely avoid use of artificial fertilizers.
Compost making complications to avoid
If you are using a home composting unit, it is best not to add animal bones or cooked food to the compost bin as this can attract vermin such as mice or rats. A solution to discourage vermin is to place some chicken wire on the ground before placing your compost bin. This helps discourage animals from digging into your composting unit or pile.
Large skins such as melon and orange peels and banana skins, can take some time to break down if added in as a large piece. So, break these up before placing them in your compost bin to speed up their breakdown. Alternatively, you could use a biomass shredder.
During the summer months, small fruit flies can be attracted to your compost bin due to the rotting food. If this becomes an issue, add a layer of 0.75 to 2 in (2 to 5 cm) of fresh grass cuttings to the top of the compost. If fruit flies become an issue for your indoor food waste container, simply wash the bin out with a small amount of vinegar and warm water. Or consider placing this container in your fridge or freezer during the summer months.
Increasingly, coffee cups and take away products are being made from compostable or biodegradable packaging. While this is to be welcomed, these compostable items sadly don’t break down very well in home composting units or compost piles, and usually require industrial composting. Industrial composting generates much higher heat which leads to a breakdown of these materials. However, you can add small quantities of these products such as bamboo cutlery, bamboo toothbrushes, bamboo swabs or paper napkins and plates.
Compost bins can also take your garden weeds, but caution is needed, home composters often do not kill the seeds of weeds and this can become an issue when you later add the compost to the soil, it is best to remove seed pods from any weeds, before placing them into a compost bin or pile.
Dog and Cat manure should not be composted, if the compost is to be used around vegetables or fruit plants. However well-decomposed chicken or cow manure is excellent to add to your compost pile.
Composting has huge benefits. It not only reduces the volume of waste we send to landfill, but it also provides gardeners with free organic fertilizer. Unlike artificial fertilizers, compost benefits the soil and the living bacteria, fungi, and microorganisms in it, which in turn benefits the soil further. Composting improves soil quality, and with increasing levels of soil degradation globally, adding compost is a way to naturally help soil become increasingly healthier.