Composting - Make your own
Garden and domestic refuse can be used to make excellent compost. The compost bin used is important, both to tidiness and to holding the heat,
making the difference between a compost heap and a rubbish heap.
SHREDDED ORGANIC WASTES.
Shredding, chopping or even
bruising organic materials hastens decay. One way to shred
leaves is to mow the lawn before raking, collecting the shredded
leaves in the mower bag. It takes at least 34 cubic feet of
shredded material to form a compost pile.
. The compost pile should be located in a warm area
and protected from overexposure to wind and too much direct
sunlight. While heat and air facilitate composting, overexposure
dries the materials. The location should not offend neighbours.
Nitrogen accelerates composting. Good sources include fresh
grass clippings, manure, blood meal and nitrogenous fertilizer.
Lime should be used sparingly if at all. It enhances
decomposition, but too much causes nitrogen loss, and it usually
isn't necessary unless the pile contains large amounts of pine
and spruce needles or fruit wastes.
The compost pile and its enclosure should be well ventilated.
Some decay will occur without oxygen, but the process is slow
and causes doors.
Materials in the compost pile should be kept as moist as a
squeezed sponge. Too little or too much water retards
decomposition. Over watering causes doors and loss of nutrients.
Building the Heap
Choose a site in a sheltered place, which can be
in a dry shade under a tree where nothing much will grow, but in
this position the heap will need watering in dry weather. Level
off the ground and flatten it with a spade. Cover the base of
the compost heap with tough and stemmy rubbish, such as hedge
clippings or tall tough weeds. This prevents finer materials
from blocking the air channels. Then pile on the first 8 inch
thick layer of weeds, lawn-mowings and garden waste, with
kitchen waste in the middle.
Scatter enough dried poultry manure or other available manure to
cover the surface. Add another 8 inch layer of rubbish, whiten
this with lime, pile on a third layer and then add manure or
‘activator’ again. Repeat this sequence until the container is
filled. This is rarely possible in a day as most heaps take
weeks to build, adding more layers as they sink and decay until
the heap is cold and the worms move in.
Other signs that the compost is ready are a faint
earthy odour (the only smell), dark brown or black colour and a
crumbly texture like well-rotted farmyard manure. Used like
manure (though it is richer than potash) it can be dug in before
sowing root crops without making them coarse and forky, and with
lime, a bucketful a square yard is a fair dressing. Autumn heaps
are ready to dig in by Spring and summer heaps are mature ready
for Autumn digging, so with enough material a container can be
filled and emptied 3 times a year.
There are many propriety activators which do not need lime
layers. Though layers of soil are often recommended where weeds
have soil on the roots, it is unnecessary. Compost producing
crops of weed seedlings can result when not enough soil off has
been shaken off.
What can go in the Compost Heap
Store some dry leaves to mix with
grass mowings and other soft green stuff. Make large quantities
into leaf mould - stuff wet leaves into black plastic sacks
(loosely tied), or a wire mesh container. Use after a year or
two. Mow leaves on a lawn to chop and collect them up.
Mix well with tougher items to avoid a slimy mess. Leave on the
lawn whenever possible - they will soon disappear and feed the
grass; this will not cause 'thatch'. Can also be mixed into a
leaf mould heap, or used as a soil mulch.
Persistent diseases, such as white rot and clubroot, are best
avoided. A hot heap, turned several times, should deal with
Diseases that don't need living plants to survive - grey mould,
mildews, wilts - may survive in a slow, cool heap. But heat is
not the only factor that will kill diseases - the intense
microbial activity will also help to dispose of them.
Some perennial weeds will be killed in a hot heap; avoid really
persistent horrors such as celandine, bulbous buttercup, ground
elder and bindweed. Don't burn or dump these weeds - they are
rich in plant foods. Mix with grass mowings in a plastic sack.
Tie it up and leave for a few months until the weeds are no
longer recognisable, then add to the compost heap.
Weed seeds may survive a cool heap, but should be killed in a
hot one. If your compost tends to grow weeds, dig it in rather
than spreading it on the soil surface.
Hedge clippings and prunings
Chop or shred tough prunings and clippings from evergreen hedges
before adding to a mixed compost heap. Compost large quantities
separately; even unshredded they will rot eventually. Mix with
grass or other activating material; water well. Tread down the
heap, then cover. In anything from a few months to years you
will have a coarse mulch which can be used on perennial beds.
Strawy horse and cattle manure composts well. Keep a sack on
hand to bulk up other ingredients. Manure mixed with wood
shavings should be left to rot until the shavings are no longer
visible. If it is dry, water well and mix with grass mowings,
poultry manure or other activating material. When rotted use as
a surface mulch. Wood shavings incorporated into the soil can
lock up soil nitrogen, making it unavailable for plants for a
year or more.
Small pets, like hamsters, don't produce many droppings but you
can still use their waste as a strawy addition to the compost
heap. Guinea pigs are marvellous - they love eating weeds and
convert them quickly to prime compost material!
Newspaper can be added to a compost heap, but in any quantity it
should go for recycling into more paper. Cardboard, paper towels
and other paper items can be crumpled up and composted. They are
particularly useful where kitchen scraps make up a high
proportion of the compost ingredients. Avoid glossy paper and
Sawdust and wood shavings
Very slow to decay. Add in small quantities; balance with
quick-to-rot activating materials. See also 'Animal manures'
above. Do not use if treated with wood preservatives.
What to Leave Out
Metal of any kind including bottle tops, broken china, newspaper
and cardboard in bulk, polythene and plastics. Tree prunings,
pine needles, sawdust wood shavings thick branches and clippings
will all decay in time
Kitchen Wastes in Winter
If in winter there are too few weeds to cover the
kitchen wastes, bury them in a heap or dig a trench a spade wide
and a foot deep. Cover it with soil. When the trench is full,
scatter Lime generously on the surface and leave to sink. Potato
peelings should not go into trenches – odd eyes will grow and
crowd the peas unless the winter is very cold.
Troubleshooting Composting Problems
Damp and warm only in the middle of the pile.
Pile could be too small, or cold weather might
have slowed composting
If you are only composting in piles, make sure
your pile is at least 3 feet high and 3 feet
wide. With a bin, the pile doesn't need to be so
Nothing is happening. Pile doesn't seem to be
heating up at all.
1. Not enough nitrogen
2. Not enough oxygen
3. Not enough moisture
4. Cold weather?
5. Compost is finished.
1. Make sure you have enough nitrogen rich
sources like manure, grass clippings or food
2. Mix up the pile so it can breathe.
3. Mix up the pile and water it with the hose so
that there is some moisture in the pile. A
completely dry pile doesn't compost.
4. Wait for spring, cover the pile, or use a
Matted leaves or grass clippings aren't
Poor aeration, or lack of moisture.
Avoid thick layers of just one material. Too
much of something like leaves, paper or grass
clippings don't break down well. Break up the
layers and mix up the pile so that there is a
good mix of materials. Shred any big material
that isn't breaking down well.
Stinks like rancid butter, vinegar or rotten
Not enough oxygen, or the pile is too wet, or
Mix up the pile so that it gets some aeration
and can breathe. Add course dry materials like
straw, hay or leaves to soak up excess moisture.
If smell is too bad, add dry materials on top
and wait until it dries out a bit before you mix
Odor like ammonia.
Not enough carbon.
Add brown materials like leaves, straw, hay,
shredded newspaper, etc.
Attracts rodents, flies, or other animals.
Inappropriate materials (like meat, oil, bones),
or the food-like material is too close to the
surface of the pile.
Bury kitchen scraps near the center of the pile.
Don't add inappropriate materials to compost.
Switch to a rodent-proof closed bin.
Attracts insects, millipedes, slugs, etc.
This is normal composting, and part of the
Not a problem.
Fire ant problems.
Pile could be too dry, not hot enough, or has
kitchen scraps too close to the surface.
Make sure your pile has a good mix of materials
to heat up, and keep it moist enough.