Making your own nutrient-rich organic gardening compost is not difficult and requires no cost to you beyond the one-time purchase of a compost bin, although even this is not strictly necessary as you can use a sheet cover instead.
Indeed, your local government may even be able to source you a bin at low cost. It might not be the most fancy one but will probably be good enough. Some organic gardeners even invest in tumbler bins, but stirring up your compost heap with a fork requires little more effort, so unless you have a bad back or some similar complaint a tumbler is not a necessity. Herein I shall assume you have a bin.
Perhaps I should explain what the bin is first of all. Well, they vary of course but they have a hole at the bottom, a lid at the top and sometimes a hatch at the bottom so you can see how well your compost is decomposing or even scoop small amounts out for use. The structure is made to be pulled entirely off the decomposing heap if you want to use a lot of the organic gardening compost – a bit like pulling a bucket off a sand castle except that the compost heap doesn’t disappear when the tide comes in (unless you live on a flood plain and it’s a very bad year)!
Now that’s out the way, what next? Position! Yes, you can’t just stick your new compost bin anywhere. Keeping it near your refuse bin collection point would of course be a very bad idea, although it might provide great entertainment when the garbage men come! A compost bin needs to be put somewhere sunny or partly sunny, not in some dark ‘nether region’ of your garden that neither man nor beast has entered since time began. It should also be placed on soil or grass so that it can drain and have access to the earth. Make sure that the bin is accessible too, and that a wheelbarrow can approach it without you having to do contortions through shrubs, ponds, greenhouses and other garden paraphernalia. If it’s not easy to get to you might not fill it as frequently as you should.
The next thing to consider is, of course, what to put in your brand new, correctly-located compost bin. Here’s an interesting statistic: almost half of the average family’s waste can go into the bin. You will need to make alterations if you don’t have an ordinary family! Waste is divided into two types by those who have been decomposing for years. Maybe I should say, by those who have been composting for years…
Green or Soft Waste for your Organic Gardening Compost?
This refers to matter that is quick to breakdown and decompose. Young, green, soft material such as grass cuttings; vegetable peelings from the kitchen; young weeds; animal manure from cows, horses and other herbivores (yes, I know it’s not green); teabags and leaves; any soft, green cuttings from the garden; wood ash; hair, nail clippings, even eggshells (crush them first); natural fibers; some organic gardeners even include urine (diluted in water 20:1)!
Green waste acts as the catalyst in your compost heap.
Brown or Woody Waste for your Organic Gardening Compost?
This is the tougher, more rigid waste. It is slower to breakdown than soft waste. This includes woody cuttings, old plant matter, hardy hedge clippings, bedding from rabbit cages etc., cardboard, low-grade papers, sawdust, and wood shavings; you can put fallen leaves in too but you might want to save these for a mulch.
Large woody waste items such as Bar Counter Stools should be cut, crumpled up or shredded before being added.
What Not To Put In Your Organic Gardening Compost Heap
Glass, tins…hey, you knew that already, right? Well, some things are less obvious. For example, do not put dog faeces or waste from cat litters in your bin. Disposable diapers are of course a no-no as is perhaps the less-obvious coal/coke ash. Cooked foods, meat and dairy produce should be avoided too. Oh, and one to keep an eye out for is any plant that has suffered from a soil-borne disease – these should never be put in your compost bin.
How To Put Things In Your Compost Bin
No, I do not mean to instruct you on how to remove the lid. The art of getting good compost is, in part, due to the mixture of woody and soft waste. They should be about of equal measure. You can alternate shallow layers of the different waste type or you can mix them up. The brown waste – due to its rigidity – provides gaps for oxygen to circulate. This provides the best method for encouraging decomposition.
Nurturing Your Organic Gardening Compost
Organic gardening compost can take a few months to over a year to emerge out of your fledgling compost heap. Stirring it up with a fork will lessen the time, as will making sure you add equal parts of both green and brown waste. Another thing to keep an eye on is water content. The heap should neither be too dry or too wet. It should be moist. Sometimes you might need to sprinkle it with water. This set-up will make the aerobic microbes that do all the work very happy indeed and they will get decomposing quickly. The heap will actually get hot and steamy when stirred with a fork when these microbes are doing well. But this is no Air Purifiers!
How Can I Tell When the Organic Gardening Compost is Done?
The material at the bottom of the bin will be the most decomposed. You can check it by opening the hatch (if you have one) or partly pulling off the bin cover. There are three rules of thumb for knowing your compost is ready:
1. It should have an earthy smell to it
2. It should be dark brown in color
3. The original material should not be recognizable (apart from the odd more hardy bit here and there perhaps)
Once it is ready you can use it or let it mature for a couple of months for added strength. It can even be sieved if you want it to look like the fine, store-bought compost.