The first thing you will need is a compost bin. These can be bought from a number of places online or local garden centres. Alternatively you can build your own compost bin by following the steps below:
- Use wood, old pallets and nails to make a timber frame and attach this to posts driven in to the ground
- Cover with a plastic sheet or old carpet to keep our the rain and keep the heat and moisture in
- Place your bin in a sunny spot on top of some soil. The soil provides drainage and the heat from the sun will help to speed up the composting process
- Start to add your garden and food waste
What can be composted?
Lots of food and garden waste items can be composted, examples include:
- Dry items such as leaves and dead plants
- Wet items such a tea bags, vegetable peelings, grass and fruit
For the best results try to get an equal mixture of dry and wet items.
How long does composting take?
This depends on a number of factors, one of which is the time of year. As the outside temperatures increase during spring and summer, the composting process speeds up. This is due to the increased activity of the composting organisms, which in turn creates heat within the compost bin itself. So if you start composting in spring, the process can take around three months. The process slows down in autumn and winter as many of the organisms are less active due to the lower temperatures outside the bin. If you start in autumn, you are looking at nine months before you can harvest the result. However, it is important that you continue to use your compost bin during these “low-activity” periods to provide organic material for composting when microbial activity is high.
A lot can also depend on how often materials are added to the bin and how you manage the composting process. A bin that contains a balance of “Browns” and “Greens” chopped into smaller pieces with a good aeration and moisture will decompose a lot faster than when one of all or these factors have been ignored.
How do I know when my compost is ready?
Finished compost is a dark brown, soil-like layer found at the base of your compost bin. It may contain a few items of uncomposted material, particularly those that were added to the bin whole, such as onions or oranges. Twigs or rough plant stems may also remain. These can be taken nothing to worry about. By “fluffing up” the compost with a garden fork it will soon separate into a crumbly texture ready for use.
Where should I site my bin?
A major consideration when deciding on a suitable site for the compost bin is access, so you can easily reach and place organic material out and put back into the bin to continue decomposition. It may not appear to be the crumbly material that you hoped for, however, this is perfectly normal as the weight of the undecomposed material above may have compacted it slightly. It can also be quite wet, which again is normal.
The compost bin should be placed directly onto the soil. This allows worms and other soil organisms to enter the bin. Leachate formed by moisture and by-products of the compositing process can drain into the soil.
Ideally the position should allow for the compost bin to receive some direct sunlight. If this is not practical, the composting process will still progress, just more slowly, if the bin is located in a shaded site.