Home composting is widely promoted by the Environment Section. Home composting is a simple and efficient way of reducing organic waste to its basic compounds.
How To Compost
The ingredients required for successful composting are no different than those required to sustain your own body, i.e. air, food and water.
The organisms that break down the waste need air to function. The compost heap will need to be turned from time to time, and materials such as straw and shredded paper help to provide air passages in the pile. Avoid adding too much of one material such as wet grass, and always try to keep a good mix of garden and kitchen waste.
Microorganisms also need a certain amount of moisture to live, so the compost pile should not be too dry. The compost should feel like a wrung out sponge, and may need a little watering if it gets too dry.
There are 2 main types of food required for composting, Brown and Green. Browns are dry and dead plants such as straw, dry brown weeds, autumn leaves, wood chips of sawdust, paper and card. Browns are carbon rich and are a source of energy for compost microbes. Because they tend to be dry they often need to be moistened before they are added to the pile. Woody materials take a long time to break down - use only a small amount of shredded or chipped wood.
Greens are fresh plant material such as kitchen fruit and vegetable scraps, green weeds, green leaves, tea bags, fresh horse manure etc. Greens are high in protein for the compost microbes.
A good mix of Greens and Browns of about half and half is necessary for good compost.
N.B. Please note that when green and brown materials are referred to, do not take it literally that they must be green or brown in colour. These terms are used as simplified categories to assist you.
Good compost therefore require air, food and water. This will create the right degree of heat (50-65 degrees Centigrade) to keep the compost cooking and kill off any weed seedlings that may be present.
STEP 1: Find a suitable site for your home composter and place on bare soil or grass.
STEP 2: Prepare by adding a large amount of organic waste to fill your composter.
STEP 3: Start with a layer of woody materials to promote good circulation. Do not mix at this stage.
STEP 4: Next place alternate layers (3-4 inches) of green and brown material in your composter.
STEP 5: Add a sprinkling of water between each layer.
STEP 6: Whenever you add a food scrap layer, always cover it with a brown layer to prevent odours and flies. Sprinkling a little soil before adding each brown layer also helps.
STEP 7: The compost pile will shrink over the following days. Continue to add and mix the compost.
STEP 8: Compost is generally ready to use when it looks like a dark rich crumbly soil. This can be as little as a few months or as much as 12-24 months, depending on the frequency of mixing and combination of materials used.
Siting Your Composter
Ensure the site:
Is accessible from kitchen
Has good drainage
Is sheltered from the wind
Is not on a slope
Has a water supply nearby
Has some storage space alongside where you can gather organic materials
Is not on a concrete slab or paving as it will not function
Tips for Good Maintenance
Both carbon and nitrogen are needed to build a balanced compost pile. Fine materials such as grass should be added in thin layers so that they do not compact.
Do not add meat (cooked or raw ) dairy products, diseased plants or weeds that have already gone to seed. This may attract unwanted animals.
Keep the composter moist but not wet. Moisture should be like a well squeezed sponge. Water the pile occasionally if it becomes too dry.
Turn the compost pile regularly or whenever it becomes compacted, too wet, or develops an odour (every few weeks or so). This provides an adequate air supply and helps the material to reach high temperature which are essential in breaking down the organic matter.
Using a garden fork, mix the material from the edges of the compost pile into the middle for more even decomposition.
For faster decomposition, chop large materials into smaller pieces and mix older materials with newer materials.
Bags of autumn leaves will provide a good supply of brown material for your composter. Place leaves in black plastic bags and punch a few holes in it.
Do not add pet wastes as they contain extremely harmful bacteria.
Materials contaminated by chemicals or treated with herbicides should be avoided.
Do not add coal, peat fired ash, glass, plastic or other inorganic wastes.
An accelerator is any substance that will speed up the rate of composting. Some ready prepared accelerators are available from garden centres. Natural accelerators are just as good and much cheaper. Examples of good accelerators are crushed seaweed, and horse, cow, pig, sheep, goat or chicken manure.
Earthworms will eat almost any organic waste from kitchen scraps to grass cuttings and so are ideal for home composting. Earthworms produce no toxins, carry no disease and are capable of reducing waste volume by up to 50%. For further information on worms and wormeries contact Element Green Solutions 1890 200059. Nationwide delivery Service.
How To Use Your Compost
Compost is ready to use when it has a fine crumbly appearance like soil and is a dark brown colour. Compost can be used in a number of ways: For houseplants and potting - mix the compost with garden soil. Sieve 1:8 mix (1 part compost to 8 parts top soil ) because of the very high nitrogen content. Compost can be used as a mulch to suppress weeds and can be used as a soil or lawn top dressing or a seed starting mix. Compost tea can be made by steeping compost in a bucket and using the liquid to water and feed plants.
Composting Yearly Planner
Harvest the finished compost
Empty the compost bin
Set some leaves aside to add over the winter
Start a separate collection for leaf and yard waste
Composting Trouble-shooting Guide
Frequently asked questions
Q. Nothing is happening in my composter - what should I do? A. The ratio of carbon to nitrogen may be wrong in the composter. Add more browns (i.e. shredded newspaper) and mix thoroughly. Keep the bin covered with a piece of carpet to keep the composting process going during the winter months.
Q. My composter smells what should I do? A. It may be too wet or may have compacted into a slimy mess. Add some soil mix with some brown material and introduce air by mixing with a garden fork and then cover with a layer of browns.
Q. My compost is not breaking down? A. This may be because the pile is too small, too dry and / or material is too large. Add more material and / or chop kitchen and yard waste smaller.
Q. There is a pale green mould in the pile? A. This is due to lack of oxygen. Stir, poke and turn the pile.
Q. There is an infestation of ants in the pile? A. This occurs when the pile is too dry. Add water to solve the problem.
Q. Where do I get information on wormeries? A. Contact The Irish Earthworms Company at 023-43645
Q. There are flies in my composter what should I do? A. Flies will be attracted to exposed fruit peels. Always bury your food scraps in the composter, apply a light layer of soil, then a layer of brown material (leaves, straw, newspaper) or a 50-75mm layer of soil only.
Q. The material in my bin is damp and only warm in the middle? A. This is usually because there is not enough material in the bin to retain the heat throughout. The bin needs to be filled to at least 75% capacity to compost properly.
Q. My compost bin is attracting pests? A. Avoid adding meat bones, dairy products and grease as they attract vermin and dogs. Always keep the lid of the compost bin closed at night and make sure the side hatch is secured.