Composting explained

Composting explained

Why Compost in the first place? Composting is the best thing you can do for your vegetable garden. It is the natural process that returns the nutrients used by growing plants back to the soil and is particularly important for vegetable growers for two main reasons:

  • Vegetables need high fertility soil to give the return expected of them. You reap what you sow - adding sufficient compost to your soil will means healthy and vigourous crops.
  • We remove a large proportion of the the plant material from the soil when we eat it therefore not returning these nutrients to the garden. We need to compost every scrap of green material available to help balance this debt.

If you could get your hands on a soil improving, natural slow release fertilizer for free you'd use it, right? When we send green waste to landfill we're wasting an opportunity to improve our gardens and participate in one of the most important cycles in nature. Organic compost is essential for a healthy vegetable garden so if you don't make your own you'll need to source it elsewhere anyway. When you consider how much you save yourself both the expense of getting rid of green waste and money spend on fertilizer it makes a whole lot of sense.

Composting basics Many people are put off by composting because they end up with a bin full of foul smelling gunk which is as far away from the lovely crumbly 'black gold' as is possible to get. I remember my first attempts were just like this and nearly put me off the whole thing. The good news is that the remedy is usually pretty simple and once the right balance is achieved you'll never look back.

fresh Strawberry cake

It's a piece of cake Composting is a bit like making a cake, or perhaps more accurately, a lasagne. The process needs a blend of ingredients arranged in layers to work.

Unlike the pretty pink cake in the picture the two main ingredients in compost are green and brown. In general the green material contains high percentages of nitrogen and the brown a high percentage of carbon. You need to build layers of these two groups in roughly equal amounts. Here's a table with some key members of each group to help you identify them.

Green Material,Brown Material,Unsuitable Material Grass Clippings,Newspaper, Meat and fish leftovers Vegetable Peelings,Straw or Hay, Coal or Peat ashes Green leaves,Cardboard, Glossy Magazines Farm animal Manure,Eggshells,Large Woody Material Kitchen Scraps,Wood shavings or wood ash,Diseased Plants Green Garden Debris,Old Hedge Clippings,Chemically treated Garden Waste

There are usually plenty of vegetable peelings and green garden waste available but many people find it difficult to gather enough brown material for their composters which results in the aforementioned foul smelling sludge. A good idea is to gather a few sacks of leaves in the Autumn to add to your pile throughout the year. The more bulky dry brown material allows air through the heap and keeps the composting process going.

How to make compost Unless you are using a compost tumbler or rotating compost bin the method of building a heap will be pretty much the same whether you are using an open pile, wooden or plastic compost bin.

To start place a layer of brown material at the base of the pile. Straw, paper, shredded hedge clippings or cardbaord are ideal. Add alternate layers of green and brown material at a depth of about 5-10cm keeping the ratio between the two about 50 / 50. Depending on how much wast you have n your garden your compost bin may never reach the top as the lower layers rot down and compact. The lower layers of finished compost are removed for use in the garden while you continue adding layers to the top.

Turning compost with a garden fork

Keeping your compost healthy Compost needs air to break down quickly. It is beneficial to aerate your compost every few weeks using a garden fork to make holes in the top of the pile. Turning your compost a month after your bin or pile is complete will result in a more even compost as the bacteria in it are stimulated by the introduction of air.

Compost shouldn't be too wet to if you live in an area with high rainfall you will need to cover your compost. All plastic compost bins will have a lid but if you're using a wooden structure or an open pile it's important to protect from the rain. Your heap should be moist but not soaking.

Can I make enough compost to feed my garden? You will never be able to make enough compost from the waste generated in your garden to supply the needs of your soil. As already mentioned this is because you eat much of the material produced which finally ends up many miles from your garden. You will need to add to your home compost with products like Envirogrind or composted horse manure but your homemade stuff is still an essential part of this mix.

Types of compost bins Home compost bins come in a range of shapes and sizes mostly dictated by the size of your garden. A static plastic compost bin is usually sufficient for a small to medium urban garden whereas a large heap or wooden composting system is better if you have a larger amount of garden waste to process. The method you use in making compost will vary slightly depending on which type of composter you use. Closed plastic units, for example, have less air circulation so require a drier, more careful mix whereas an open timber structure allows you to be a bit more free with your ingredients. We stock a wide range of options as detailed below:

Kitchen Composting Bins Kitchen compost bins are really more of a storage solution to hold kitchen scraps before they are added to the main composter outside to break down. Place your kitchen crock or bucket beside you recycle bin as part of your household waste program.

Attractive kitchen compost storage crock

Compost Crock The compost crock is a pretty little storage pot for potato and carrot peelings and other vegetable scraps. It features a ventilated lid with an odour filter and is a the most charming example of a storage crock we've come across. Keep it beside the sink or on the worktop so it's always within reach.

Compost bucket

Compost Bucket With Lid These metal buckets are similar to the crock above and perform the same job. They feature a separate internal plastic bucket for easy cleaning and a rubber seal lid to keep any odours to a minimum. These compost buckets come in 5 and 10 litre sizes.

Again an attractive piece not to be hidden in the cupboard under the sink.

Plastic composters Plastic compost makers are the ones most people will be familiar with and consist of a tall plastic tower with a lid and an access door at the base of the unit. I our experience this is the one people have most problems and is the most likely produce a wet, slow rotting pile. It's not the composters fault however and is down to the material you put in. It is essential to keep your brown/green balance right here so add plenty of brown leaves, cardboard and paper.Our static composters include some excellent units including two Irish made bin made in Co.Cork.

Plastic compost bin

Static Garden Composter with base 330L Made in Cork, this is the only compost bin of this type with a base making it rodent proof. It's rotation moulded making it stronger than similar products but remains at a very competitive price. We like this bin and find it performs best with a slightly drier mix than normal.

Eco master compost bin

The Eco Compost Bin The Eco home compost bin has a wide base with air vents around the side to help the compost break down quicker. The large lid makes it handy to fill with the wide access hatch making it easy to remove your finished compost. This was the first composter we sold and remains our best seller.

Tumbling composter

Rotating composters I always had a bit of problem with many of the rotating composters on the market as I always found the stand a little flimsy and liable to break under a full load. Our Irish designed and made tumbling composter is a very clever design which easily spins on a solid wheeled base. This product is rock solid with very little to go wrong and performed very well on test. As with any enclosed composter keep materials a little on the the dry side by adding plenty of brown material.

Wooden Composters

Wooden compost bin with lid

Wooden Compost Bin with lid Our Wooden Compost Bin is also produced in Ireland where we try to source as many of our products as possible. The advantage of a timber bin with an open slatted design is that it allows air to circulate through the pile. If it's wet it is worth covering the pile as this will speed up the process.

I personally find a wood compost bin the most forgiving of the range and the ones I use at home. Available with or without a lid.

Insulating Composters

Joraform JK125 liitle pig compost tumbler

Insulated Rotating Composters These guys are the pinacle of compost bin design and can break down material incredibly quickly due to the high levels of heat built up inside the unit. Another big advantage is you can add meat and fish waste into the mix which all breaks down into fabulous rich compost.

Yes, these are expensive but they are definitely the best compost bins for speed and ease of use. We recommend using a wood pellet or wood shavings mixed the rest of the material to absorb moisture and create useable compost in record time.