The earliest archaeological records of composting date back to around 2320 BC. With the discovery of a series of clay tablets. The discovery that compost could fertilize and improve the soil came when civilization shifted from hunting and gathering to tending fields and livestock. Fast forward to today and this ancient gardening technique is still in use.
Unfortunately, the art of composting, which used to be common knowledge and commonplace, has been largely forgotten as fewer households grow food and more people move to the cities (with garbage disposal a standard community service). There are also misconceptions that home composting is too complicated and too smelly.
Thanks to the lockdown of pandemics, however, there is renewed interest in independent activities such as growing food and the vegetable garden. As a result, the modest activity of composting is gaining traction to produce an inexpensive soil conditioner. Additionally, composting is a great way to keep green waste out of landfills, which will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate climate change.
Different types of compost systems
Composting is easy once you understand the basics. If you want to be more serious about gardening, you may or may not even approach it more scientifically – it’s entirely up to you. In this article, we provide basic composting tips for beginners.
So the first thing you need is one Compost system. The four common types of composting systems are: classic plastic bins, cups, homemade open bay, and bokashi composting.
Before choosing the system, you need to consider the following:
- How much leftover food and green waste do you / your household throw away every week?
- Where will you place the composting system? For example, if you don’t have a back yard, where are you going to put it?
- What is your budget
- When do you need the compost up?
Choosing a composting system will depend on your answers to the questions above. Each system has advantages and disadvantages.
A plastic compost bin and a wooden composting system with an open bay. Photo credit: Flickr
Benefits: Independent, easy to move around in the yard, compact, uncomplicated and budget-friendly. Water drainage is also easier because it is placed on a surface.
Disadvantage: Minimal ventilation rots so slowly (anaerobic decomposition) and requires you to ventilate them with a pitchfork occasionally; As a result, it takes longer to produce usable compost.
Benefits: Makes compost turning easier and speeds up composting (aerobic decomposition due to more oxygen for bacteria and fungi to help break down matter), fewer rodents due to the closed system, looks neater.
Disadvantage: The size of the compost heap is limited to the size of the drum.
MAZE Compost Tumbler 245L is on Bunnings and Amazon for about $ 249.
Benefits: Larger amounts of compost, because they take up a larger surface, can be made from old wooden pallets.
Disadvantage: Not suitable for apartment dwellers, potentially rodent and other pest infestation.
Benefits: Ideal for tenants and residents of apartments; fits in the kitchen cupboard.
Disadvantage: Fills up quickly and can be costly when you add the cost of the bokashi mix (the food source for the microorganisms that help break down the green waste).
The Bokashi Composting System is available from the Biome Store for A $ 105.
What to Compost
Most people divide compost ingredients into two groups: “browns,” which are high-carbon natural ingredients, and “greens,” which are nitrogen-rich ingredients.
Here is a list of common materials to throw in your compost:
- Fruit and vegetable scraps
- Grass and plant pruning
- Cut flowers
- Coffee grounds
- Eggshells (mash to speed up the decomposition process)
- Tea leaves and plastic-free tea bags
- Dry leaves
- Sawdust (from untreated wood)
- Shredded newspaper
- Wood chips
- Cotton fabrics and natural fibers
Mixing green and brown substances at headquarters.
What not to compost
It is not always clear what can be composted as it depends on the individual. Here are some common ingredients people shouldn’t include in their composting systems due to concerns about human health, pests and rodents, or odor:
- Meat and dairy products (you can if you want, but be careful about attracting rodents)
- Sick plant materials
- Treated wood sawdust
- Pet droppings (use a separate pet composting system for these)
- Fat and oils
How to Compost
A simple way of composting is the layered method. As the name suggests, you simply layer the “brown” and “green” matter in your composting system. This method is ideal for open bay systems and plastic container systems.
This is how the overlay method works:
- Start your compost heap with layers of cardboard or newspaper (brown matter).
- Next, add a layer of green matter like clippings or vegetable scraps.
- Then alternate your stacks between brown and green until you reach the top of the open bay or plastic container.
- Water the compost heap to keep it moist and let it sit for 3-6 months.
- Check the pile regularly and, if necessary, use a pitchfork to check that all of the fabrics have collapsed.
- You will know it is ready when the compost has broken down and is dark and crumbly and you can see lots of worm and insect life. Spread out over your vegetable gardens to improve soil fertility.
For the tumbler composting system, aiming for the 50:50 carbon / nitrogen ratio and simply monitoring it as you add more and more green or brown ingredients is a good start.
Read this post on Bokashi Composting for a comprehensive step-by-step guide.
Vegetable scraps are a common compost ingredient.
Common composting problems
Even with the best of intentions and efforts, you can still have problems, especially with your carbon and nitrogen rations. Here are some common composting problems and solutions.
Problem # 1: Don’t collapse fast enough.
Solution: Ventilate the stack by turning it over as it is not getting enough air. Also, make sure to cut up your particles so that they break down faster.
Problem # 2: It stinks.
Solution: Rotate the stack to ventilate it and add more shades of brown as it is too wet which is causing the smell.
Problem # 3: It attracts rodents.
Solution: Avoid putting leftover food, dairy products, and meat in the compost bin, and make sure that no leftover food is exposed. Check out how they might get into the container and fix this problem either by placing the container on concrete or making sure the lids are secure.
Other helpful resources
To learn more about composting, read the classic book on composting the Rodale book of composting as well as the organic book of composting. There are also plenty of YouTube tutorials available for free that step through the process as you study visually.
If you rent a room in a Sharehouse or live in a small space, check out our post: “I live in an apartment and have been composting for a year. Here is my advice... ”.
Cover image via Shutterstock.
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