My goal in this post is to give you the practical advice on how to actually compost at home, with the idea that my previous posts have given you both some motivation to do it and some of the principles at work.
Let’s start by reviewing the basics. All we need to compost is: air, water, nitrogen and a reasonable temperature. Nature itself provides most of this and in essence all you need to do is make a pile, turn it regularly, and ensure it doesn’t dry out. However, by controlling the process just a bit we can really speed things up and make life a bit easier for ourselves by saving space and organising the whole venture.
I’ll review a few technological approaches that may be of use to the average householder:
This is the tried-and-true low-tech solution. Simply start a pile somewhere convenient with enough space to allow for turning. Check moisture levels weekly and turn when you notice the pile has shrunk significantly. I usually keep adding to the pile until it is a decent size, then start a new one while it matures. Depending on the amount of waste produced and speed of decomposition, you will probably find that a maximum of three piles will do. The advantage here is obvious – simplicity. However, the the major disadvantage is lack of control. The piles will be open for cat, dog and rat visitors, subject to wind and general unsightliness. There will also be a limit to how high you can make the pile before it slumps, growing horizontally.
DIY compost box
A simple box to contain the compost can be made to suit any size or space. There is no ideal material, it just must be constructed to allow air to enter. This may be done with wood slats or chicken wire, but there is no ideal design. The composter I built for our garden has three spaces and is made from used fence posts and bit of expanded metal I collected.
Fresh clippings go into the left bay, they are turned once into the middle bay and are screened (I have a screen made of chicken wire that can be placed over the box) before being dropped into the right bay. Screenings go back into the second bay for further decomposition. The rear ‘wall’ of the composter is an existing wire mesh fence. This system is still quite simple and cheap, but results in a bit more control over the process. It still has the disadvantage of being open to the elements.
Round plastic composter
The round plastic composter and its rectangular and octagonal counterparts are a poplar choice for those who do not generate a large amount of waste and are looking for a more concealed option. The idea is that you continuously fill the container from the top and remove finished compost from the bottom. Whilst the concept is quite tidy, it does not absolve the user from the ensuring the composting process is running along. As turning is not advisable (although I’ve ‘mixed’ ours using a fork) the best technique is to layer the more dense/moist kitchen waste with grass clippings and leaves. We use our’s (see here) for kitchen scraps that may attract animals – bits of cheese, egg shells, plate scrapings, etc… I try to keep large chunks of wood and other bits out as they may take longer to digest. This is an ideal solution for the city dweller who may not produce much garden waste. Due to the magical shrinking power of compost, our unit has oft times been full to the top, but after two years of adding waste has still not reached the top of the front door.
Many people, such as myself, have a weakness for any sort of gadget that makes your life easier and possibly a little more interesting. Rotating composters are very common in large-scale operations and, under strict management, have the ability to compost waste into a finished product in less than a week. Home versions, such as the one shown, may achieve similar results under the right conditions, but this, in practise, seems unlikely. Their main advantage, however, is simple ergonomics. They are much easier to load and unload and a good mix is much more certain.
So, hopefully there’s been enough information here to help you start composting!
In the mean time, I’ll take any questions you may have on the subject.