Beginner's Guide to Composting At Home
What are the eco benefits of composting at home?
It’s easy to imagine huge, smelly heaps of decomposing food scraps and garden waste when you think of compost. Traditionally it would only be keen gardeners and those with allotments that would be interested in taking waste food and turning it into fertiliser but in modern times we’re all becoming more aware of the benefits, not solely because we want magnificent blooms and giant produce that we've grown ourselves, but because we realise that by composting our food scraps, we’re actually doing really great things for the planet.
Composting food waste for just one year saves global warming gasses equivalent to the CO2 produced when using your washing machine for 3 months. It also helps reduce the amount of landfill being made up from food scraps and garden waste.
It has huge benefits to your garden and home grown produce. You can use it as a soil improver for younger plants and seeds or to pot mature plants. Commercially produced compost can be costly and nearly always comes in plastic packaging so you can save money and reduce your plastic use. It really is an eco wonder.
You don’t need green fingers to start composting at home, nor do you need a huge outdoor space, in fact, a small kitchen caddy is enough to start making a big difference to your zero waste lifestyle.
Now we don’t all necessarily want to have our own compost to use but, we do all want to be better at being zero waste. The easiest way to contribute to food waste being composted is to simply collect your scraps and send them with your waste collection, that is if your local area provides this service and lots do. Check if your local authority has a compostable waste collection. Our compostable bin liners are actually perfect for this. Find them here.
How can I compost when I don't have a garden?
Composting at home when you don’t have a garden can be done, it just requires a little more imagination and often it’s a case of trial and error to see which method works best for you and fits in with your lifestyle. Keeping your decomposing food waste in your kitchen may not sound especially appealing but a good, sealed container will stop any smells and prevent pests such as fruit fly hanging around.
The most popular method of composting when you live in a flat or house with no garden is Vermicomposting, which is essentially a wormery, where the tiny worms eat their way through your food waste and turn into compost, they also produce “worm tea” which plants adore. You do need to pay close attention to this type of composter however as these are real-life little creatures who need to be kept fairly cool, moist and of course fed.
If you don’t fancy worms as pets there’s plenty of things you can do with your scraps such as collecting them and taking them periodically to a community garden or allotment where gardeners will be glad of the extra material for their compost bins and heaps. If you haven’t got anywhere nearby or simply don’t have the time, most large cities will have a collection service with your usual waste collection.
There’s an excellent blog dedicated to composting in a flat by Sustainable Jungle here.
How do I start composting in the garden?
If you do have outside space and want to get into composting there’s a tonne of guides and blogs on getting started, my personal favourite is on Recycle Now. Of all I’ve read (and that’s a lot!) it’s the easiest to follow and refer back to. If you need a quick answer to a composting question you’ll probably find it here.
The first thing you’ll need to consider is where you’ll situate your bin. Ideally, it should be somewhere fairly sunny and on bare soil to allow microbiomes and insets to enter the bin, help with airflow and aid drainage. It’s worth noting that black liquid can and does escape from the bottom and it will, most likely, stain any paving or decking that it comes into contact with. If you can’t avoid sitting the bin on a hard surface a layer of soil should prevent the liquid staining. If doing this you will need to introduce the microbiomes yourself.
How do I look after my compost?
In terms of the contents of your compost bin, it’s important to think of greens and browns. Greens rot quickly, help with moisture levels and provide nitrogen. Browns rot slower, allow air pockets to form thus aiding the aeration and produce carbon and fibre. You should try to stick to a 50/50 mix of both.
Greens are things such as animal straw, garden waste, fruit, vegetables, tea leaves and coffee grounds. You can put tea bags in but the bags may not decompose as quickly so would need to be taken out before the compost is used and sent back through the process again.
Browns are items like paper, natural wine corks, vacuum cleaner contents, cotton wool and even hair. If you’re composting wrapping paper or greetings cards make sure they don’t contain lots of glitter.
Until you get into the habit of knowing which waste is green or brown it’s useful to keep a list that you can quickly access, it will soon become second nature however.
As your compost decomposes it will benefit greatly from being turned to allow better distribution of moisture and introduce more air making it a much quicker process than if just left alone.
How can I use my homemade compost?
Once your compost is dark with a crumbly texture and the smell instantly transports you into a damp woodland, it’s ready to use. When removing your compost leave at least a little of the old material as it will help everything above to keep decomposing.
If you have spare compost it can be bagged to be saved or offered up to other gardeners in your area.
Composting doesn’t need to take up much time or space but it really does make a huge difference to our environment. It can be a really fun activity to get the kids involved with and is a great educational tool.
Do you already compost at home? If you have any practical tips you wish you knew when you started composting, let others know in the comments.