Wednesday 12 June 2013

Make Your Own Compost

Lovely, rich and healthy homemade compost
I've mentioned my garden in some posts recently. My garden isn't just somewhere to sit when the sun does make an appearance or a space to look at and admire. It's home to the blackbirds who have made a nest for the last couple of years and raised two young families. There are other small birds flying in and out. I've just seen a dunnock hopping in and out of the strawberry patch. The bees are loving the aquilegia; gathering pollen before flying off to another flower. The aphids on the flowering currant are simply the next meal for the ladybirds. All this seems to carry on without much intervention from me but one thing I do to help the garden out is to feed it with compost and the best kind is the stuff you can make yourself.
A happy garden is one that is inviting to wildlife. Love those bees!
Making your own compost isn't just about cost and knowing what you put in in will benefit what comes out as soil. It's about reconnecting with the land around us – even if like mine your garden is a small suburban plot. A recent survey by the British Nutrition Foundation revealed that a third of primary school children thought cheese came from a plant. Do we really want our kids to think that everything we eat is processed and not know the delight of eating a home-grown strawberry?
Just a few weeks before we can enjoy the fruits of our labours
With so councils now only collecting household bins fortnightly saving as much waste from going in your bin has both practical and environmental consequences. Around 30% of the waste we generate is compostable. If we compost this at home we can make rich and healthy soil for our gardens. If it goes to landfill the air cannot get to it as it gets trapped under the other rubbish. When the waste finally breaks without the vital oxygen it releases methane instead. This is classed as one of the harmful greenhouse gases.
So much of our everyday rubbish can be composted
Making your own compost helps to feed the vital soil-living creatures and microbes. Once added to the existing soil these break down into nutrients that the plants can absorb. For some great tips on how to improve your soil quality even more head over to the Westland Garden Health site.

Find some more composting tips at Westland Garden Health (photo from site)
If you cook, eat fruit and vegetables, drink tea and coffee, mow a lawn, have dead leaves and shred paper you can make your own compost. The most important rules about composting are what you can and can't put in:

Things to compost

Lawn clippings
Vegetable and fruit peelings
Tea leaves and coffee grounds
Egg shells
Cardboard egg boxes
Shredded paper
Chopped or shredded prunings
Hair or fur
Vacuum dust from woollen carpets
Straw and hay
Don't send it to landfill - compost it!
Things to avoid

Weeds – in a small home garden composter the temperature may not get high enough to kill off the weed seeds. You'll just be putting weeds into your soil! Take to your council recycling unit as their composters are huge and deal with weeds.

Anything diseased - Likewise for the weeds. You want to put healthy stuff in to get healthy stuff out.

Excrement – human or animal! Don't be tempted to put dog poo in. Bag it and bin it. It's not nice and even worse when heated up in a home composter.

Paper hankies – They may seem harmless enough but a hankie full of snot has not a place in a composter.

Disposable nappies – Even without the wee and poo in them disposable nappies take forever to break down in landfill and are never going to shift in a composter.

Meat, raw or cooked – If you want to attract the local rat population into your garden put some in, otherwise steer clear of meat and the vermin will stay away too.

Brightly coloured or shiny paper and card – They may look pretty but the chemicals in the inks are hard to break down and not good for making healthy soil.

Big branches or thick twigs – The bigger the bit of tree you have the longer it will take to break down. Either use a garden shredder or cut into small pieces. Alternatively make a pile of them in the garden and let them rot down naturally. The local beetles will benefit from this. If you can't do either take it to the council tip. 
Too big to go in the composter. Either chop it up or take to the council recycling unit
If you don't want to go down to the composter every time you eat an apple to put the core in get an old ice cream or margarine tub to store in the kitchen. The lid helps to keep the smells in. Alternatively splash out on a purpose designed kitchen compost bin to fit in with your décor.

Once you've got the stuff to put in your composter here are some general tips:

Put the composter straight onto the soil rather than concrete or a paving slab. Worms and other little helpers will be able to get in and start to 'digest' the contents to help it along.

Make sure it has a tight fitting lid as wind, rain and snow are no friends of the compost maker.

Try to place your composter in sunlight. - The heat will speed up the process and help to break down the contents quicker.

It's often advised to turn the contents of your compost bin. I don't as it's quite small and makes it difficult. To help aerate it I put in scrunched up newspaper which creates air pockets. This will compost as well.

Layer, layer, layer – If you just put in vegetable peelings all you will end up with is a slimy mess. Try to alternate between dry and wet materials. Combine dry clippings like prunings with moister ones like grass clippings.
A tight fitting lid helps keep the heat in and elements out
You'll know when the compost is ready when it starts to smell earthy rather than have a rotting one. It will look like proper soil and not just a collection of old waste.

So don't throw that apple core in the bin, compost it today and within months you could be using your own soil to help grow some delicious produce of your own.

This is a sponsored post on behalf of Westland Horticulture. The thoughts and views are my own. Photographs used with permission as credited.

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