Composting Essentials

Composting conveniently disposes of your garden cuttings and trimmings while also creating a wonderful soil improver. It can be as simple as throwing all your waste into a pile, but you'll get better results if you follow a few guidelines.

Compost Bin in Small Garden

Compost Bin in Small Garden

2010 Dorling Kindersley Limited DK - How to Grow Practically Everything

DK - How to Grow Practically Everything, 2010 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Choosing a Bin

Standard plastic compost bins (Image 1) are functional rather than attractive, but they do hold lots of garden and kitchen waste. They are also the most inexpensive, and can often be bought at a discounted price through your local supplier. If you are concerned about how your compost bin fits in with the rest of your garden, there are more attractive options, including wooden bins designed to look like beehives that can be stained to suit your garden design (Image 2). These are a good choice for smaller gardens where the bin would be on view. Impatient gardeners may prefer "tumbler" bins (Images 3-5). These allow you to make small batches of compost in weeks, not months, by turning the bin to increase airflow, which naturally speeds up the composting process.

Filling Your Bin

To produce good compost it is important to have the right mix of ingredients. If you add too much soft, green material, such as grass clippings, the heap may turn into a slimy, smelly sludge. Put in too much dry, woody material, and it will rot down slowly, if at all. Ideally, aim for a ratio of about 50:50. During most of the year, it is likely that you will be producing more green than dry material, so you will need to look around for dry waste to add. Woody prunings are best, but brown cardboard, crumpled newspaper, and even the insides of used toilet paper rolls all make suitable alternatives.

Top of the Heap

Top of the Heap

2010 Dorling Kindersley Limited DK - How to Grow Practically Everything

DK - How to Grow Practically Everything, 2010 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Quickening the Pace

Air is essential to the composting process, so the contents must be turned regularly to ensure good airflow throughout your bin or heap. Turning also allows you to check how things are going, to wet the mix if it is too dry, or to add dry material if it is too wet. This task is easier if you have two bins, but if you only have one, simply empty it out onto a tarpaulin, mix the contents well, then refill the bin.

Air is Essential to Composting Process

Air is Essential to Composting Process

2010 Dorling Kindersley Limited DK - How to Grow Practically Everything

DK - How to Grow Practically Everything, 2010 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Tip: Bokashi Composting

Cooked foods, meat and fish should never be composted in an ordinary bin because they attract rats and harmful bacteria. Instead, compost this type of waste using the Japanese bokashi system. This involves using a special sealed bin that you fill in layers, each one sprinkled with bran dust, inoculated with microorganisms. The content of the bin then effectively pickles, and after about two weeks, it can be emptied out and buried in the garden or added to the compost heap. This method also produces a liquor that can be diluted and used as a liquid feed.

Bokashi Bin Composting System Uses Cooked Food

Bokashi Bin Composting System Uses Cooked Food

2010 Dorling Kindersley Limited DK - How to Grow Practically Everything

DK - How to Grow Practically Everything, 2010 Dorling Kindersley Limited

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