What Goes In Compost:
* Urine: dilute it with water first.
* Chicken manure: ideally from organically reared chickens.
* Rabbit manure from pet rabbits
* Comfrey: rich in many nutrients, especially potash, but contains almost no fiber.
* Lawn clippings: but mix them with dry material first, such as damp straw, weeds or leaves, as grass clippings can be too soggy on their own. Or let hem hang out on the lawn for a day or two to dry first.
* Kitchen waste: including tea bags, coffee grounds, eggshells, cooked pasta, fruit and vegetable trimmings.
* Farmyard manure: again ideally from horses or cows bred on organic farms.
* Seaweed: a great source of trace elements.
* Garden waste: chop it first to help the decomposing process.
* Weeds: especially stinging nettles which are high in nitrogen (treat in the same way as lawn clippings), but they should be young weeds that have not formed seeds or you will be spreading seeds around your garden or year when the compost is finished.
* Bracken: but avoid handling when it is producing spores as it is carcinogenic.
* Straw: should be damp and ideally already partly rotted.
*Woody prunings: shred them first.
* Newspaper, cardboard: use sparingly, shredded or torn up and dampened, and avoid materials with colored inks.
Things to avoid:
* Cat litter or dog excrement: both of these can carry disease.
* Meat and fish scraps: they smell as they rot and may attract rats and other pests.
* Diseased plant material: diseases can spread through the compost.
* Perennial weeds and weeds in seed: they may continue growing in the compost, especially if it is not hot enough to destroy the seeds.
* Plastic, tin, glass and other synthetic materials: they do not decompose.
The ideal method for making compost is to make a heap in one go, but to do this you need to collect bags of waste for several weeks or months. If you add material gradually, it may take at least eight to 12 months before it is ready to use, whereas in summer a newly constructed, complete heap would take around two months to turn to compost. A gradual heap may also not reach high enough temperatures to kill off weeds or diseases.
With either method, it is a good idea to layer the different materials, spreading them evenly and adding water if the material is dry, before covering the heap. Make sure your compost heap does not become too dry or wet. Soggy compost smells bad and takes a long time to break down; dry compost is also slow to decompose as microbes prefer damp conditions. To speed up decomposition, turn the compost with a fork every six to eight weeks.
Maintaining a high temperature is important to kill off weeds and diseases – your pile should be at least 50°C (122°F) (often not possible if composting gradually). If you are using a compost bin it should be at least 1 m3 (1 yd3) in size in order to achieve high temperatures and you can also help by lining the bin with dry autumn leaves or hay.
The compost is ready to use when it is a dark color, smells earthy and the original ingredients have almost gone. Remaining straw, twigs and sticks can be picked or sieved out. The final result can be used on gardens, lawns and house plants. Dig it into the soil or leave it on top for the worms to do the work for you. It is best applied in spring when the weather should be more conducive to its staying in the soil – heavy rain can wash the compost away before the worms can do their bit.
* Always protect the compost heap from rain with a waterproof cover.
* Make sure you can remove the bottom layer easily.
* Turn the heap every few months to introduce air into the mix.
* Dampen any dry material such as straw or autumn leaves first to aid its decomposition.
* Shred items tike leaves, newspapers, cardboard and weeds to speed up their decomposition.
* Mix fresh grass mowings and fruit and vegetable leftovers with dry material to stop the pile becoming too sodden.
* Make sure you have broad mixture of materials in the pile and layer them evenly.
* To avoid attracting flies and insects to kitchen waste, make a hole in the centre of your compost pile and bury the waste.
* If you want a quick start to your composting you can purchase compost activators or accelerators containing organic material designed to kick-start your compost.
* If you have large quantities of leaves, it may be worth composting them separately in a wire mesh container or in plastic sacks.
But if you are new to gardening and all this talk of creating your own compost has put you off making a start on your own garden, take heart – there are various green options that do not require you to devote a part of your garden to a decomposing pile of waste. Your local authority may well be running a community composting scheme or composting green waste from its parks and gardens, which it will deliver to you for a small fee, for example.
Creating your own nutrient rich soil is very rewarding. It is turning trash into treasure…food scraps into black gold. The bonus just happens to be that is is extremely easy to do. Happy composting!