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...Home Composting...

  1. Why compost at home?
  2. I have a compost waste collection bin provided by my Council. Should I use this instead of my composter?
  3. What can I put in a home composter?
  4. What are GREEN materials?
  5. What are BROWN materials?
  6. Where is the best place to put a compost bin?
  7. How do I add materials?
  8. What is the best way to add air?
  9. How to make sure compost does not get too wet or too dry.
  10. How long does it take?
  11. My compost bin is not working. It is taking longer than expected.
  12. How can I compost large amounts of leaves?
  13. Why is my compost smelly/slimey?
  14. How can I prevent unwelcome guests?
  15. I get a swarm of flies when I take off the lid.
  16. Can I add potato peelings?
  17. What can I do with the compost?

1. Why compost at home? Page Top
Home composting:
• Creates a useful product that can be used as mulch, soil conditioner, lawn conditioner or as part of a seed and potting mix.
• Reduces the need for landfill.
• Reduces the risk of global warming. When kitchen and garden waste breaks down in a landfill, methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, is produced.
• Saves the Earth's natural resources by reducing the need for peat taken from endangered habitats.
Composting happens where there is vegetation. It was happening long before man ever inhabitated earth.
Thousands of years ago, our ancestors noticed that their crops grew better near piles of rotting manure and vegetation. Making compost is a controlled version of this natural process.
2. I have a compost waste collection bin provided by my Council. Should I use this instead of my composter? Page Top
Compostable materials collected by your council are composted centrally.
Home composting is even better for the environment as your compostable materials do not need to be transported to another site.
3. What can I put in a home composter? Page Top
It is important that you put both green and brown materials in your compost bin.
GREEN materials contain lots of nitrogen. They break down quickly and help to keep the compost moist.
BROWN materials contain lots of carbon. They break down more slowly and add structure to your compost. They also create air pockets which are important for air circulation.
A good rule of thumb is to add the same amount of green and brown materials.
Best materials for compost: apples, banana skins, bone meal, citrus waste, coffee grinds, corn cobs, grapes, grass clippings, hair, hay and straw, leaves, manures, newspaper, sawdust, wood shavings, weeds.
Worst materials for compost barbecue ashes/coal, cooked food waste, dairy products, dishwater, dog or cat faeces, fat/grease/oil, fish scraps, meat/bones, peanut butter, weeds that have gone into seeds.
4. What are GREEN materials? Page Top
Examples of green (wet) materials are:
• Raw fruit and vegetables
• Teabags and coffee grounds
• Egg shells
• Garden and house plants
• Grass cuttings
• Weeds
• Cut flowers
5. What are BROWN materials? Page Top
Examples of brown (dry) materials are:
• Scrunched up paper and cardboard
• Hedge trimmings
• Staw and hay
• Woodchippings and sawdust
• Bedding from pet cages
• Twigs
• Feathers
6. Where is the best place to put a compost bin? Page Top
Put your compost bin in an area that is easy to get to all year round. This will make it easy to add new materials.
Ideally your compost bin should be placed on the ground (either bare sole or grass), not on concrete tarmac or patio slabs.
This will make it easier for worms and other creatures, which help break down your garden and kitchen waste, to enter the compost bin.
If this is not possible or practical, you can add some soil to a new bin if it is to be sited on concrete.
To help the composting process, choose a location that is out of excessive sunlight and is sheltered from the wind.
Some pet animals are just as susceptible to diseases as farmed animals, and must not be allowed access to kitchen waste in the compost bin.
If you keep poultry and you wish to compost at home, you must do so in an enclosed container so that the poultry cannot gain access.
7. How do I add materials? Page Top
Before putting materials into your home compost bin for the first time it is a good idea to place a layer of brown material such as branches and twigs at the bottom of the bin.
This layer should be about 6 inches (15cm) deep and will help air to circulate at the bottom of the compost bin once more materials have been added.
Good air circulation speeds up the process. Once the first layer of twigs and branches have been put into your compost bin more green and brown materials can be added as they become available.
Where possible an equal amount of green and brown materials should be added as this will create the best compost.
Two key ingredients in the compost recipe are moisture and temperature. Test for moisture by feeling with your fingers. If it is too dry, sprinkle with water, but don't get it too soggy.
If it is too wet the problem might solve itself as hot compost will dry itself. But if the compost smells badly and is not hot, add more brown (carbon) material.
To test the temperature, use a long-stem thermometer. The optimum level is between 50 and 65 degree Celcius.
If your heap has a temperature between 40 and 50 degree Celcius, it is too cool. If is is too wet, add carbon material and protect from the rain. If moisture is good, the nitrogen content may be too low, add more scraps.
8. What is the best way to add air? Page Top
Adding air speeds up the composting process as it enables the bacteria that break down kitchen and garden waste to work effectively.
The best way to put air into your compost is to turn it using one of the following methods:
• Empty the contents of your bin and turn them with a garden fork before returning to the bin.
• Turn the compost while it still in the bin using a garden fork.
• Use an aerator stick.
Stirring is a useful activity for composting as it speeds up the process.
9. How to make sure compost does not get too wet or too dry. Page Top
Compost needs the right amount of moisture to work.
You can tell if the compost is too wet or too dry by gently squeezing a handful.
If your compost is dry and dusty just add some water.
If your compost feels slimy or soggy you should mix in some brown materials such as ripped cardboard, sawdust or small twigs to absorb the extra moisture.
10. How long does it take? Page Top
Compost is produced when your garden and kitchen waste is broken down in the presence of air. The time it takes to get usable compost depends on:
• The type and quantity of materials in your bin.
• The time of year.
• How often you turn the compost.
Compost will usually take between 6 and 18 months to be produced.
Finished compost is a crumbly, evenly textured, earthy-smelling, dark material that looks like a commercial potting soil mixture.
You should not be able to recognise the original materials that were put in the bin, although some twigs and egg shells may still be visible.
Comfrey leaves can be used as a compost activator as the leaves decay quickly.
When you are making compost, it is important to get the right balance of materials. This is known as the carbon:nitrogen ratio.
If you have too much carbon in your mixture, it will decompose very slowly, too much nitrogen and your compost will smell and may turn slimy. Try to get a good even mix.
11. My compost bin is not working. It is taking longer than expected. Page Top
Composting is a slow process, especially if there is not much material in your bin.
Here are some of the reasons your compost might be taking a long time and how to speed it up:
• Your bin might be too cold. Try moving it to a sunnier position.
• Your bin might be too dry. Add some green materials and water.
• Your bin might not have enough air. Turn your compost.
• Give your compost a kick-start by adding some ready-made compost.
Your compost is ready for use when the material does not resemble anything that you put in the bin. Collect the compost from the small hatch at the bottom of the bin.
12. How can I compost large amounts of leaves? Page Top
While leaves take a long time to break down you can add small amounts to your compost bin.
Large quantities of leaves are best used for making leaf mould.
Leaf mould can be applied in large amounts to improve soil structure or for making seed and potting mix.
To make leaf mould simply:
• Place leaves in a separate compost bin or plastic sacks and water them if they are dry.
• If using plastic sacks, tie the sack shut and punch holes in the top.
• Your leaf mould will be ready in one or two years.
13. Why is my compost smelly/slimey? Page Top
If your compost smells bad or is slimy there is probably too much green material and/or not enough air.
If you can see mainly green materials you should add some brown materials such as scrunched up cardboard/paper, hedge clippings or twigs.
You should also add air to your compost by turning it. Ensure the compost bin is in a free draining position, this will allow excess water to escape.
If your heap has a strong ammonia smell, add some carbon-source and/or gypsum.
14. How can I prevent unwelcome guests? Page Top
You can discourage unwanted scavengers such as rats and foxes by making sure that you do not put any cooked food, dairy products, meat or fish in your compost bin.
If you experience problems with mice try standing the bin on small wire mesh drawn up round the sides.
It is unlikely that bees will be attracted to nest in your compost bin. If possible, continue filling the bin until October/November at which time it will be possible to remove the nest without being stung.
15. I get a swarm of flies when I take off the lid. Page Top
These are most likely to be fruit flies indicating that there is too much green waste in your bin.
Cover the waste with brown materials or a thin layer of soil.
You can also leave open the compost bin lid to allow fruit fly predators to enter. Don’t use fly spray.
16. Can I add potato peelings? Page Top
Potato peelings are always a discussion point. There are 2 schools of thought.
One says do not put them in the compost as you get potato plants growing next year with potential blight problems while the other side says that if they get plants they will just pull them up.
You choose what you want to do as both points of view are valid.
17. What can I do with the compost? Page Top
There are a number of different uses for your home compost.
Mulch - a layer of compost can be applied to the surface of soil. This will add nutrients, helping to encourage plant growth.
Soil Conditioner - mix compost into the soil to improve structure and add nutrients.
Lawn Conditioner - mix an equal amount of sand and fine compost and spread over your lawn.
Seed and potting mix - mix equal amounts of soil and compost. Experiment to find out the best proportions.
Note your compost should be used only on the premises it is made on. Householders should use the compost they make only on their own garden (and not, for instance, take it down the road to the nearest livestock farm).

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