Let’s Get Composting!

By Paul Lowis – The Green Man on behalf of SLH

As these challenging times continue, we have just heard that green waste bins will not be collected for the foreseeable future and that all food waste must go in our black general waste bins. Garden waste will not be collected. “What are we going to do?!”, I hear you cry. Now, I believe that this news presents us all with a huge opportunity rather than a huge problem. My dad and granddad used to have compost heaps at the bottom of their gardens. Did yours? Why not do the same? 

I appreciate this could be difficult if you live in a flat or a terrace house but for those of us fortunate enough to have a garden, this is a great opportunity to be even more sustainable. Having your own compost heap ticks all the boxes of being organic, a way to recycle waste and to return nutrients to the soil. And for those of you who don’t have a garden: Did you know that you can get worm composting bins to turn your kitchen waste into compost and plant food? Kids love it! Look it up — you can even make one of those yourself as well. 

When it comes to composting, there are a few simple rules to follow but you will be well on your way in no time. A huge advantage is the fact that a compost heap is brilliant for wildlife and great for your garden too. 

Your first question is probably where do I put it? Well, generally somewhere out of the way at the back of the garden if you don’t want to look at it. Alternatively, if you have bought a fancy one, you could have it closer to your house but perhaps over to one side out of the way. Do remember that it will need to be in a spot that gets some sun to heat up the heap. 

What should my compost heap sit on? Ideally you should position your compost heap on solid bare earth. Doing so will allow worms and bacteria to work on the heap, and it will make it easier to turn the contents over. The next question I often get asked is what can I put on the heap? Now, it’s all about the carbon to nitrogen ratio. Put simply, all of your grass cuttings and vegetable waste are nitrogen and generally look green. Straw, dried stems, paper and cardboard, i.e. stuff that looks brown, is your carbon content. I find that the ideal mix is equal measures of both green and brown waste.

Can I compost anything? There are some obvious exceptions, such as dairy products, oil, fats, fish and meat waste. These items will attract rats so put them in your black bin for now, and then in your green bin once collections start again. Used cat litter or dog faeces is also problematic and can cause health problems. Don’t add glossy magazines or laminated cardboard (like milk and juice cartons) as these items will probably contain plastic. Also don’t add glass or tins, plastic or synthetic clothing material. In terms of garden material, you should generally avoid adding anything that looks like it may be infected with fungus, blackspot, mildew, clubroot and rusts. If you’ve pulled up a load of perennial weeds, I would advise not adding the roots or seeds to the heap. This is because domestic compost heaps don’t get hot enough to kill diseases and sometimes seeds will still be viable after composting.

If you are setting up a new compost heap, start with small twigs at the bottom because this allows air to circulate and entices in the worms and insects you need. Next you can start mixing in grass clippings and kitchen vegetable waste. Don’t forget to add your egg cartons and toilet roll holders (it appears we may end up with a lot of them!). The secret is to keep the brown content as small as possible. Use a paper shredder on your paper items and consider mowing your dried plant stems to shred them. Keep turning your compost heap every week. Keep it covered and if it turns into smelly sludge you overdid the grass clippings! Rescue it by adding paper and cardboard. If it becomes too dry and slow, add more green content. Also add water in warm weather. I’ll whisper this next bit: My granddad used to wee on his compost heap. I don’t think my gran knew… When the compost looks crumbly and smells sweet, it’s ready. This process could take 3 to 6 months, or up to 12 months if you have too much brown material.

What do I make the compost heap out of? You can buy compost bins online from the council or various well-known sites. Or you could make one. After all, we’ve got rather a lot of time on our hands at the moment and it’s a great project to keep the kids occupied. What have you got in your shed, garage or garden? My dad made his compost heap from large concrete paving slabs and covered it with old carpet. You could cover yours with an old cardboard box that has been unfolded. The ideal size for a compost heap is around 1m x 1m x 1m, with three enclosed sides and open at the front. The sides could be made from wood, old pallets, doors, planks, floorboards or decking boards. Even old fence panels you haven’t been able to get rid of would work. You could also try chicken wire attached to wooden posts. Just use your imagination! If you want to show off, you can make twin compost bins or even three set up side by side. Now is the perfect time to start, so go on and give it a go. Making your own compost is so satisfying. 

Send us your photos. I’m building one so I’ll show you how I get on.