Why and what to compost

Short version:

Compost healthy organic matter from the garden, vegetable and fruit waste from the kitchen and even some cardboard and paper waste. This provides free nutrients for your plants, keeping them healthy and helping the environment at the same time.

Why compost?

You can look at the nitrogen cycle and see how this single nutrient moves from the soil, to plants, to animals (sometimes) and back to the soil again in an endless cycle. 

It’s not all about nitrogen though. Plants need 13 minerals in order to thrive. Of these nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium are needed in large quantities and sulphur, magnesium and calcium are needed in lesser quantities. The other 7 are needed in very small amounts. Basically, once a plant depletes the nutrients out of the soil those nutrients need to be replaced. In nature the plant will in due course die (or parts will die, like the leaves in autumn), or get eaten and poo-ed out (yes – we’re all thinking Lion King… ) and then these nutrients are replaced back in the soil. For a healthy garden it’s important to put these nutrients back in as we grow and take things out. Otherwise they’re not there for the next thing you grow. Of course, you can buy a packet of fertiliser in the shops but then you may want to consider what goes into fertilisers. I don’t have a fear of chemicals. It’s the energy and cost to the earth that I’m worried about. You can see the arguments in ‘Fertilisers’ and ‘Eutrophication.’

Also, why pay for something, when you can use stuff you were going to throw away anyway. Compost, made from a variety of kitchen and garden waste, will contain these minerals. The amounts will depend on how much of these minerals the dead matter had to begin with. Also, with compost you get a good growth medium. It holds water well but drains well too. That is something fertilisers won’t give you.

Another thing to consider is – what happens to this waste otherwise? If you have a council that collects everything in one go, then you can expect the waste to go to landfill. If you have a council that collects garden waste or food waste that’s better – but if you process it yourself then that’s less energy being spent on transporting (yes they’re making the journey round the houses anyway – but extra weight requires extra fuel) and then processing it. Even your cardboard boxes are great for composting.

What to compost?

From the house:

  • Vegetable and fruit peelings and bits (apple cores, banana peels, that orange that went mouldy at the bottom of the fruit bowl)
  • coffee grounds and tea leaves (we compost tea bags – but be aware that the bag itself will often contain plastics see previous post ‘Composting tea bags’)
  • NO dairy, oils or meat.
  • Shredded cardboard and paper without inks or dyes. A bit of common sense may be needed e.g. A paper towel used to mop up spilled juice or something is fine but not if you’ve cleaned up sauce or oil. Remove plastic and labels from cardboard.

From the garden:

  • Any plant matter that is not diseased or heavily infested with pests.
  • NO roots and seeds of perennial weeds. Be aware that any seeds may not compost and could sprout when you use your compost.
  • Any wood bits should be chopped up or you are literally looking at years for that bad boy to compost.

Chopping things up helps to speed up the process but if you’re quite lazy like me you don’t need to. You just have to leave it to compost for longer.

For those who want a bit of jargon:

Green waste is leafy stuff, green stems, grass cuttings, the kitchen peelings and cut offs, coffee and tea. It is rich in nitrogen.

Brown waste is things like cardboard, paper and woody garden waste. It tends to take longer to break down and it is rich in carbon.

For easy and cheap ways to compost you can look at:

Hole Composting‘ (which is literally digging a hole and burying kitchen waste) and ‘Bin Composting