Monday, 3 March 2008

Composting for Beginners

I am absolutely amazed at the results of the Zero Waste challenge this far, and much of it is thanks to the solutions that are available for reducing food waste, whether it's vegetable peelings, gone off fruit or leftover scrapings . With a compost bin, a wormery and a Bokashi system it is working a treat.

I thought it would be useful to share some details about effective composting. However, as I am still a novice, I roped in Karen from Wiggly Wigglers to introduce the subject gently. So it's time to grab that cup of tea again and get some more top tips from someone more knowledegable than me.

"A question often asked is, "Why compost at all?" Well, the answer is simple. Over 50% of household waste is organic matter from our gardens and kitchens. If sent to landfill this organic waste gets buried under all the other waste and isn't exposed to air resulting in methane production which is harmful to the environment. It is also a missed opportunity to recycle waste into valuable garden compost.

Depending on the amount of space you have and the type of waste you need to compost there are several different options open to you. Even if you only have the tiniest space, such as a balcony, there is a solution.

If you have outdoor space and generate garden waste, you really need a compost heap. You can buy (or make) various containers from box style composters with slatted fronts to moulded plastic bins which all effectively operate in the same way. Fresh waste is added at the top and composted material retrieved from the bottom.

With an outdoor heap you can add both garden and kitchen waste and you should be aiming to add approximately 50/50 of carbon rich brown and nitrogen rich green waste to achieve good compost. Green waste consists of things like kitchen waste, grass clippings, nettles, old flowers, spent bedding plants and comfrey leaves.

Brown waste consists of things like paper, cardboard, twigs, straw, egg shells, garden prunings, wool, wood ash, feathers and cotton.

However, you should never add cooked foods or meat to an outdoor composter as this will definitely attract unwelcome rodent visitors.

The trick to making the best compost is to keep it aerated. You can do this by turning the heap occasionally and making sure that you have a good mixture of green and brown waste.

If you don't have garden waste to deal with and space is tight a wormery could well be the solution. Composting with worms is called vermicomposting and wormeries are perfect for dealing with kitchen waste. The best shop bought wormeries are those that have several trays, such as the popular Can-o-Worms, as they are easier to use than an “all in one” model.

Composting worms are native to the UK and in the wild can be found on the surface of the ground, generally in leaf litter. They are not the same as earthworms, which are deep burrowing creatures and not suitable for composting systems. Composting worms will eat all manner of household waste from fruit and vegetable peelings, cardboard, paper, bread, pasta right through to the contents of your vacuum cleaner.

It is important that 25-30% of everything added to a wormery should be dry material, such as paper and cardboard. Perfect items to add would be torn up egg boxes, toilet and kitchen roll tubes, torn and scrunched up newspapers (this helps to aerate the wormery) and paper shreddings. By the time your confidential documents have been through the shredder AND the worms you won't need to worry about identity theft. The addition of paper and cardboard not only helps to balance moisture levels within the wormery, but also provides the worms with much needed fibre.

As with outdoor compost heaps, it is not recommended that meat is added to wormeries as it attracts flies.

Worms are nature's composting heroes as they eat up to half their own body weight in food each day and, in return for a few meals a week, provide you with great compost and a liquid plant feed. This liquid feed should be diluted with water at a rate of 1:10 and can be used to give your plants a real lift. The solid compost can either be used as a top dressing or mixed with potting compost.

To see how a wormery is set up and maintained click here.

Another exciting form of composting is the use of Bokashi, which in this case is bran impregnated with effective micro organisms. This is a system that has been used successfully by the Japanese for about 25 years and involves the addition of good bacteria (the same principle as those well known drinks and yoghurts) to your waste to speed up the composting process. You put your kitchen waste and the bran into the Bokashi bucket in alternate layers and, when full, leave to "pickle" for two weeks. At the end of this time you can either add the waste to your normal compost heap or wormery.

The main advantage of the Bokashi system is that you can add meat and fish scraps and all those left over bits of food the kids leave (that's if the dogs don't get there first!). Once these have been pickled they can safely be added to your outdoor compost heap or wormery.

It may be that if you have a lot of waste and the space that you opt for more than one of the above composting methods and this is quite common. However, if you do only have space for a wormery you are still helping to slim down your bin and prevent waste being sent, unnecessarily, to landfill.

If every household composted their food waste it would mean a saving of over a quarter of a tonne of carbon emissions per year. This is the equivalent of approximately 1,000 miles of driving in a car that averages 40 mpg."

You can visit Karen's blog, which she maintains on behalf of Wiggly Wigglers at:




Hi Karen - thanks very much for such great advice. I've learned a few new things which I will put into practice.

Karen @ Wiggly Wigglers said...

Hi AMA, Thanks for posting my article and I hope it proves helpful to your readers.

John at Cell Phone Recycling said...

Thanks for posting, This is a great help for us and for the people who wants to do composting. I have learned a lot about "Bokashi." So people help your self and start composting.

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