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Making your own compost at home is not only good for the environment, it also helps to reduce landfill and allows you to recycle your kitchen and yard waste.
Whether you’re planting flower pots, looking after your lawn or building a veggie garden compost will act as a soil conditioner (also known as humus). It’s an easy way to ensure the health and vitality of your plants and garden at home.
With a large variety of ways to compost, making your compost at home can be easy and affordable. Plus, it’s an activity that you can start any time!
Follow our guide on how to compost at home and give your garden the nutrients it’s been missing.
Ingredients for composting
The four essential ingredients needed for composting are:
- Nitrogen – Wet green ingredients to grow and reproduce organisms consisting of manures, green lawn clippings, green leaves, food scraps and kitchen waste.
- Carbon – Dry brown ingredients for energy and heat consisting of branches, stems, dried leaves, peels, bits of wood, bark dust, sawdust pellets, shredded brown paper bags, corn stalks, coffee filters, coffee grounds, eggshells, straw, peat moss and wood ash.
- Oxygen – For oxidising the carbon during the decomposition process.
- Water – To make the mixture moist and maintain activity throughout the composting process.
A healthy compost pile should have much more carbon than nitrogen. A great tip is to use one-third green and two thirds brown material. This will allow the pile to aerate more often and nourish the matter that is already there.
Together these ingredients will feed the microorganisms needed to accelerate the composting process.
Cold vs. hot composting
Before you start the process you’ll need to understand the two main types of composting.
The first is cold composting. In this process you can collect kitchen, yard waste and organic matter out of your rubbish (vegetable peels, coffee grounds and eggshells) to create a compost pile in your garden or in a bin. This material is left to decompose for up to a year .
The second type is hot composting. While this may be the faster method of the two, hot composting does require a more active approach. In this process you’ll need to build a compost pile with a lot of organic matter, monitor the soil temperature, moisten and turn regularly.
After a couple of months of doing this routine you should have beautiful, crumbly compost to add to your ever-growing garden .
Vermicomposting (or worm composting) is another type of compost that is ideal for homes with small or no gardens. This process has been designed specifically for food scraps and is a faster process that produces castings (or vermicast) and liquid fertiliser.
For this process you’ll need a special species of worm called redworms (or red wigglers). Worms for composting can be purchased online or at your nearest garden supply store.
What to put in a compost bin
Composting is a great way to eliminate waste in your kitchen and garden. You’ll want to collect some of these materials to start off your compost pile:
- Vegetable scraps
- Food scraps
- Dry leaves
- Dead flowers
- Grass and plant clippings in layers
- Finely chopped wood and bark chips
- Coffee grounds
- Tea leaves
- Soft stems
- Old potting mix
- Egg shells (may take a while to break down)
- Shredded newspaper
- Sawdust from untreated wood
What not to put in a compost bin
These items can make your compost pile smell bad or attract pests. Make sure to avoid these items:
- Meat, dairy and oil products
- Diseased plant materials
- Metals, plastics and glass
- Animal manures
- Large branches
- Weeds that have seeds and underground stems
- Dog or cat faeces
- Bread or cake
- Sawdust or chips from pressure-treated wood
How to choose a composter
Choosing a composter that works for you and your home is an important part of the process. This is often dependent on where you live, what you’ll be composting and whether you want to turn your compost manually.
Here are the options you can choose from:
- An outdoor bin with or without ventilation and ground holes
- Open enclosures
- In-ground composting
- Vermicomposting (worm composting)
If you live in an urban area:
- with no outdoor space and you’ll be composting mostly kitchen scraps it’s recommended that you choose a worm bin (vermicomposting).
- with some outdoor space, a patio or balcony and you’ll be composting mostly kitchen scraps it’s recommended that you choose a worm bin or compost tumbler.
- with some outdoor space, a patio or balcony and you’ll be composting some kitchen scraps plus yard waste it’s recommended that you choose a compost tumbler.
If you live in a suburban area:
- with a yard and you’ll be composting mostly kitchen scraps or kitchen scraps plus some yard waste it’s recommended that you choose an enclosed bin or compost tumbler.
- with a yard and you’ll be composting a lot of yard waste it’s recommended that you choose an enclosed bin or DIY bin.
If you live in a rural area:
- with a yard/acreage and you’ll be composting mostly kitchen scraps it’s recommended that you choose an enclosed bin or compost tumbler.
- with a yard/acreage and you’ll be composting kitchen scraps plus some yard waste it’s recommended that you choose an open compost pile, enclosed bin or tumbler.
- with a yard/acreage and you’ll be composting lots of yard waste it’s recommended that you choose an open compost pile or multiple enclosed bins.
How to compost at home
Step 1: What you’ll need:
- Safety tools
- Vegetable matter
- Garden waste
- Kitchen scraps
- Tumbler, enclosed bin or DIY bin
- Worms (if creating a worm farm)
Step 2: Find the right spot
The next step in this process is to find the right position for your tumbler, bin or compost pile. Regardless of which method you’re using you’ll want to make sure that your compost is in a shaded area that’s drained well. Too much sun will make the compost dry.
Step 3: Combine your green and brown materials
To make your own compost heap wait until you have at least enough materials to create a pile that’s a metre deep. You’ll want to combine dry brown matter with wet green matter by adding one-third green and two thirds brown material.
In a pile you will need to layer the different waste types, however in a tumbler or enclosed bin you can throw the material straight in and mix it all together.
If the pile is too wet you can add more brow items and aerate the pile more often. If the pile is too dry, add green items and water the pile more often to moisten the compost.
Step 4: Water the pile
Water your compost pile regularly so that it reaches the consistency of a wet sponge. You won’t want to add too much water and drown the microorganisms in your pile. If this happens, your pile may rot instead of compost.
If you’re using the hot composting method, make sure to monitor the temperature of your pile with a thermometer or your hand to confirm that the contents are decomposing.
Step 5: Turn the pile
If you’re using the hot composting method you’ll need to turn your pile at least once a week with a garden fork. The best time to turn is when the thermometer reads between 54 to 65 degrees Celsius or when the middle of the pile feels warm .
Make sure to stir the mixture thoroughly through the pile, tumbler or enclosed bin to fast track the composting process and prevent materials from developing an odour.
Step 6: Feed your garden
As the compost becomes dry, brown and crumbly this means it is ready to feed to your garden. You can add compost to your flower beds, pots and veggie garden at the beginning of each season.
If you’re looking for other ways to nourish your plants, lawn or garden this season then why not check out 18 plants to grow for a bee friendly garden or 11 of the best indoor plants for serial plant killers.
Anaerobic composting – Piling up organic materials and breaking them down naturally over several years without needing to be turned.
Aerated static pile composting – Increasing airflow through the mix of materials without turning over the pile in the first 30 days of composting.
Aerated (turned) windrow composting – Forming organic waste into rows of long piles called “windrows” and increasing air flow by turning the piles.
Cold composting – Keep adding material to your compost without having to turn the pile.
Direct composting – Putting composting materials directly into the flower bed or garden area.
EMO (Effective Micro Organisms) composting – Relying on bacteria to break down materials without access to air or needing to be turned over.
Hot composting – Turning the compost pile regularly to create heat during the composting process.
In-ground composting – Digging a hole in the ground and placing a mixture of green and brown materials inside. The hole is covered with soil and left to decompose.
Mechanical composting – Using electricity to create the heat and rotate the contents required to produce composted waste.
Onsite composting – Using wood waste to keep most of the organic material in its original ecological system while composting.
Tumbler composting – Using a fully sealed compost tumbler to rotate and mix composting materials. This also helps to retain heat generated by the composting process.
Vermicomposting – Using species of worms to create a mixture of decomposing vegetable or food waste, bedding materials and vermicast.
Worm composting – Using worms to recycle food scraps and other organic material to create a valuable soil alternative called vermicompost. This compost can be used to grow plants.
How long does it take to compost?
The full process can take as little as up to two months and as long as two years. This time frame is dependent on the size of your compost, what you add to it and how you tend to your compost pile.
How often should you turn compost?
If your compost is in a tumbler you should turn it every three to four days and every three to seven days if it’s a compost pile. How much you turn your compost is dependent on the size of the pile, the green to brown ratio and the amount of moisture in the mixture.
Does compost need sun?
Putting your compost in the sun may increase its temperature and make the fungi and bacteria work faster. However, it will also dry out your pile faster, especially in warmer, southern climates.
Do compost bins smell?
A properly balanced compost pile should not smell bad. Compost should smell like dirt and if not, there is something wrong. Your compost pile may not be properly heating up and breaking down the organic material.
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