If your Christmas was anything like mine, you would have found that your bins were full to the brim of excessive waste. While my reliable dog managed to take care of most of the leftovers, there was still quite a bit of rubbish to deal with at the end of our feast. In the past, I tended to take more of a generic approach to my New Year’s resolutions – ‘this year I will be more care-free’ or ‘I vow to eat less cheese and chocolate’ (which has yet to be achieved). However, this year I decided to take a new direction. To kickstart my New Year resolution, I have vowed to live a greener lifestyle, starting with a compost heap to help reduce the amount of waste at home. Trouble is, I’m terrified of the mess and up until two weeks ago, I had no idea where to start.
If anyone is as daunted as I was by the prospect, fear not. Having done my research, it’s definitely not as hard (or gross) as it seems, and with the help of Tom Remfry of the award-winning organic garden care company, Tom’s Secret Garden, I’ve put together a beginner’s guide.
So what is compost? I’d heard everyone talking about the importance of it, but couldn’t say I actually knew what it was or – to be honest – what the point was? Compost is decomposed organic material that can be used as food for new plants to grow. It not only helps your garden thrive, but also naturally decays waste and leads to less CO2 gas emissions. Now that’s something every person determined to live a greener lifestyle wants to hear!
The easiest place to get started is to add a dedicated compost bin in your kitchen. Keep it within easy reach of your cooking station, so you can fling in scraps and peelings, and leftover food. After all, a lot of the materials that make your compost healthy come from food. It may be worthwhile installing a compost drawer like the one featured in this picture.
Suitable composting materials
Composting organisms need four main components to work effectively – nitrogen (green materials), carbon (brown ingredients), oxygen and water. Most of the green and brown materials can be found in the kitchen. Here is a list that breaks down some important composting materials:
Fruit and vegetable scraps
Nuts and shells
Coffee grounds and filters
Shredded egg cartons
Miscellaneous items from around the house and garden – such as grass clippings, twigs, wood shavings, dried leaves, shredded paper (without gloss) and twigs – can also be added to the compost heap.
TIP: Make sure the materials you add are small in size, so they can break down fast.
While it may be tempting to throw in anything from the house, keep in mind that the compost won’t be able to break down everything.
To maintain a healthy heap, here are some examples of things NOT to put in your compost:
- Dairy products
- Kitchen oils and fats
- Dog and cat droppings
- Diseased plants and weeds
- Excessive citrus
Where to put your compost
Your compost can start in an old rubbish bin, wooden boxes, or a heap. Make sure the spot is well-drained, level and doesn’t get too much sun as it can dry your compost out.
Remfry recommends using a ventilated bin such as the Aerobin compost unit, which not only has ventilation slits that aid in breaking down kitchen waste, but the added advantage of a leachate tank, to make your own liquid for the garden.
‘If you can’t afford a manufactured unit, make one yourself from recycled materials like sturdy hardwood stakes, with chicken wire mesh as the sides,’ he says.
Start layering your compost
My original idea of compost was to simply chuck everything together to make one huge dirt heap. However, after further research, I found that it involves layering the compost materials to ensure everything decays properly. This break-down from Clean up Australia really helped me:
- The bottom layer should comprise of twigs or mulch, which will act as a drainage system.
- The next layer should be green materials.
- Following the green materials, a layer of brown materials.
- Add water after piling on each layer to keep the compost moist.
- Repeat this layering system and top off your brand new compost with some soil.
‘Regularly check your compost at least once a week,’ says Remfry, ‘even stir it with a piece of bamboo to make sure there is adequate airflow to all of the composting material. Your compost should smell sweet not putrid – the smell is an indicator of how well and healthy your compost is.’
Composting with worms
Bringing worms into the compost equation will greatly speed up the breaking down process. You can buy a worm farm from your local hardware store or nursery, which will host your new slimy friends, or you can add them to your compost pile.
Compost worms vary from garden worms as they love the rich environment, but make sure they are kept moist in order to survive.
When to add the compost to your garden
Adding compost to your soil will do absolute wonders to the overall health of your garden. The rich nutrients and minerals in the soil are just what budding plants need to thrive. Remfry suggests checking the lowest point of the compost after four to six weeks using its colour, look and feel as an indicator as to when it’s ready. ‘Well formed compost is dark in colour like Molasses; the texture should be moist to touch with a very small particle size – obviously some components like cellulose and heavy plant material like avocado pips, etc. will still be visible.’
Patience is key
While I’ve been known to throw in the towel on New Year’s resolutions, knowing that this year’s is not only benefitting my garden but the environment as well, is definitely an encouraging thought!
‘Remember composting is a natural process and as a result, it takes time and effort to achieve results,’ says Remfry. ‘However, it is both fun and rewarding, and is one of the most sustainable gardening processes. Organic compost is essential in improving soil health and, in turn, the health of your garden (and more broadly Planet Earth).’