Compost heaps conjures up images of green-fingered gardeners and steaming stables. However, that doesn’t tell the whole story because composting your natural waste is an easy, clean, and efficient way to reduce your rubbish and improve your garden at the same time.
What Is A Compost Heap?
At its simplest level, a compost heap is a pile of natural organic waste. So instead of putting your vegetable peelings in your general bin along with the rest of your rubbish, you have a separate container.
You can then either transfer the contents of this bin to a larger outside bin, ready to be collected by your council or taken to your local recycling centre.
However if you have a garden, then this is the perfect place to store any organic matter.
Why Is It Good To Compost Natural Waste?
Composting your waste is good for you and for the environment. By keeping waste that decomposes quickly in a separate receptacle, it will leave your general rubbish bin much cleaner and prevent it from smelling. It will also deter vermin and other animals from trying to rip open bin-bags to look for food when they are left outside.
But there is a more serious benefit to composting your waste. At the moment about 38% of our waste goes into landfill which could have been composted – that’s approximately ten million tons a year.
Not only are our landfill sites rapidly running out of space, but the way this organic waste breaks down, means that it creates damaging greenhouse gasses.
What Can You Put On A Compost Heap?
You can put almost anything on a compost heap which will naturally break down. Classic examples would be and fruit and vegetable peelings, old flowers, dead plants, tea bags, raked up leaves, fallen apples, grass cuttings, garden trimmings and so on. Some people will also add scraps of cooked food and meat, although if you are a novice, then it is best to steer clear of these sorts of left-over’s until you are more proficient.
You can also incorporate shredded paper, cardboard and natural cotton into the heap as long as you are sure no chemicals are in them.
Is There Anything Which Should Not Be Put On The Compost?
Yes, there are a few things which are best left out of your compost heap, namely any diseased plants, or evergreen trimmings which don’t rot well. Also, unless you are composting your waste at high temperatures, it is better not to put things such as virulent weeds, cat litter or meat scraps into it.
What Happens To The Compost?
Once you have piled up your waste, you can just leave it. Over many months, it will gradually break down into wonderful rich, sweet-smelling, organic matter which can be used as a soil-improver, fertilizer, mulch or top-dressing on your flower-beds.
Making A Compost Heap
Although just leaving your composted waste in a pile in the corner of the garden, will eventually do the trick, the best compost heaps are made with just the right balance of air, moisture, ingredients, and food. Keen composters will each have their own formulas but the following rules will create the right general conditions:
A compost heap should be moist, but never wet, so if you are adding ‘wet’ ingredients, be sure to mix enough ‘dry’ ingredients with them, such as grass cuttings, and think about sheltering it in times of heavy rain.
Similarly, compost needs air. You can help create an air flow by building the heap on bricks so that it is slightly raised, by adding in some twigs etc to allow air into the pile and also by leaving the sides partly open (many heaps have slatted wooden sides to them for this reason).
To work at its most efficient and also to sterilise your compost, heat is needed. Temperatures of 60 degrees Celsius are normal and are achieved by insulating the heap with some old carpet or bales of straw.
Food for compost heaps comes in the form of what are called ‘accelerators’. These do what they say and speed up the composting process. You can use manures, seaweed products, and ready-made activating products to do this job.
There are as many styles of bin and compost heap as there are people who wish to compost their waste. No longer is composting the sole preserve of gardeners and muck-spreaders but any forward-thinking, responsible citizen can have a go. Many leading contemporary stores, such as IKEA, sell integral recycling bins and all gardening outlets will have a range of composting products you can choose from.
So what are you waiting for? Because where there’s muck, there’s magic!