Start Composting at Home

February 4, 2009 by  
Filed under Recycle

compostComposting is the natural decomposition of organic material (from plants and animals) by microorganisms, into a dark brown crumbly organic substance called compost.

Compost mixed with soil is beneficial for growing plants as the compost retains soil moisture, improves soil structure and provides nutrients.

There are different types of composting methods such as using a typical compost heap (outdoor or in a compost bin), using earthworms in vermicomposting, or using effective microorganisms in Bokashi composting.

Instead of throwing away your food and garden waste, which ends up being incinerated, why not try composting them at home? The compost can be used for gardening and helps you save money by reducing the use of fertilisers.

You can try composting your food and garden waste at home with these 4 easy steps:

1. Prepare a Compost Bin

You can buy a compost bin for a few hundred dollars but we recommend building one yourself. All you need is a cheap plastic bin with a lid, such as the common black dustbin or the rectangular-sized dustbin. The size of the compost bin depends on your family size, the amount of waste disposed and where you want to place it.

It is important to ensure that air can circulate freely in the compost bin as composting is an aerobic process where microorganisms require oxygen to decompose the waste. If there’s insufficient air, the process becomes anaerobic and produces gases such as methane, ammonia and hydrogen sulphide, which causes smell problems.

To ensure good air circulation, drill small holes on the lid and at the bottom and sides of the bin. The bin should be placed at an airy spot without direct sunlight. The bin should also be elevated from the ground by placing two bricks or stones at each end of the bin bottom.

Use cardboard to line the sides in the bin to prevent material from coming out from the holes at the side. Stuff wood chips or wood shavings in a net and place it as a pillow at the bottom of the bin. This helps to prevent liquid and material from coming out from the holes at the bottom.

2. Start Adding Waste

Get fresh compost from an existing compost bin or buy them from stores. Place the compost into the bin and up to one-third of the bin. This compost acts as a starter as it contains microorganisms necessary for decomposing the waste.

compost-binThe microorganisms use carbon and nitrogen in the waste as food, so you should add a mixture of “greens” and “browns” to the compost bin.

Carbon is rich in “browns” such as dead leaves, twigs, woody prunings, wood shavings, egg boxes, cardboard, newspaper and waste paper.

Nitrogen is rich in “greens” such as fruits, vegetables, leaves, flowers, grass cuttings, eggshells, teabags and coffee grounds.

A balanced diet is necessary for the microorganisms and for making good compost. It is recommended to add about 50% “browns” and 50% “greens” to your compost bin. You can also cut the waste into smaller pieces to quicken the composting process.

Remember that you should not add meat, fish, cooked food, dairy products and oily stuff into the compost bin, as it will cause odour and pest problems.

After adding the waste to the starter compost, add water to the mixture and mix thoroughly using a spade or garden fork. The mixture should be moist and not wet.

Place another pillow net of wood chips or wood shavings on top of the mixture and close the lid. This helps to keep the moisture in the compost bin.

3. Maintain the Compost Mixture

The compost mixture generates heat as the microorganisms eat, grow and respire. So if you feel that your mixture is warm, this means that the composting process is doing fine. Mix the contents of the compost bin daily to circulate air and release heat.

Also ensure that the mixture is kept moist. A quick test is to take a handful of the mixture and squeeze it. If you get a few drops, that’s ok. But if you get too much liquid, you should add some woody or paper waste to absorb it.

If you have more waste, just add them to the mixture and mix it. Adjust the moisture content and the ratio of “browns” and “greens” accordingly.

4. Use the Compost

After about three to six months, the composting process should be completed and your food and garden waste should turn into dark brown material.

Screen your compost with a 0.5cm filter or a similar sized net. The smaller sized compost can be used for your gardening while the bigger sized compost can be kept in the bin as starter compost.

You can use the compost by mixing it with soil for growing plants. Or add a layer of compost at the plant base to prevent weeds.

That’s it, 4 easy steps to start composting at home. Ok, maybe it’s not so easy for some people. But with patience and care, everyone can produce natural compost from your food and garden waste. Try it today!

Image credit: wisemandarine (compost); Hello, I am Bruce (compost bin)