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Your essential guide to composting

Garantia Thermo-King Composter

Composting can help you to cut down on the kitchen and garden waste in your home while providing you with a top-quality soil improver for your plants.

What is composting?

Composting is an inexpensive, natural process that breaks down your kitchen and garden waste into valuable and nutrient-rich food for your garden. 

Who can compost?

Almost all garden owners can benefit from composting, no matter what the size of their outdoor space. Research has shown that almost half of the food waste created by the average British household could be composted, and composting at home for a year could save global warming gases equivalent to all the CO2 created by your kettle annually. Many local councils are now charging for green waste collections, so it’s a good way of cutting costs as well.

Garden Tech stocks a wide range of compost bins to suit every garden.

When can I compost?

Composting is a year-round activity. You can add to your compost bin whenever suitable waste is generated in the home or garden. For most gardeners, August to November is the peak time for making compost.

Where should I place my compost bin?

Choose a spot for your compost bin that’ll protect it from extremes of temperature and moisture. The microorganisms that break down your compost work best inconsistent conditions, so a shady and shielded corner of your garden may work best. Heat works as a catalyst to the composting process, so it’s helpful to choose a bin that will retain some warmth and moisture. The process also requires air, so don’t forget ventilation.

Composting on a soil base offers better drainage and access to organisms in the ground. If this isn’t possible, add a layer of soil to the bottom of your compost bin before your waste. The added soil will contain the worm eggs and bacteria necessary for the composting process to begin.

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What should I put in my compost bin?

There’s no magical recipe for compost – the beauty of the process is that it uses up the waste materials that you have to hand in and then converts them into a usable resource. However, the following ratios are a good guide.

25 to 50 percent of your composting material should be a soft, green waste. This includes grass clipping, soft leafy plants, fruit and vegetable scraps from the kitchen, and some pet waste, such as sawdust bedding used by small animals. These elements help to feed the microorganisms in your compost. Try to vary what goes into your compost for the best results. Avoid adding cooked vegetables, meat, fish, and dairy products as they won’t break down and will attract vermin.

The remainder of your compost should be made up of woody brown materials. These include woodchip, dried leaves, straw, woody plant stems, and hedge trimmings. You can also add cardboard and paper to your compost heap, ripped up to allow them to break down more easily. Mixing together the brown and green elements when adding them to the compost bin promotes the flow of air and bacteria, leading to better compost.

Do I need to add anything else to my compost bin?

No, that should do it! However, you may choose to add an accelerant to speed up the process. Some activators contain a high volume of nitrogen, similar to that found in the green waste that you add to your compost bin, and are great if greener additions are in short supply. Conversely, if you’re struggling to find enough brown waste, you can purchase activators that contain carbon to help break down high volumes of green waste, such as grass clippings.

There is no need to add lime to your compost heap.

Do I need to turn my compost heap?

Turning your compost adds air, which is essential for the composting process to take place. Wet, compacted waste will slow down the composting process dramatically.

Most home gardeners are adding to their heap gradually, so are able to keep an eye on what is going on with their waste. Try turning the heap monthly, and remember to add water if it begins to look a little bit dry during the warmer summer months.

When will I know if my compost is ready?

Your compost can take anything from six months to two years to be ready to add to your soil. When it’s ready, it’ll be dark brown, crumbly, and soil-like – similar to a woodland floor. Typically, the volume of your compost bin will have reduced by a third by the time that your compost is ready. Not everything will break down, and any leftovers can be added to your next batch of composting materials to give them a head start. 

Troubleshooting

  • If your compost is slimy, wet or smelly, it’s probably got too much water and not enough air. This is particularly common when you are composting large volumes of grass clippings. Make sure your compost is covered to protect against rain and increase the volume of woody brown waste to absorb some of the moisture.
  • If your compost is drying out instead of breaking down, chances are you have too much brown material and not enough moisture. Increase your volume of green waste, add a nitrogen-rich accelerator or add layers of fresh manure.
  • If your compost heap is enticing swarms of flies, they’re probably attracted by your kitchen waste. Make sure any leftovers are thoroughly mixed with garden waste when added to the compost bin and keep an eye on your moisture levels.
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