What’s the easiest way to help the environment? In our opinion, it’s composting! Why? Because by composting you can save up to 80% of waste from having a negative environmental impact. How so? Because if organic waste doesn't go to landfill, it won’t end up producing methane gas—a gas that’s 28 times more potent in warming up our planet than carbon dioxide. This makes composting a big win for the planet. Plus, by composting your kitchen leftovers you can enrich your soil with valuable nutrients. So no chemicals are needed to make your plants bloom with greater force!
There are many different composting methods, so you can compost nearly all the organic waste you produce, no matter where you live. Keep reading to find out how to start composting today.
You already know compost is beneficial for soil and plants. But why? First, your homemade fertiliser adds nitrogen, potassium, phosphorus, manganese, iron, copper, and zinc to the soil. These macro- and micro-nutrients are important contributors to a plants’ health.
Another composting benefit is that it releases these nutrients slowly into the ground. This way, plants get the necessary amount needed, preventing excess nutrients from leaking into waterways and polluting them. (This often happens when a gardener uses a commercial fertiliser).
Compost also brings soil pH levels to an ideal range, neutralising both alkaline and acidic soils. A compost-enriched garden also attracts little helpers like worms, centipedes, and bugs that aerate the ground. Finally, the crumbly texture of compost lightens the soil, allowing young roots to grow more easily. Healthy root systems prevent soil erosion and retain water better.
You can use finished compost in a variety of ways, such as on top of your garden plant bed before planting new plants, or adding it to indoor plant pots. And trust us, you’ll notice the difference!
If you think that composting is only suitable for garden owners, you’re wrong! There are many composting possibilities. And you can use several at once.
This is the simplest type. Organic waste is placed into a soil-based compost bin made of wood or wire, which you can easily make yourself. And if you aren’t fussed about appearances, you can simply pile organic waste in one dedicated place. The volume of a bin or pile itself must be about 1 cubic metre, in order to generate enough heat for the composting process. Ideally, you want two open composters; one with fresh material and a second one for finishing off the decomposition. However, with an open composter, beware that the compost isn’t well-protected—so it may become too wet or too dry, and attract pests. But don’t worry, we’ll show you how to solve these potential issues further down!
Such composters are widely found in garden stores or online, or with a bit of effort you can build your own. A metal, wooden, or plastic composter is usually square in shape (but this can vary). You’ll also find some models have insulation to speed up the composting process. Most have a lid that locks, to prevent pests from getting inside. As a rule, compost doesn’t smell bad, but just in case, the lid also hides any trace of the fermentation process. Organic waste is loaded in from the top. And most models are designed with a removable side, or door at the base for easy access to the finished compost. Though sometimes it’s easier to remove all the sides at once, apply compost to your garden, and then reassemble.
This type looks like a rotating drum on legs. You put organic waste into the tumbler, close the lid, and turn it once a week. As it’s usually sealed and raised above the ground, you don’t have to worry about pests because they can’t reach the compost. It’s also easier to take finished fertiliser out of a drum composter. But these composters are more expensive than traditional open or closed compost bins.
Worms are a valuable part of composting. They're fertiliser-producing machines and organic leftovers are their fuel. You don’t usually need to add worms to a garden composter as they come to “feast” on their own.
However, if you’re composting indoors you will need extra worm help. Regular worms from outside don’t work. You need a species which prefers living in organic matter rather than in soil, and can digest significant amounts of kitchen waste. Specialised worm farms or garden stores sell these worms in colonies. The compost bin must also be special; these wormeries—or vermicomposters—usually consist of several trays with holes in the bottom, which are assembled one on top of another.
To start a worm farm, lay a base of paper, cardboard, and soil in the upper tray and put your worms there with a portion of fresh organic waste. Cover food scraps with soil or paper to prevent smells. When the tray is full, move it down a level. Then take an empty tray from above and fill the new tray with food for worms. The worms will then crawl up to the fresh tray, and you’re free to use the finished fertiliser from the bottom tray. Often wormeries come with taps to drain excess water and they’re worth using. Too much liquid isn’t good for worms and slows them down.
Bokashi is a mix of wheat bran, sawdust, and microorganisms that speed up the fermentation process. You can buy a kit or make Bokashi from scratch. Usually, Bokashi is used for composting in a flat. You will need a double-bottom bin with a tap underneath. You’ll also need a lid tight enough to prevent air getting in—as oxygen prevents fermentation. To compost, add a layer of organic waste, then a handful of Bokashi to the bin and close the lid. Drain off liquid regularly; it can be used as a fertiliser itself for home plants when diluted with water at a 1:10 ratio.
After the bin is full, let it ferment for 10 days, regularly draining off the “compost tea”. You won’t see soil-like compost with this method. Instead you’ll need to empty the fermented organics into a garden composter or bury them directly in the ground where they will “disappear” quickly.
The fastest indoor method of composting is an electric composter. This recently invented compact home appliance deals with organic leftovers within 5-48 hours. First, it heats up food scraps to kill bacteria and dehydrate organic. Then it mixes the content, both cooling and crumbling the waste. Excess moisture is removed through a filter, preventing bad smells. Some models of electrical composters allow the addition of animal products and compostable plastic.
This method cannot retain a lot of nutrients due to the high temperatures used, but it prevents the waste from emitting CO2 in landfill; and in a few hours or days you get a ready mulch to add to your plants. However, it’s the most expensive way of managing your organic waste.
Composting is a natural process; but there are different methods. The most simple is called cold composting. Cold composting relies on microorganisms and earthworms—alongside oxygen, rainwater and temperature—to decompose any organic waste added to a composter. It isn’t a fast process, taking at least 6 months until you have usable fertiliser. Plus, the process will be even slower if the outside temperature is low.
So cold composting is a good choice if your main concern is eco-friendly disposal organics. But if you want to maximise the benefits for your plants, you should use the hot composting method. So how does it work?
First, make sure the compost pile is slightly wet. You don’t want it to become dry or be soaking wet for long periods. Think about where you place your composter. For instance, if you live in a climate with a hot summer, a shady spot is perfect for preventing moisture from evaporating. If your climate is humid, choose a sunny spot. When starting to compost, putting branches and twigs in the bottom provides aeration. Aeration is the second most important requirement for effective hot composting. Turning the compost is a necessity for this reason. Without aeration, microbes cannot get enough oxygen to boost their digestion.
Finally, the balance of carbon-rich and nitrogen-rich materials is needed to maintain a good composting temperature. Carbon-rich waste will be material that is usually dry and wooden in texture. They’re often referred to as “browns”, as they’re normally brown in colour. Nitrogen-rich materials are the opposite. They’re known as “greens”. This waste is watery and fresh. To get the right balance, you want two or three times more browns than greens in your compost.
When you start composting, you may be scared to spoil everything by adding the wrong thing. To help you out, we’ve given you a breakdown of what will be good for your compost:
Basically, any organic waste can go in a composter. Meat, fish and dairy products can be composted as well, but it’s better to wait until the temperature is higher; then the heat will kill all pathogenic microorganisms. If you are adding animal products to an open composter, put them deep down to prevent smells and pests.
Faeces and bedding from herbivore pets like rabbits or Guinea pigs can also be composted. But keep cat and dog litter away from your compost as bacteria living in their poop may contaminate compost and your plants after applying it. Read our previous article to find out how to deal with pet waste in the most eco-friendly way.
If you are setting up a wormery, adding too much onion and citrus peels can make the compost too acidic, which can kill worms.
If you keep the content of your compost balanced and turn it regularly, you’re unlikely to face the following problems. But it’s better to know in advance what could happen, to prevent mistakes!
Compost shouldn’t smell like a waste bin. But it may start to stink if there are too many greens, too little aeration, or too much moisture. Adding dry leaves, used paper, or other browns in combination with turning the pile can fix a smelly situation.
If your home wormery becomes smelly, make sure you’re covering kitchen scraps with base soil after adding them to the composter. Also, check the compost is aerated well; maybe you need to turn the content or make more holes to ensure airflow. And don’t add a lot of food that worms don’t like (such as orange peels or onion) or has a strong smell already (such as meat, fish or cabbage). If the source of the smell is one of those mentioned, simply take out the offending item and let the worms finish the rest. Next time, add this type of leftovers gradually, and cut into small pieces. If none of these solutions work, you might have given the worms more material than they can manage. As a rule, you want roughly 0.5 kg of worms (about 1000 worms) to 0.5 kg of daily food waste.
Food leftovers can attract mice, rats, hedgehogs, racoons, and other pests. Your warm garden compost pile can be seen as a welcoming space for animals to build a nest or have a feast. Some of them can spread human and pet-threatening diseases. Others simply make a mess in your garden. If you know that pests are a common problem in your area, use a closed compost bin with a wire bottom or tumbler. Keeping your pile wet and turning it regularly will help to keep these animals out of your compost; rodents are likely to choose a warm, dry, and undisturbed place for nesting. If you compost meat, fish, and cooked food, cover them with “browns” and put them deep inside the pile to camouflage the scent.
Ants are usually harmless and even helpful in aerating your compost. But some species can attack the worm population, and potentially you too. They like dry places and carbohydrates, so ensure your pile is wet enough, and don’t add too many bread-like leftovers or coffee grounds. If you are already facing this problem, try to add more water, apply cornmeal, or try nematodes to get rid of ants.
Flies, drosophila, and other bugs usually don’t pose any threats to you or your compost, but can be annoying. An easy solution is to add more brown materials to the pile—and covering greens each time you add them.
There can be dozens of causes for a slow composting process. Let’s try to fix the most common problems:
Mould is usually not bad, and even beneficial to compost. It’s a sign the process is flowing correctly. But if mould is accompanied by any of the issues mentioned above, you’d better take measures. Try adjusting the moisture balance or check the greens to browns ratio.
As you can see, nature knows how to deal with organic waste. But with some extra effort from you, you’ll get greater benefits for your plants by making highly nutritious compost.