Turn Your Table Scraps Into Garden Treasure

Easy tips for making your own compost.
Layer Woody and Leafy Material in Compost

Layer Woody and Leafy Material in Compost

Layer woody and leafy material in the compost pile.

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Layer woody and leafy material in the compost pile.

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Making compost from your kitchen and garden waste is a sustainable and environmentally friendly way of recycling. Applied as a mulch, compost helps to improve the fertility and moisture-retaining qualities of your soil. 

Types of Composters

The basic way of making compost is to pile it into a heap, but this can be unsightly, and better compost is often achieved more quickly using a composter. The simplest structures are bays, usually made of corrugated plastic or metal, in which waste is piled. Wooden compost bins are easier on the eye, and can be built at home from scrap wood; otherwise you can buy ready-made bins, often with slatted sides or vents for air circulation. Effective and inexpensive, lightweight plastic compost bins are also a popular choice.

Filling Your Bin

Almost any vegetable matter can be added to a compost bin, and the more diverse the range of materials, the better the compost. It is also important to keep woody and nitrogen-rich leafy materials in proportion: you should try to include about twice as much woody material (twigs, paper) as nitrogen rich-material (grass, kitchen scraps). Mix grass cuttings with woodier clippings or even shredded paper, because a thick layer of grass will inhibit important air movement. Chop bigger cuttings into small pieces and avoid adding weeds with seeds, or persistent perennial weeds. Place a layer of coarser twigs in the bottom of the bin and then add the material in layers. Spread a little farmyard manure between layers to help speed up the composting process. 

Consider these leafy materials to add nitrogen and moisture:

  • Grass cuttings and weeds
  • Kitchen vegetable waste
  • Fallen leaves
  • Herbaceous plant clippings
  • Sappy hedge trimmings
  • Windfall fruit
  • Old bedding plant material

Consider these woody, carbon-rich materials to improve airflow:

  • Woody plant clippings and twigs
  • Shredded paper
  • Scraps of cardboard
  • Untreated wood shavings
  • Stems of herbaceous plants
  • Bark mulch

Speeding Up Composting

Nitrogen-rich manure contains microorganisms that promote composting, so add it to your pile to help the material break down more quickly. Alternatively, you can buy special compost additives. Turning the pile also improves air circulation, speeds up rotting, and ensures that all the material is composted.

Keep in mind that too much wet, green, nitrogen-rich material, such as grass cuttings, will quickly turn the compost pile sour and smelly. Mix it with coarser woody matter in layers, and aim to turn the pile regularly.

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