If we composted all the suitable food waste produced by UK households, we could avoid the equivalent of two million tonnes of CO2 emissions every year. Composting is both a recycling facility for kitchen and garden waste, and a small processing plant, producing a nutrient rich soil improver.
Although most people see composting as a complex art, it is quite simple to do. The actual process of making compost is carried out by our natural mini beasts, from worms to centipedes. All you need to do is provide the suitable mixture of ingredients and let them get to work.
What can be composted?
The main ingredients in a garden compost heap are weeds, grass mowing’s and fruit and vegetable scraps. Other ingredients such as old egg boxes, rabbit bedding and used paper can also be composted.
The key is to mix those materials that are quick to rot (greens) with the tougher ones (browns) that take longer to rot down. Greens can include leaves, grass mowing’s and young plants. Browns consist of materials such as straw, autumn leaves, used paper (old bills), crumpled up newspaper, cardboard (pizza boxes, home delivery packaging) and woody pruning’s.
You can also put in items such as tea bags, coffee grounds, cut flowers, herbivore pet bedding (hamster and rabbit bedding) and rhubarb leaves which are a mixture of both green and brown.
If you find that your compost heap is too wet, add more brown material. If it is too dry add more greens.
How long does composting take?
Compost is ready to use when it looks like a dark soil and you cannot see any of the original ingredients. Compost can take anytime from 12 weeks (hot composting) to 12 months or more. However long it takes the result is extremely valuable to your garden.
Using your compost
Once your compost is ready you can use it in spring or summer as a mulch or dig it into the top 20cms of your soil.
When autumn leaves fall they decay on the ground to form a rich, dark material called leafmould. This is an excellent soil conditioner and could be used in your own garden.
Collect all your fallen leaves in the autumn (it is better to do this after it has rained as the leaves will be wet and will help with the rotting process). If you decide to collect dry leaves, soak them well in water before putting them in a container.
Make sure to avoid evergreen leaves such as laurel and holly as these will take much longer to rot down.
Simple leafmould containers can be made with netting and posts, you don’t even need a lid just make sure that your container is big enough to hold all of your leaves. You can also use containers such as boxes, bins and plastic bags; just make sure that the container has a few air holes as this helps the process.
All you need to do then is put the container in a corner of your garden and wait for them to rot down. This could take around nine months.
Tougher pruning’s are best composed separately, preferably after shredding or chopping into smaller pieces. Heap them up or put them in a compost bin and water well. Don’t forget to mix in some ‘green’ material to aid the composting process.
If you have space in your garden, woody items can just be stacked in an out-of-the-way corner and left to decay over a few years. They will make a valuable wildlife habitat which is great for the environment.
Some branches may be suitable for use around the garden, as plant supports, for example.