Composting is nature’s process of decomposed, biodegradable, organic materials into a nutrient rich fertiliser known as compost.
It is an entirely natural process, by providing an environment where decomposers can flourish; you are merely accelerating the natural circle of life. Further acceleration can be achieved by way of a wormery system. When implemented, this system converts organic matter into compost with the help of earthworms.
Around about 60% of household waste is organic, and therefore suitable for your compost heap. By disposing of your own environmentally friendly waste you are saving space in British landfills and reducing the amount of waste-disposal Lorries on the road.
The home composting programme launched in 2004 by WRAP (Waste and Resources Action Programme) shows just how much of an affect home composting can have, the programme had the aim of getting a million Britons composting at home for an estimated diversion of 400,000 tonnes of waste from landfill. That is a significant amount of waste!
As well as the greater good and large scale benefits, there is also the simple fact that compost, the by-product of composting, is an excellent, natural fertiliser which can improve soil structure, water retention and drainage in your garden.
More advanced/sophisticated composting systems will allow for a collection of liquid fertiliser which is an excellent plant feed when diluted with water.
What is suitable for composting?
You may be surprised about the things that can be thrown onto your compost heap:
- Home waste – vacuum cleaner dust, hair, egg boxes, newspaper, toilet roll.
- Kitchen waste – vegetable peelings, fruit skins, food scraps, egg shells, teabags, coffee grounds, kitchen roll.
- Garden waste – pruning, grass clippings, leaves. (You should though, avoid pernicious weeds, like bindweed and couch grass, as these are very difficult to get rid of.)
- Animal waste – manure, bedding sawdust, shavings, hay.
However, the following compost ingredients should be avoided on the smaller scale compost heaps as they do not produce sufficient heat to kill all bacteria:
- Avoid – Manure from non-vegetarian animals including cats and dogs, dairy products, oil, fat.
To increase the efficiency of your composting you need sources of cellulose and protein :
- Cellulose or carbon – straw, sawdust, wood-shavings, dry leaves, cardboard, newspaper.
- Protein or nitrogen – grass cuttings, leafy weeds, animal dung (chicken manure is recommended), fruit/vegetable peelings.
Composting with worms
Your compost heap will cool down once all of the initial bacteria action has slowed and there will still be a lot of decomposition to be done, this is where the worms lend a helping hand.
Worms are able to eat their own bodyweight of matter in a day and so they assist with the composting. They are also beneficial because:
- They are quick workers, nature’s fastest composters in fact.
- They can reduce the composts volume by 85%
- They produce vermicompost, a great fertiliser.
- They operate effectively on small heaps.
- They help prevent bad odours.
For the healthiest, most efficient compost heap you should look to get specialist worms as opposed to just collecting them from under the slabs in your back garden.
An effective wormery system requires a lot of worms, about 1kg per cubic metre in fact. However, once you have bought your worms you will not need to do so again as they are prolific breeders and will naturally regulate themselves to suit the amount of waste that is provided for them.
Litter dwelling worms are the best and most commonly available species for composting:
- Dendrobaena veneta – This is a striped worm and it is a big eater. This type of worm will thrive on leafy waste as their natural habitat is woodland floor.
- Eisenia andrei/fetida – This worm is also known as the Red Tiger worm and is perfect for composting because of its rapid waste consumption rates and rampant breeding.
- Lumbricus rubellus – This is another type of red worm – like the Eisenia – that can survive at lower temperatures than other worms although a temperature drop to below 10 degrees Celsius will see its waste consumption decrease dramatically.
Although this is a surface dwelling species, the Lumbricus can tunnel deep into the soil to escape from the elements, making it a good choice then for outdoor compost heaps and cold winters.