WHAT IS COMPOSTING?
Compost, a nutrient-rich fertiliser, is a form of organic matter that has been decomposed using a method called composting.
Composting is a fantastic way to reduce and recycle your food waste whilst learning more about an integral part of the process that brings the food back to your plate.
WHY SHOULD WE COMPOST?
When food waste goes to landfill it creates methane, which in turn contributes to climate change. By separating and composting food scraps, you stop this process from happening by allowing them to regenerate as they would in nature.
Studies have also shown that adding compost or other organic fertilisers to soil it could increase the amount of carbon that can be stored within the land. Effectively creating a carbon sink, reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
COMPOSTING FOR LARGER SPACES AND GARDENS
If you are fortunate enough to have a green space to call your own, then here are some methods for you to explore.
Now this method doesn’t take much explaining. Simply pile up organic waste, wait and there you have it. This is a slow process and is perhaps not the most visually pleasing but it makes up for it in its simplicity.
For those new to compost, a great rule of thumb to have is to keep a 50/50 split between “brown” and “greens” materials.
Green materials are materials that are rich in nitrogen or protein that tend to heat a compost pile up because they help the microorganisms in the pile grow and multiply quickly.
Browns are carbon or carbohydrate-rich materials. The main job of browns in a compost pile is to be food sources for all of the lovely soil-dwelling organisms that will work with the microbes to break down the contents of your compost pile. Also, brown materials help to add bulk and help allow air to filter through the pile.
Aim to make your pile at least 1 metre high by 1 metre around and then allow nature to do its thing – for about 6 to 12 months.
You can speed up the process by using the hot composting method.
This method can provide you with garden-ready compost in as little as 3 months. The composting process is mainly done by bacteria adapted to working at high temperatures, which result in it breaking down organic matter quickly.
The types of green/brown waste and food waste you layer in your hot compost, are directly linked to the amount of heat that they will generate.
This process works best by having three different bins or areas. You can make these bins out of palettes or anything that can create some dividing walls between each pile.
For more information there is a very detailed PDF guide HERE.
Trench or Pit composting
This is a very versatile method of composting, with which you can compost all food waste – including meat and dairy. This is also a good process to use if you are worried about pests, unlike heap composting which is not as pest-resistant. Another benefit of trench composting is that the finished compost will already be in your soil.
How to start:
Start off by digging a hole a few feet deep, this can be done on any scale that works for you. Even in smaller green spaces you can dig a deep, small hole using a post hole digger.
Fill the pit with organic waste, best to avoid adding weeds or diseased plants, and cover it with at least 15 centimetres of soil.
Now it’s time for the bacteria and worms within the soil to start working. This is a great way to create ‘no dig’ vegetable beds.
Upcycled pallet bin
Pallets are easy to come by and are often free – making them the perfect building material for a compost bin.
Grab three (and hopefully FREE) palettes, using one for each wall – leaving the front end open for ease of access. The slats in the palette allow for great air flow. It’s also really simple to create a 3-bin system, by simply repeating this pattern and attaching them all together.
Having a three bin/heap system is a great way to be able to access your compost at different stages. It’s good to turn your compost when using a heap process. With three bins you simply turn and move your compost along to the next bin – leaving your final bin to break down to garden-ready compost.
Chickens can work away at your food waste in no time. This process uses both chickens and a palette bin.
You would start by having a palette bin as explained in the previous section, then make the surrounding a chicken pen and there you have your ‘chicken corner’.
This is a great method as you not only feed the soil but also feed your chickens for free. For more detail on how to create your own chicken corner head to this website.
Creating a wire bin is very simple, inexpensive, long-lasting and portable. For this method you will need wire mesh with a centimetre and a half or smaller grid. To make your bin pest proof you will also need a bottom and top panel.
You simply add a stake in the ground and make a large circle around the pole. Making large standing walls, perfect to heap all your green/brown and food waste.
No time for DIY?
There are many ways you can purchase a pre-made composting bin. These are a great alternative if you are very worried about pests. Yet many are made out of plastic, and with so many easy designs that re-use materials; we would still recommend trying a little bit of DIY – such as the palette or wire bins.
You can also find heavy-duty recycled plastic bins, which would help to reduce the impact of your purchase.
With plastic composters it’s important to not include too much food waste from your kitchen as these can get very smelly. They often don’t have many holes, making it difficult for air to flow through. These plastic composers are designed to make it simple to access your fresh compost – usually having a drop-down panel at the bottom where you can scoop out your fertiliser after a couple of months.
Composting for Smaller Spaces
Composting is not only for people with big green spaces. Here are two methods you can do in small spaces, even under the kitchen sink.
This method involves using a wormery. This means that alongside creating nutrient-rich compost and aiding in carbon sequestration, you’ll also gain a load of wiggly worm friends.
Having a wormery may seem daunting, but the truth is that once you have the cycle set up – the worms do all the work for you. There is no need to turn your compost, you simply keep adding more food waste.
Here’s how it works:
Start off by either buying a wormery, there are lots out there to choose from, or by making your own. La Ferme Lombricole sells some year-round!
Making your own:
Grab yourself a few buckets (at least two) that slot inside each other and a lid. Keep the lowest one intact, with the second one you will need to drill at least one hole in the bottom. This is for the liquid fertiliser or ‘worm juice’ to drain through – just make sure you cover this up with mesh so that the worms can’t access the lower bucket.
Add some air holes at the top edge to the bucket to allow plenty of air flow.
Now to prepare a bed for the worms. Combine shredded paper, soil, dried leaves and just enough water to dampen everything. Add this to the bucket with holes, place it in the first bucket and then add your worms!
Let them get used to this mixture for around a day or two before adding any food waste. Add a little food waste per day and see how they get on.
What can you add to the wormery:
You can add just about any vegetable and fruit scraps, except any citrus peel and not too many onions.Do not add any animal products, such as dairy and cheese or any meat to the wormery.
Once your worms have been eating away and you feel there is no more space for more food scraps, you can simply add a third bucket on top (with holes at the bottom) and start to place your food in there. The worms will simply migrate upwards to where they can find food.
After giving them a bit of time to make their way up, anything up to a week, you can then switch your middle bucket with your top bucket and start the process again.
You will be left with a lovely bucket full of natural fertiliser!
What is different about Bokashi?
Bokashi is perhaps one of the cheapest home composting methods and due to its acidic process, you can also add any food scraps including meat, dairy and cooked leftovers. This is usually not recommended for many other forms of composting, which makes it a very unique process.
The only two things that are not recommended to add to your Bokashi compost are large pieces of food scraps, simply because their size makes it harder to decompose. All you need to do is chop up any large food scraps you may have.
The second recommendation is anything that is already too mouldy. This is simply because the bacteria developing in the food scrap may overrun the Bokashi bacteria.
If you are looking to avoid letting food go to waste or going mouldy, we have a great guide on how to avoid food waste available here.
How to start:
You can buy commercial Bokashi kits on the internet – but these are usually found to be a bucket with a lid and a spigot at the bottom. So, if you have a little time on your hands, a DIY Bokashi set up is simple enough to make.
Once again, all you will need is two buckets with a lid. Bokashi is a form of Anaerobic composting. This means it works on bacteria that can survive without oxygen. Grab one of your buckets and drill some holes in the bottom, make a mesh that covers these holes so that just the liquid can drain through. Then place this first bucket (with holes) in your second bucket that has been left intact.
There you have it! You could also add a spigot if you want to make it a little fancy.
Now for the key ingredient in the Bokashi process, the Inoculated Bokashi Bran. This can be purchased online or there are some at home recipes out there too.
You can also find companies that have created Inoculated Bokashi Bran made out of spent beer grains, a great way of using a by-product from breweries.
All you have to do now is place a good few scoops of Inoculated Bokashi Bran at the bottom of your top bucket (with the holes) then a layer of all your food scraps, then layer some more inoculated bokashi bran on top.
This layering process is key to creating successful compost. After each addition of food scraps, make sure you also add the inoculated bokashi bran. Once you have added everything you need, cover the mixture with a cloth just to help keep some oxygen away. It is also recommended to press down each new layer of food scrap to illuminate any oxygen pockets within the compost.
Pop the lid on and there you have it!
Harvesting your compost:
The acidic nature of Bokashi means that from your Bokashi buckets you will have, what is sometimes called, a ‘pre-compost’.
This is not suitable to be used on plants, due to the acid damaging the roots. It is best to bury it in the garden or in a larger compost pile, that’s if you are lucky enough to be doubling up on your composting systems!
This does make it more inconvenient for anyone who does not have a green space. If you have any gardening friends or a community garden, then it could make a lovely gift.
There are plenty more small composting systems to be used indoors, such as electric composting machines. These can be quite costly, but very effective.
Whatever your needs, space available or range of food scraps you create – you can find a composting process to suit you.