Composting is crazy cool. Just ask any of us here at Modern Milkman (no really, we’re very into it). Not only does it help reduce your own household waste, it magically (well, scientifically) turns it into material that can be reused in your own garden.
And you don’t have to have any expensive gadgets or complicated gizmos to do it. All you need is a compost bin, some waste, and patience. Easy!
Once you start composting, that’s when you find the true magic is about to begin.
As your waste begins to decompose, you’ll find all sorts of critters working hard to help break down the waste. And don’t be alarmed! Like the earth under your garden, your compost will have all sorts of organisms making their way through the layers. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
Top 5 composting tips
So you’ve built your compost bin. It’s beautiful by the way. And you just had a roast dinner last night, so the kitchen compost is piled high with veggie cuttings. Now what?
For an in-depth look on how to start composting, check out our composting 101 guide. Or, grab a few tips below from the experts at Manchester Metropolitan University’s Circular Economy Network to help you get started.
- 1. It’s all about balance
And isn’t that true about life as well? Balance is key. But while for us, that may mean making sure to log off work in time for family dinner, for a compost, it’s more about the materials (or ingredients) you put into it. Make sure you add equal amounts of brown bits (ie cardboard, twigs, and dead leaves) and green bits (ie vegetable scraps, grass clippings, and green leaves). The green bits add nitrogen and protein, which encourages microbial growth. In other words, it’s the food that the organisms eat to then break down the waste into compost. The brown bits add bulk to your heap and provide airflow, because even the tiny organisms need oxygen to survive!
- 2. We like our compost mixed – not stirred
Okay, so taking care of your compost heap isn’t as glamourous as a 007 movie, but it’s definitely more rewarding. And an easy way to take care of your heap and provide enough airflow is to give it a good mix. If you just let it sit, the compost might become too compacted and wet, which will slow down the composting process and make for a stinky heap. But don’t worry, this isn’t a daily task. You only need to mix up your heap once or twice a month to achieve good results. Just grab a garden fork and move the outside materials to the middle, and the middle bits onto the outside.
- 3. Tall, dark, and handsome – compost that is
It doesn’t matter if the overall size of your compost is big or small. What matters more is how tall your compost is. It’s recommended to keep them about 3ft to 5ft in height, so it composts properly. Shorter compost heaps tend to suffer from rapid heat loss which slows down the composting process and doesn’t provide a high enough temperature to destroy nasty bacteria. So, make sure your compost eats loads of greens so it can grow big and strong!
- 4. Got 99 problems but a compost ain’t one!
Practice makes perfect, and you may find you have to rethink your compost based on different conditions. Here are a few issues you may come across.
Is your compost wet, slimy, and smelly? That’s a sign that there’s too much water and too little air in your heap. But don’t worry, it’s an easy fix. Remember tip number one? Balance! So make sure to cover your heap so that no rain gets in, and then mix it with some browns like cardboard and shredded paper to gain more airflow.
Is your heap too dry and fibrous? This means there’s not enough moisture, or there’s too much brown material. To solve this, just add more greens! Easy peasy.
- 5. How do you know when it’s ready to use?
A compost can take anywhere from six months to two years before your compost is ready to use. But how to know when it’s ready? Your compost should look like a dark, crumbly soil, and you shouldn’t be able to recognise any of the materials you put into it. If you give it a sniff, it should smell like damp woodland – yum!
What you’ll find in your compost bin
So now you’ve filled your compost bin. It’s well balanced, tall, and mixed. Now you sit back, relax, and let nature do its thing.
And while you let nature do it’s thing, you may notice that nature looks a lot like creepy-crawlies and wriggly organisms. Don’t be alarmed. Just like the vast ecosystem in your garden, your compost heap is also teeming with life, some microscopic, and some a bit bigger than you’d like.
Now, if you have a lot of bugs in your compost, like it’s become its own ant hill, or you’ve lost count as to how many pill bugs you’ve seen, that’s an indicator that something in your heap is unbalanced. But a healthy amount of critters is actually good for your heap.
When building your compost bin, you may notice that it doesn’t have a bottom. This is so that all the bugs and microorganisms in the earth can easily move into your heap to help break it down.
Because of this, you’ll find organisms like earthworms wriggling around in your compost. But what are they actually good for?
Worms and Composting
These wriggly creatures do more than just squirm around. They’re beneficial to your compost too!
Earthworms will naturally make their way into your compost, so you don’t have to worry about adding any to your pile. The most common type of earthworm you’ll find in your heap is called Eisenia fetida, otherwise known as a tiger worm.
These earthworms really like to munch on decaying plant material, making them the perfect candidates to help break down your compost greens. They also help with the compost’s structure, creating airways as they burrow through the heap. This allows more oxygen to flow through your compost, and in turn, helping the other organisms survive and thrive.
Worms are so beneficial, that there’s even a specific type of composting that only uses worms! Worm composting can be a great way to compost if you have a small garden space, and they create a very useful compost for your plants. As well, as the worms eat more and more material, they excrete what are called castings, which can be used as a fertilizer in your garden.
Who knew such small creatures could be so useful?
Now it’s time to use your compost
Right. Now you’ve learned about your bin, how to compost, and the organisms you can find in your compost. Now, how do you actually use it?
We’ve got a great in-depth guide that’ll tell you all about how to use your compost, and more! Just click the link to answer the question, ‘What is compost used for?’
We hope this helps you on your composting journey. Good luck! And have fun!