Recycling and Home Composting
How to Start Home Composting
Wherever you live, and whatever your situation, you can. Decide how much time you want to spend, how much waste you generate and how quickly you want results. Then choose the method for you.
How to Choose the Best Home Composting Method
A beginner should never take advice from a compost buff on the best method to choose. They will probably persuade you that theirs is the only way, while giving you the feeling that you haven’t a hope of making good compost if you don’t follow rather abstruse technical instructions. Nothing could be further from the truth.
There is a composting method to suit everyone. First you need to think about how much waste material you produce in your home and garden, how much space you have, how much compost you need, how much time you can give, and how organised you are — there’s no point in setting yourself up to maintain a fairly complicated method if you have a haphazard approach to living or if you can only spend time in your garden sporadically.
Most gardeners will probably go for a cool heap, or even just bury waste materials. If you’re very tidy you’ll probably want a neat container. If you need to see quick results, or you like a technical challenge, you’ll probably choose a hot composting method.
Don’t be put off composting because you don’t produce much waste — even one person’s kitchen scraps can feed a worm bin to provide small quantities of highly nutritious plant food.
Hot or cold?
All compost is good for the garden but the varied methods of producing it offer different advantages to the gardener. The main difference between all composting techniques is the speed at which usable compost is produced. Hot heaps work very fast and efficiently, and can transform waste into usable compost inside two months. Some commercial bins have a tumbling mechanism to aid aeration and promise compost-in two to four weeks. Cool composting methods take longer. And are most suitable where you don’t need too much compost, or you have room to make several heaps.
There are also flipsides to each method: hot heaps can take a lot of work and although they destroy weed seeds and diseased material they heat up so much that disease-suppressing microbes are also destroyed in the process. This means when you use the compost it may not be as effective against diseases as that made by other methods. Hot heaps also need to be constructed all at once: you can’t just put kitchen waste out as you generate it but have to store it while you build up enough materials to make an entire heap. And when the heap is constructed you have to keep a close eye on it and turn it every few days, which isn’t practical for everyone. Hot composting is also less forgiving than cool — if the heap is too wet or too dry, or if the carbon/nitrogen ratio is out of balance you may have to make adjustments. However, you can safely compost even tough and diseased plant material, and the end result is very even-textured crumbly compost — fast.
Cool heaps don’t guarantee to kill disease organisms, and tougher materials may have to be composted more than once. As weed seeds may survive the process the finished compost may be slightly weedy and tends to have a rather uneven texture, probably containing material at different stages of decay. Butare easily pulled out and semi-rotted lumps can be put back in the pile for another go. You can add materials gradually to a cool heap as you gather them, and as long as you keep an eye on the balance of materials to keep everything moist and reasonably aerated your heap should need virtually no maintenance. Also, the finished compost is likely to contain a wider range of living organisms than hot compost.
Some of you will prefer to compost in a container rather than constructing a heap. Commercial plastic bins tend to be quite costly and small capacity— usually too small for hot composting — but they are tidy and convenient. You can make effective containers that respond to gardening needs.