Composting from start to finish
Although you can start to compost at home at any time during the year, it's best to start from spring to early autumn, when the weather is milder and when there is more garden waste available. Once your home composter is up and running it will be fine to continue to use it through the winter.
Collect your kitchen waste in a container such as an old ice cream tub or kitchen caddy to empty into your compost bin and add your garden waste as and when it is produced.
We spoke to Fran Clifton, Head Gardener at Harold Hiller Gardens, who showed us the different stages of composting which takes place in their gardens. It's exactly the same as in your garden at home, just on a much bigger scale! As Fran explains, home composting could save green-fingered folk money on shop-bought compost, and it uses up all those leftover kitchen peelings.
- Where to put your bin
Your compost bin will work the best when it's placed in a sunny spot on bare soil. It doesn't matter if it's in a shady spot, but it will take longer for your compost to develop. It’s best to place your bin on levelled ground where any excess water can drain away easily.
“Choosing a spot where you can easily get to your compost bin will make it easier to add to it regularly and to get the finished compost out.”
It's possible to put your compost bin on concrete, tarmac or patio slabs, but it is a good idea to place a layer of soil, compost, manure or newspaper and card on the bottom so that worms and other creatures can be attracted to the compost.
Siting a compost bin on decking is not recommended as any liquids draining from it may stain. The only solution would be to build a raised bed on top of the deck.
- What to put in your compost bin
"The key to making good compost lies in getting the mix right. You need to keep your 'green' and 'brown' materials properly balanced."
Fruit & veg peelings
Never put the following in your compost bin:
Meat and fish scraps
Items marked as compostable or biodegradable
If you are using a 'standard' home composting bin or compost heap, meat, fish, bones or cooked food cannot be put into your compost. If you would like to be able to compost these items however other options are available. These include:
Please refer to the individual manufacturer's recommendations as these do vary.
Compostable and biodegradable packaging
Some retailers now provide biodegradable or degradable plastic bags, packaging, hygiene items and nappies. None of these materials, including those labelled as ‘home compostable’, are suitable for home composting, as the temperatures needed for these to break down can only be reached in a specialist, industrial composting facility, according to research from UCL. To cut down on waste, use reusable alternatives instead and dispose of these single-use items in with your other unrecyclable waste.
- Using your compost
After 6-9 months your compost should be ready to use! It should be dark brown and crumbly. It should also smell earthy. Don't worry if your compost looks a little lumpy with twigs and bits of eggshells - this is normal. Lift the bin slightly or open the hatch at the bottom and scoop out the fresh compost with a garden fork, spade or trowel.
“Use it to enrich borders and vegetable patches, plant up patio containers or feed the lawn.”
Although there’s no right or wrong time to empty the contents of your compost bin, either to store separately or to use on your garden, removing the compost before it builds up too much will both avoid creating a habitat for unwanted animals that may like to burrow into your compost and will also ensure the microorganisms in your bin are best placed to focus their efforts on producing new compost. You can bag up your compost until it's needed - just make sure you leave some of the old material in the bottom of your compost bin as it contains all the useful micro organisms that are needed to get the process going again.
Home compost can be used as a soil improver on all types of plant beds where plants are grown including vegetables*, flowers and ornamental shrubs. Although your home compost will be very nutritious, it is too strong for bringing on young plants. It is best to mix it with other materials to make potting compost.
*Although this advice is consistent with Recycle Now, Hampshire County Council cannot guarantee that your compost will be completely safe to use in this manner as it is your responsibility to ensure that you only compost the correct materials.