Composting kitchen waste at home is easy as long as you have room for a bin or ‘heap’ in the corner of the garden. If you don’t, you could invest in a wormery as these can be kept in a shed or outhouse and take up less room. They also have the added advantage of producing liquid plant food which is excellent for houseplants!
Once you get into the habit, making compost is very straightforward and doesn’t take up much time – it’s the composting process itself that takes time - but it is well worth the wait as you end up with wonderfully rich compost to use in the garden.
What to Compost
You can basically compost anything that will rot, but some items such as meat and cooked foods which can attract vermin and are best avoided. Cat and dog faeces are also best avoided due to the risk of spreading disease but litter and droppings of smaller animals such as birds; hamsters and rabbits make excellent compost accelerators! The list of things that you can compost is endless, but here are some of the more common items.
Things to Compost
- Fruit and vegetable scraps
- Tea bags and coffee grounds
- Gerbil, rabbit, hamster and other vegetarian pet bedding
- Old cut flowers and bedding plants
- Egg shells – these help to keep the heap from smelling
- Soft prunings from the garden
- Annual weeds – although it is best not to compost them once they have produced seed heads.
- Grass cuttings
- Wood Ash
- Autumn leaves – large quantities of leaves are best made into leafmould
- Newspapers – shredded paper can help to soak up excess moisture in a heap
Things to Avoid
- Meat and fish
- Cooked food scraps
- Coal and Coke ash
- Dog and cat faeces/litter
The secret to making really good compost is to ensure that you have a good mix of items. A heap made entirely of grass cuttings will soon begin to smell and one that contains too much dry, woody material will break down too slowly. If you have large amounts of compostable items to dispose of, such as hedge trimmings or bags of lawn mowings it is worth contacting your council to see if they have a municipal composting scheme. Many Local Authorities now operate these at household waste and recycling centres and sell the compost to back to gardeners.
The heap / bin will work best if you add a fair quantity of material at a time so it is perhaps best to save up you kitchen scraps and then add them to the heap along with some prunings or redundant old bedding plants. It is also important to mix the contents of the heap every now and again to aerate it. Other than that there really isn’t anything to it, although with practice, your compost will get better and better.
Once the individual items in the heap or bin are no longer recognisable and have broken down into a consistent friable mixture it is ready to use in your garden, either as mulch to help retain moisture or as a soil improver. I find that it works particularly well when dug into the trenches for ‘hungry’ plants such as runner beans.
In addition to saving you money, the increased organic content in your soil will boost fertility and help plants to build up resistance to disease and insect attack, reducing the need to use chemical controls. The compost will also improve the structure of the soil by increasing the numbers of worms, helping to keep it healthy.
You can also download and print this Composting fact sheet