Composting food waste is environmentally friendly and a great way to reduce what you send to landfill. Homemade compost is also rich in nutrients and makes the perfect fertiliser for homegrown veggies and herbs.
But how do you start? What can you compost? Will it smell??
Here’s all you need to know about home composting in the modern world.
What Is Compost?
All organic matter decomposes, it’s the planet’s way of recycling so it doesn’t get overrun by new growth. (We could all take a lesson from Mother Nature at times!)
This circle of life starts with a living organism – flora or fauna. It lives, it dies, it’s decomposed by fungi, bacteria, bugs and worms and is reabsorbed by the soil.
Compost is fuel for life and it’s absolutely necessary to our survival.
Why Should I Have a Home Compost Heap?
Our track record of avoiding sending waste, and particularly food waste, to landfill is pretty rubbish.
We motor through plastics that don’t break down. We consume, consume, consume. And and we throw 18 million tonnes of edible (and compostable) food waste into landfill each year.
Composting isn’t an answer to the problem of food waste – food that’s thrown away by homes and businesses that could be eaten. Compost makes use of the bits leftover, that we can’t eat. Veggie peelings and eggshells are a great example.
It makes sense to recycle food scraps where we can. Compost enriches the soil, which means we can grow more food. With our growing population, we need all the nutrient-rich soil we can get!
So we all need to play our part in making composting the norm, and it begins at home – which is becoming much easier. If you’d like to join the home composting revolution your local council may even subsidise the cost of a bin.
What Do I Need to Get Started?
Firstly, you’ll need a food waste caddy. Keep it on the kitchen counter so you have somewhere to store your peelings, scraps and used teabags. Then you’ll need to transfer this into an outside compost bin every few days.
Many of our gardens are small, and they’re becoming smaller by the year. This really doesn’t encourage us to try growing our own food or making our own compost.
The traditional compost heaps we see on Gardener’s World are intimidating and don’t fit into modern urban life. But there are other options.
A standard compost bin is about the same size as the wheelie bin you might have for your normal waste. They stand about a metre high. You’ll need a patch of grass or earth to stand it on.
The bottom of the compost bin remains open to the soil and you simply add scraps to the top. These purpose-made bins deter rats and foxes, look smart, and keep all your biodegradable waste tidy.
If you don’t have much space, then a smaller option is a rotating ‘tombola’ bin. It can be kept by your back door because it doesn’t have to sit on the soil.
Just throw in handfuls of soil so the bacteria can get to work. Turn the handle regularly to mix your compost – no mess, no fuss. Both types of bin will create usable compost in around six months.
Taking it a step further, hot composters speed up the process. They do use electricity though, so aren’t the most environmentally friendly way to go. A hot composter plugs into the mains and speeds up compost creation to around one month.
What Can I Put in My Compost Bin?
If you manage a compost bin well it won’t smell (I’m a poet and I know it). A smelly compost bin is a sign that something is wrong.
Here’s what you can put in it:
Raw veggies, fruits, egg shells, tea bags, weeds, dead leaves, straw, paper, and garden clippings.
And here’s what you should leave out:
Meat, fish, dairy, any type of cooked food, pet litter, and nappies.
There’s hot debate over coffee grounds, and whether they’re good for plants. Most gardeners say it’s best to sprinkle them around acid-loving plants rather than adding them to the compost bin. (Hydrangeas, blueberries, azaleas, and lilies are all acid-loving.)
Composting Is a Balancing Act
It’s important to get the right balance of ingredients in your bin.
‘Green waste’ which includes uncooked food scraps, weeds, and grass clippings should make up 25-50%. ‘Brown waste’ such as dry paper, dry leaves, and cardboard should make up the rest.
Green waste feeds microorganisms and brown waste makes sure there’s enough air and drainage to prevent a smelly mess.
Troubleshooting Your Compost Bin
Even the best laid compost plans can run into trouble. Here’s some common compost problems, and how to fix them.
Eww, It Smells!
You probably have too much green waste and not enough brown. Try adding cardboard, straw, and paper to dry things out. In future, try adding your offerings in layers, like a lasagne, and turn or stir them every few weeks to encourage healthy air circulation.
There’s No Compost?
You might need to add more green waste or perhaps you’re being impatient? It takes at least six months for non-heated bins to break down their contents. If you can’t wait, head to the garden centre and buy an accelerator.
I’ve Got Rats!
As organic matter decays it gives off heat. This is attractive to chilly wildlife such as hedgehogs, rats, and frogs.
Go slowly when you turn compost because hedgehogs are our friends. Always make sure the lid is tightly shut to keep out rats and mice looking for food and warmth.
If you have a rat’s nest in your compost bin then you’ll have to empty it and start again.
Help! I Don’t Have Room to Try Home Composting
“That’s all very well” you might say, “but my garden is micro-sized and covered in slabs. It’s the size of a postage stamp. I love the idea of composting at home, but what can I do?”
What about a wormery?
These fancy pets produce a super-charged, composted liquid and small amounts of compost. They take up little space in return for your kitchen scraps.
Buy a purpose-built wormery and place it somewhere sheltered or it’ll flood when it rains. You’ll need composting worms like red worms or tiger worms rather than plain old garden worms. This is because composting worms feed from the surface and eat scraps at a surprising speed.
A wormery has at least two compartments. The top section is for worms and food, and the bottom section collects the liquid. Add your kitchen scraps to the top section. Make sure you leave out onion, garlic and citrus fruit as it’ll get too acidic and the worms will slow down.
Kitchen waste has a lot of water in it and this liquid is processed quickly. You can then drain it from the bottom section using a small tap. The surface compost created by worms is super-strong and is perfect for plant pots, kitchen window boxes and house plants.
Wormeries are available to suit your family size and they take care of themselves when you go on holiday. Worms are the perfect pet!
Why Not Give Composting Food Waste a Go?
It’s not difficult to compost your kitchen waste, even if you have limited space in a modern garden. It’s worth trying for the environment and to set a planet-friendly example to children who universally love composting. Especially if worms are involved.
Recycling food waste into home compost is an environmentally-kind action. It has little cost but enormous benefits. When will you start?