In a nutshell – I have a very tiny garden for growing fruit and veg and relaxing in. I’ve just got a second compost bin and this is how I’m getting it started.
I’ve got a pretty good system going with composting at home. Old teabags, leftover food and veg peelings go into a container during the week as I cook. When it’s full I take it out to the garden and tip it into the compost bin. During the summer, the bin heats up well and rots down all my leftovers into lovely crumbly usable soil additive in no time. In the winter, things slow down. This is bad timing because the winter brings lots of twigs, prunings, leaves from the apple tree and dead runner bean plants. One compost bin was not enough.
Because my garden is so small it’s important to keep putting nutrients back into the soil. Lightly digging in my home made compost is so much easier than lugging shop bought bags through the house and it’s saving me money.
The second compost bin is bigger than the first, this is so that in the summer it can be popped over the smaller bin, freeing up precious ground space needed for growing.
How to make compost
If you think of making in loose layers with each layer a different thing, it’s really not difficult. The only thing to remember is to scrunch up your cardboard and paper layers to create air pockets. I’m not ordered in my layering, I just make sure that I add different things occasionally. Egg boxes and non shiny cardboard packaging go in whenever I get them. Sometimes we get bread in thick paper bags that make excellent compost holders, the whole lot just gets thrown in when the bag is full. Lining a container with a few sheets of newspaper would work just as well. What you are after is a bin that contains more carbon than nitrogen, carbon is in cardboard, newspaper and woody type things. Nitrogen is in green stuff and food waste. You also want lots of space to stop the compost going slimy – space is made by twigs and scrunched up paper.
The new bin goes straight onto the soil and my first layer is twiggy stuff,: pencil thick branches, thicker stalks of sunflower plants and the Jerusalem artichokes I am failing to kill off. This provides air pockets so the bin will not get stangant. Then goes on a few containers of household waste – leftovers, egg shells, teabags, vacuum cleaner dust, hair etc. After that it will be garden waste, currently leaves but in the summer it would be weeds and grass clippings. You have to be a little careful with grass clippings and leaves – they tend to clump up so they need to be sprinkled into the bin rather than dumped.
It’s January when I’m writing this so the new bin will be slow to take off. In the summer though I’ll start to see it shrink down rapidly. It is a really good idea to turn your compost bin a couple of times a year. This is not the loveliest of jobs but it is well worth it. These bins slide off the compost so you can put them somewhere else in your garden and refil them from the top of the old bin first. The bottom should be lovely soft sweet smelling spadefuls of nutritious compost.
Easy to solve compost problems
Wet and slimy? Add more cardboard and newspaper.
Dry and dusty? Add more green things, more wet things or water it gently. Leave the top off if it’s raining.
Flys? Keep the bin covered – worms like it dark so if you cover the bin up they will head further up the bin and work harder for you.
Nothing happening? Get more worms – the ones you need are the stripy type that live under bricks and stones. If you are totally desparate for worms you can ask in a fishing shop for Brandlings or Tiger worms. They cost a few quid for a little pot. Or ask a friend with a working compost bin for some starter worms.
Smelly bin? Cover up the decomposing compost with a spadeful of soil.
Mice and Rats? Heap earth up around the bottom of the compost bin and don’t add cooked food if you are worried about rodents. We have mice in the bin, we live close to a river and a neighbour has chickens so they are hard to avoid. I also have cats so it’s rare we see live mice.
If you really want to get your bin going you can try peeing on it 🙂 Personally I don’t have the balance so this is a job for a man.
What not to compost
It’s quicker to tell you what not to compost rather than what to compost although if you spend 10 minutes Googling you will find extensive lists of things to avoid. I compost most everything including cooked bones because my bin works very efficiently. My garden is contained and walled and the foxes don’t go near it. If it was at risk of being investigated by an animal I wouldn’t compost cooked bones, they can splinter in the throat. Don’t compost poo, especially not cat poo in case it contains toxoplasmosis which can be dangerous if you are pregnant. There are warnings I’ve read about composting too many oranges and onions as these can be harmful for worms.
Can I compost this? is a fantastic, easy to use website that you can check if you are at all worried.
How to use your compost
Home made compost is an additive rather than something you can grow plants straight into. Dig it in lightly around fruit bushes and trees, mulch it around courgettes, squash plants and tomatos.
Both my compost bins came from Bristol City Council who have a scheme to provide them at a reduced rate for residents. A lot of councils do this, it’s worth checking their websites if you want to start a bin.
You can start a compost bin off any time in the year, but the sooner you do it, the sooner you can use the results.