The how, what and “now we’re cooking!” of composting. Side note: no cooking. Here we uncover the nitty-gritty, and get down and dirty to kick-start your fluffy, steamy compost pile.
Other than the environmental hobbyist within you dying to start a new project, there are endless reasons to introduce composting to your kitchen, and garden. Composting will allow you to reduce the amount of waste sent to landfills, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve water conservation, save yourself some money and resources on garden care, and give your plants and flowers the soil they deserve.
Almost half of the food waste right now in your rubbish bin could have been composted...
So, let’s get started.
FIRST THING’S FIRST: GET A BIN
Before you can do anything, you need somewhere to house your compost. Compost bins now come in a variety of shapes and sizes to fit small or large spaces. You can purchase one from a garden centre, or you can do DIY with plastic storage tubs, wooden pallets, and plastic garbage cans.
Enclosed compost bins
Enclosed bins are ideal for small-scale outdoor composting. These practical containers are enclosed on the sides and top and open on the bottom so they sit directly on the ground. An enclosed bin is ideal for residential areas with smaller yards, and enables you to discourage pests while you’re at it.
Tumblers are the most efficient enclosed bin method. It’s possible to maintain relatively high temperatures in tumbler systems, both because the container acts as insulation and allows you to easily turn, or tumble the compost. This natural process creates a lot of heat, and yep, a small fire risk. Keep a close eye on your compost heap during fire season.
Alternatively, a food waste digester can sit atop your kitchen counter to grind and dehydrate food waste in as little as three hours, leaving you with an odour-free material suitable for fertiliser.
THE HOW: DON’T COMPLICATE IT
Depending on your container, it’s best to begin your compost pile on bare earth. This allows worms and other organisms to aerate the compost. Lay twigs or straw first, a few inches deep for drainage and aerating purposes.
Add compost materials in layers, alternating between moist ingredients and dry ingredients. If you’re adding in wood ashes, sprinkle in thin layers, or they will clump together and be slow to break down. Finally, add green manure or an alternative nitrogen source. This will activate the compost pile and speed the process along.
Keep compost moist
Water occasionally, or let the rain do the job. The rule of thumb is compost should be moist, but not soaked. Cover your compost with wood, sheeting or carpet scraps to prevent over-watering from rain, and to retain the moisture.
Every few weeks give the pile a quick turn with a pitchfork or shovel. Or give your tumbler a turn if this is your mode of compost. Turning adds oxygen to your pile which is key to aerating the composting materials and speeding the process to completion.
THE WHAT: ART MEETS SCIENCE
Here’s the thing: all compostable materials are either carbon or nitrogen-based, to varying degrees. The secret to a healthy compost pile is to maintain a working balance between these two elements. Science!
A healthy compost pile should have much more carbon than nitrogen. A simple way to remember this to use one-third green (think grass clippings, fruit and vegetable peelings, coffee grounds and tea leaves, vegetable plant remains and plants) and two-thirds brown materials branches, stems, dried leaves, peels, bits of wood, bark dust or sawdust pellets, shredded brown paper bags, corn stalks, coffee filters, conifer needles, eggshells, straw, peat moss, wood ash).
The bulkiness of the brown materials allows oxygen in and nourishes the organisms deep in your pile. Good composting hygiene means covering fresh nitrogen-rich material, which can release odours if exposed to open air, with carbon-rich material, which often exudes a fresh, wonderful smell.
If in doubt, for that fluffy body, add more carbon.
Oh and, don’t put any cooked food waste in your compost... unless you like vermin!
FLUFFY AND THRIVING
Now that you’ve activated your compost with your green manure, there are a couple of things that indicate your pile needs some extra care, and to ensure it’s emitting those steam waves we love so much.
Small fruit flies
They love compost. To keep them at bay, when you add new kitchen waste to your pile, cover exposed fruit or vegetable matter. You can do this by adding one or two inches of grass clippings. Lime and calcium will also discourage flies.
Not ideal. To reduce or eliminate odours, remember to not put bones or meat scraps into the compost; second, cover new additions to the compost pile with dry grass clippings or similar mulch.
A soggy pile is a common problem, especially in winter, when carbon-based materials are in short supply. To solve this problem, you’ll need to restore your compost to a healthy nitrogen-carbon balance.
If your grass is clumping, or your leaves are matting, set them to the side of the composter and add them gradually with other ingredients, or break them apart with a shovel or similar. Grass clippings and leaves should be mixed with the rest of the composting materials for best results.
So, get the right bin for you, balance your elements, and stack seamlessly. A hot, steamy pile means that you have a large community of tiny critters working away at making compost. And that is exactly what your garden is after.