Composting At Home

By Annabel Langbein

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Composting at Home

How to get started.

I count myself fortunate to have grown up in a resourceful household where nothing was wasted. My father Fred, an enthusiastic gardener, made compost long before it became fashionable to look for ways to send less rubbish to the landfill. I inherited his enthusiasm for feeding my garden home-grown nourishment rather than chemical-based fertilisers.

If you don't have the space to compost yourself, find a local program where you can drop off your compost to be processed. I recommend keeping compost in your freezer between drop-offs if you're worried about the odour.

You don’t have to be a keen gardener to make compost. It’s really just a matter of getting the mix of ingredients right – a bit like baking a cake! Here are some tips to get you started:

A ready-made compost container is an easy solution, especially in smaller gardens where you want to tuck your compost out of sight. You’ll find a good range of compost containers to choose from in garden centres and hardware stores. Alternatively, you could knock together your own timber bin – just make sure not to use chemically treated timber as the chemicals will leach into the compost you’re making.

You’ll want to empty your kitchen scraps into your compost bin every few days, so keep this in mind when locating your compost bin in the garden. Ideally it will be within reasonably easy access to the kitchen.

You can add virtually any organic matter to your compost heap, but you need to get the right balance between green (nitrogen-rich) and brown (carbon-rich) materials. Both nitrogen and carbon need to be present for the reproduction of organisms that live on, and break down, the compost.

Green stuff (nitrogen rich)

Anything that started life as a plant can be added to your compost. Collect your kitchen scraps in a container with a lid and empty them into your outdoor compost bin frequently. Egg shells can be composted, but I advise crushing them up first because they won’t decompose further. Don't add meat or dairy products, used cooking oil or peanut butter unless you want to attract vermin to your compost bin. Garden waste such as weeds, grass clippings and prunings from shrubs can also be added. Cut prunings up as small as possible. Too many damp grass clippings can form one big slimy clump, so turn them to aerate and mix in with dried leaves for best results.

Brown stuff (carbon rich)

Dry, brown leaves from deciduous trees and shrubs, straw and hay, dead or dried plants are all perfect. Make sure you cut everything into small pieces so it decomposes more quickly. Hard prunings chopped into small pieces, wood chips and sawdust can also be added – but don’t use anything from chemically treated timber.

The key to healthy compost is to ensure that it gets sufficient air, moisture, carbon and nitrogen, so you need to turn your compost regularly (at least once a month and more frequently when you are just getting started). This will also help to disperse the heat that builds up in the centre of your bin, as heat is required for the decomposition process. When you turn your heap, look for lots of wriggling worms, as these are your workers in the composting process. If your bin isn’t full of little wrigglers, gather them from other parts of the garden and deposit them in your compost. A healthy compost heap shouldn’t smell, apart from a slightly sweet odour. Your compost should feel damp but not heavy and gluggy. If it’s too wet, add more brown materials. If it’s too dry, add more green materials. Within a few months, you should have fine crumbly, rich, dark compost – black gold!


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