Let’s Get Composting West London
National Allotment Week started on 5th August, this August we’re encouraging everyone in West London to compost in your garden at home and your allotment. Whether you’re just getting started or are a composting expert we’d like you to take part in encouraging compost this week.
We would like to hear from anyone who wants to share their experiences (the successful and the slimy) of composting and if you have a question we’ll put it out for other people to answer and try to help you assist you with our very own ‘Dr Compost’ team.
Here are tips to take you through something new for the 7 days of National Allotment Week – tips that will help you produce great compost. So time to get started…
Start your compost pile on bare earth. This allows worms and other natural organisms to enter your compost heap and start munching away. The bugs break down your leaves, peelings and grass cuttings and as they move around finding their next meal they help more air get in which helps to make compost more quickly.
Chop things up for faster compost!
Any natural material can be added to your compost bin or heap, e.g. unprinted paper, cotton or wool fabric. The smaller the pieces the better though as bigger bits take a lot longer to breakdown. If you’re impatient to have compost, spend the time now chopping up your ingredients to help them mix more quickly. If you only cut up one type of thing make it the woody pieces which will take longer to compost anyway because they’re so tough
Don’t waste your food!
Remember to add your kitchen fruit and vegetable skin peelings to your compost. Your broccoli stalks, potato skins and apple cores won’t be eaten by you but your compost heap really enjoys these for lunch. Cooked vegetables and meats can’t be added to your compost bin straight from your plate but if you pre-treated them in a bokashi system they can go in later. Food is highly nutritious providing an excellent ingredient for your compost so why not make the most of it.
Get the right mix!
Building a compost pile is a bit like following a recipe; you need to add the right ingredients but too much of one thing makes the whole thing taste strange. A compost pile needs two types of material “browns” and “greens” to feed the organisms that make a good compost for you. Be sure to chop up or shred bulky stuff like branches first, so it’s easier to break down (remember Tip 2?!)
- Browns – carbon based items including leaves, twigs, and wood chips, as well as shredded newsprint and cardboard
- Greens – nitrogen-based plant material, like fruit and vegetable scraps, grass clippings, and, not so obviously, coffee grounds and eggshells
Don’t let your compost dry out!
The bugs and bacteria making your compost need moisture as well as food, if you have a good mix of items in your pile there should be enough water but it’s always a good idea to check it’s moist (like a wrung out sponge) – especially in this hot weather. If it’s not damp enough water it with a watering can and mix everything up to share out the water. Don’t overwater it though, if it’s too wet this will stop the air getting in! If you have an open compost heap without a lid you might need to cover it with some black plastic sheeting with small holes to help keep the moisture in.
Don’t suffocate your compost!
As well as ingredients and moisture, the compost process needs air. When you’ve got a lot of stuff in your compost heap the weight compacts the layers below. Turning your compost with a garden fork or shovel or compost turner makes turning easier.
In general, the more effort you put in, the quicker you will get compost but usually it takes a year or so. To avoid the compost hanging around in your bin long after it’s ready to be used gear up your nose and eyes to let you know when to dig it in. When your compost pile is dark brown and smells like earth, the composting process is complete. You could use it then but if you leave it for another month or two it’ll be even better to use. Don’t worry if your compost is not fine and crumbly. Even if it is lumpy, sticky or stringy, with bits of twig and eggshell still obvious, it is quite usable. You can sieve it before using to remove the big bit and put them back into your new compost heap.
If you’d like more information about home composting including details about local offers for buying a compost bin read our composting pages.