How to Compost

Every gardener who love’s birds and other wildlife should have a compost area in their garden as it encourages a diversity of wildlife to visit their garden. In fact EVERY gardener should have a compost area as it is environmentally friendly and as it reduces the rubbish that goes to the landfill sites dramatically ( each one of us generates a minimum of half a tonne of rubbish per year (Christmas not included!) and a quarter of that rubbish could be composted. Not to mention that a lot of valuable resources go to landfill sites which could be used for soil improvement.

Here are a few reasons why you should have a compost area in your garden:

– It reduces the rubbish that goes into the landfill sites ( many local authorities collect garden waste with considerable environmental cost as a side effect.)

– It’s a excellent way of recycling.

– It is easy and simple to compost

– It improves soil structure (and saves you a lot of money on buying fertilizers.)

– Helps to increase water retention

– Is a food provider for decomposers and others (tiny animals and plants such as fungi that specialise in breaking down plant material, bacteria,Slugs, snails, woodlice, millipedes, earwigs, worms, beetles)

– Attracts birds, hedgehogs, frogs, toads.

– The decomposition process generates heat which invites reptiles like lizards and slow worms and even grass snakes to hibernate.

So you see, having a compost heap has many benefits for nature….

I have collected a few points what lives in the three different layers of a compost heap for those who are interested…:

TOP LAYER (= consists of fresh material):

– Snails which are pretty in appearance and not always the cause of damage are often found in fresh composted material.They are a important and excellent food source for birds and mammals.

– Slugs who eat fresher material are not liked by many people.But they are a important key to the decomposition cycle and also a food source for birds and mammals.

– Intervertebrates like White legged millipedes predators and others of their anthrop family which feed on decaying food and vegetation. Birds love them…

– Fruitflies which are regular visitors of compost areas and which provide a great food source for small spiders and birds. Their larvae eat rotting vegetation.

MIDDLE LAYER (=early decomposition):

– Fungi, which appear and indicate a quality improvement in soil.

– Toads like the common toad will find suitable daytime retreat in compost heaps.Be very careful or avoid to disturb your compost heap in autumn and winter time as the toads can hibernate in it.

– Wood mice which live and breed in compost heaps are one of the most common mammals and you can look for their tunnels and seed stores when you break up your compost heap.

BOTTOM LAYER (=advanced decomposition):

– Earthworms, which eat their own weight each day are vital for every good compost heap.

-Rose chafers which are a blessing for any garden are also found in compost heaps and their larvae live in rotting material and wood.

– Centipedes which are garden predetors regularly colonise compost heaps and some burrow through a heap to hunt small Intervertebrates.

WHAT CAN BE COMPOSTED:

Compost all of your garden and appropriate household waste, and avoid artificial fertilisers – they are unnecessary and unkind to the environment.

THE IDEAL LOCATION FOR BOTH A COMPOST AND A COMPOST BIN:

Anything of organic matter will eventually rott, but a sunny spot or semi-shade location is advisable as the sun will increase the speed of the composting process and as long as it’s been sheltered from freezing cold winds as they will slow down the decaying process.However, living in warm climates would require to shelter the heap or the bin in a shadier spot to prevent it from getting drying out too quickly…

Also aim for distance and visual barriers and make sure you choose a spot that allows you to compost discretely if you have neighboring yards.If you want to compost kitchen scraps, a location not far from your backdoor is advisable as you will neglect your compost bin or pile otherwise.

THE IDEAL SURFACE FOR YOUR COMPOST PILE AND COMPOST BIN:

The best surface is a leveled and we’ll drained area (for the liquid sap and to prevent waterlogs ) on soil or lawn rather than asphalt or concrete to give earth worms, beneficial microbes and other decomposers which will migrate up and down during the seasons a better chance to establish their colonies. Should you have tree roots extending in into your pile turn the pile frequently so that the roots can’t make headway.

OTHER SURFACES FOR YOUR COMPOST BINS:

•You can put your compost bin on tarmac, concrete or patio slabs with a layer of paper, twigs or existing compost on the bottom so that worms and other creatures can colonise.

• By putting your compost bin on soil beneficial microbes and insects will have better access.Plus it allows better aeration and drainage which are important for successful composting.

•One of the best ways to set up your compost bin is if you put it on a wire mesh base for which you need to dig a shallow hole which is equal to the diameter of your bin, of about 2.5 centimeters.Then cut a slightly bigger piece than the base of your bin of wire mesh and place it over the hole and your bin on top of it.

•The best soloution if you put your compost bin onto paved or courtyard gardens is to remove the paving that is below your compost bin.If you cannot or don’t want to do this you have to bear a few things in mind…

-some of the liquid can stain your paving when seeping out of the bottom (underneath and around the bin.).There are suggestions to put a few shovels of soil or compost from a mature bin underneath the bin and to build a raised bed which should contain the liquid and prevent staining but if you don’t get it right you will get stains.But if you don’t mind stains on the paving you will have to introduce the organisms that dwell in the soil manually which you can do by adding a shovel or two of soil (or better compost from a mature bin) to the bottom of the bin.

•You have the same problem of stains by putting your compost bin onto decking as by putting it onto paving.But you can build a raised bed that compliments your decking by using deckboards.But first seal the deckboards that will be under the bed with decking seal.To be save line the bottom of the raised bed with plastic in order to protect the deckboards underneath (also cut some drainage holes through the plastic where you see spaces in between the deckboards.) Then fill the bed with soil to capture any liquid.

•Gravel like soil is one of the easiest surfaces to put your bin on.If you have laid a membrane under the gravel you will have to cut a hole or slits in the membrane to let the soil dwelling organisms through.

•If you use concrete you will have to add a thin layer of soil again to get started as this will help to attract worms and other useful creatures.

But again as with the compost heap- the best surface is bare soil as it will help to drain water excess away and makes it easier for worms to access and other decomposers to access.

COMPOST BIN, COMPOST HEAP OR BOTH?:

Depending on the amount of waste you have,your space, surface and the locations that you have available you can have both or a heap or single bin…Bins are more practical in a smaller garden and will be mainly colonised by worms, invertebrates and fruit flies but larger creatures will have difficulties to access the bin for food…Have a look in your local garden center or the Internet to see what’s available before you make decision. A bin or heap can never be too big as you will find out when the compost starts working….

After hubby retired and we had more time for gardening and cooking, we bought a little house and have started a compost heap first but after gaining more experience along the way we found that a compost bin was neccessary for us as well. We use the heap for our little vegetable garden and the small front lawn with the apple tree on it, while we placed the bin next to the back door as it is being mainly used for kitchen waste which we have plenty as we both cook from scratch. Having both a heap and a bin will also increase the diversity of wildlife in your garden which we have found out….

You can have a open (unrestricted) or a restricted compost heap like a traditional boxed one. But while the open one looks untidy it will give on the other hand the best access to larger animals such as toads and hedgehogs…

You can find pictures of compost bins and heaps from the Internet below my article!

HOW TO RECYCLE:

•It’s easy…Just throw any organic material inside a bin or on top of a pile.

•Left alone it will take 6-12 month (depending on the climate and season as it will take longer during the winter month to decompose) before the bottom layer can be removed and spread onto your soil as it has turned into rich compost.

-if you turn every two weeks it will introduce air which will speed up the decaying process.

– Thrushes, blackbirds and others will appreciate a turning of your heap as it will produce a nice earthworm or a slug for them.

-Precaution is needed during autumn and winter as animals can hybernate in there and the best option is to leave the bin and the heap alone until spring returns…

•Both the bin and the heap should be checked regularly in the summer and water added if too dry or paper and/or woody material if too soggy.

If you have a bigger garden you can have two heaps to have a constant supply of compost.

HOW TO SPEED UP THE DECOMPOSITION SPEED:

•Chopped up plant material will increase the decomposition speed

– garden shredders can be extremely useful to do that but if you decide to get one, make sure it is the most powerful machine that you can get as electric models are slow and cheaper machines break easy. Otherwise use garden scissors etc..If you have only a bin do not put wood in there and pile tree sticks under bushes and in corners for their rotting process.

•Always retain some compost for your next heap as it is a valuable source of worms, bacteria and other creatures that will quick start the next decomposition process.

•If you are not a fast food eater and consume medications, drugs or alchol you can Urinate on your compost heap as urine is a rich break down source of nitrogen and phosphates . Doing that will also reduce sewage waste and saves water…women’s urine is not advisable as It can include hormone residues..

WHAT ELSE TO DO:

Spread (do not dig in as this will kill Intervertebrate populations) compost on the surface of the soil wherever you want a compost or gaps and holes or a levelled surface.Doing that will create a cover for amphibians and invertebrates and an area for birds to forage in.

WHAT CAN BE RECYCLE IN BINS AND HEAPS:

Nearly any vegetable, fruit and garden waste can be recycled..

• Woody prunings (heaps only)

•Wood ash (not too much in terms of overloading the heap or the bin.A small bucket every now and then would be appropriate.)

•Hedge clippings (heaps only)

•cardboard, cereal boxes, egg boxes and paper ( unbleached and non colored)

(Cardboard and paper provide fiber and create air pockets for worms and others.But you must keep a balance and not overfill your bin or heap with paper and cardboard and add more greens if your heap becomes to dry.)

•vegetable peelings

•crushed egg shells (hand crushed will do.)

•teabags and tea leaves

•coffee ground

•soft plant material.

•young green weed growth (except for a few which you will find below this listing)

•soft green prunings

-Greens rot quickly and provide the nitrogen and moisture a compost heap needs.

•Animal manure from herbivores like cows and horses,poultry, rabbits, guinea pigs etc.. (never cats and dogs as their waste is highly toxic)

•Bedding from herbivores like hay, straw, shredded paper, sawdust, organic nesting material.

•dead leaves (more efficient would be to make leafmould

•Dust from your vacuum cleaner- unless your carpets and rugs are synthetic)

•Animal and human hair and feathers (in mideration) are also possible as long as NOT colored or bleached.

DO NOT COMPOST:

•Cat and dog and human feces (highly toxic)

•Human nail clippings (highly toxic)

•Disposable nappies , nappies with feces

•Paper with colored ink

•Colored Card Board

•invasive plants

http://www.issg.org/database/species/search.asp?st=100ss

•Avoid weeds with seeds

•cooked meat (attracts rats,cats, foxes, racoons, bears, wild cats)

•raw meat (attracts rats,cats, foxes, racoons, bears, wild cats)

•Grease, fat, oil (attracts rats,cats, foxes, racoons, bears, wild cats)

•Dairy products (attracts rats,cats, foxes, racoons, bears, wild cats)

•Bones cooked (attracts rats,cats, foxes, racoons, bears, wild cats)

•Bones raw (attracts rats,cats, foxes, racoons, bears, wild cats)

…And of course anything chemical..

by Karin W.

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