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Composting at Home

Most of the information in this section was kindly provided by David Riggle of Stirling Council

Composting at home is easy. Here is the recipe:

Ingredients

  • a generous amount of organic waste from your kitchen and/or garden
  • a handful of earthworms (not essential but may be useful)
  • a generous amount of air and moisture
  • a smidgeon of goodwill
  • season with insects, bacteria and fungi.

Method:

  1. There are various methods that you can use for composting. Choose the most suitable one for your garden. Here are some of the options:
    • Heap or pile: this is exactly what it sounds like - a heap of organic waste in the garden. A heap is most suitable for larger gardens. The size can be made to suit the individual, how large or small they want to make it. Large piles are the fastest form of composting, if regularly turned. Large piles,(1 cubic metre), can generate enough heat to kill off some weed seeds and some plant diseases. The pile can be covered with an old carpet to keep the rain out and the heat in.
    • Bin or tumbler: plastic compost bins are available from most garden centres and several Councils provide them at a discount price. A tumbler is a similar bin, but is set on a metal frame so that you can rotate the bin to aerate the compost. Both help keep the garden tidy and clean. Plastic composters are best suited outdoor. The tumbler is great if you are worried about vermin, pets or kids getting into the compost.
    • New Zealand Box: this type of composter is, again, available from most garden centres and some councils provide them at a discount price.
    • There are various kinds of composters that you can make at home. There are plenty of good sites that tell you how to make and use your own composter. Have a look www.dmoz.org/Home/Gardens/Soil_and_Additives/Compost/ for more information on how to build and use your own composter.
    • For those who dare, click here for a site that tells you how to build your own composting toilet:
  2. Alternative methods of composting could involve the use of:

    • food digesters: these reduce the quantity of food waste, but do not produce good soil conditioner, so they have to be periodically emptied into the dustbin or taken to the local civic amenity site.
    • wormeries: these can look like other composting bins, but they use worms to break down the waste, and produce high-quality fertiliser very quickly, depending on the amount of worms and the size of the composter. These need more maintenance than the other methods, so they are more suitable if you have time to spare. For more information on composting with worms, check out Vermicomposting.

  3. Find a place to keep your composter.
  4. Collect all your suitable kitchen and garden waste - peelings, egg-shells, teabags and leftovers from the kitchen and cuttings and leaves from the garden are the best (see the table below for items suitable for composting).

 

YES

FROM THE KITCHEN

NO

FROM THE KITCHEN

  • Fruit and vegetable scraps
  • Tea bags, coffee grounds
  • Egg shells
  • Banana skins, orange peels
  • Paper towels/tissues (soiled)
  • Cork
  • Cotton Wool
  • Fish and Chip Papers
  • Meat
  • Fish
  • Bones
  • Fats, grease, oils
  • Dairy products
  • Cooked fats
FROM THE GARDEN / HOUSEHOLD FROM THE GARDEN/ HOUSEHOLD
  • Lawn cuttings, grass, leaves
  • Houseplants & flowers
  • Newspaper (shredded or torn and balled)
  • Cardboard boxes, packaging (torn and balled)
  • Feathers, hair
  • Small animal droppings/litter
  • Ashes, coal or wood (in small amounts)
  • Diseased plants
  • Weeds gone to seed
  • Dog/cat droppings
  • Brush or large prunings (unless shredded or chipped)
  • Recyclable newspaper or card

 

  1. You will know when the compost is ready when it becomes dark and crumbly. Depending on the type of composting, 'hot composting' or 'cold' and 'high fibre composting', it can take anywhere up to a year. You can then use it in your garden or add it to planters and pots for shiny happy plants!!!

For more information on composting in Scotland, visit the Scottish branch of the composting association.

Type of Composting
Advantages
Disadvantages
Time to Compost
'Hot' Composting
  • Quick to decompose
  • High temperatures kill off weeds and plant pathogens.
  • More difficult to maintain
1 - 3 months
'Cold' Composting
  • Easier to maintain
  • Not all materials are required at the start
  • Takes longer to compost
  • Weed seed and plant pathogens can live
At least 9 months to a year
'High Fibre' Composting
  • This is the easiest to maintain
  • Composts nonrecyclable paper and cardboard
  • Takes longer than hot composting
  • Weed seed and plant pathogens can live
At least a year possibly even more

 

Method

'Hot' Composting

  1. Gather "brown" (e.g. leaves, straw, small twigs etc) and "green" (grass clippings and vegetable trimmings) materials, as well as cardboard, to make a pile.
  2. Ensure the majority of material has been chopped or shredded.
  3. Build up the heap or fill the box with 15cm (6 inches) of well watered "browns" and 15cm of "greens" and mix the first two layers together. Make sure material is moist but not sodden.
  4. Continue adding alternate levels until desired height is achieved or composter is filled.
  5. Protect from heavy rain and the compost should begin to heat up within hours. With regular turning, you should have the finished product in 4 - 8 weeks.

'Cold' Composting

  1. Make a 6 - 12 inch base of "browns" then add plenty layers of "greens".
  2. Add materials as they arise then mix with a fork or stir with a broom handle to increase air circulation.
  3. Always make sure equal quantities of "browns" and "greens" are added. This prevents slimy of odorous compost.
  4. Keep covered in heavy rain. If it gets too wet, add dry "browns" and leave uncovered to encourage drying. Similarly if it is too dry, add water.
  5. Heat may be produced if grass trimmings are added, but it won't stay for long. Be prepared for worms and other decomposing insects to be present in the compost. The finished product will be at the bottom in around 9 - 12 months.

'High Fibre' Composting

  1. Follow same instruction as for 'cold' composting, although materials such as balled or scrunched cardboard can be added..
  2. The pile must be kept moist but not soaking.
  3. Compost will start forming at the bottom of the composter after 12 months. Use as required or keep adding materials to continue composting.


The Best Conditions for Composting:

The best conditions for composting are:

  • 40% - 60% moisture
  • plenty of oxygen
  • a temperature of 30 - 60 degrees Centigrade or 90 - 140 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • A carbon to nitrogen ratio of 30:1 by weight.

In other words, there are three basic elements that are required to be successful at composting:

  1. Materials: to achieve optimum results add a mixture of tough materials (hedge trimmings, straw) with softer materials (grass clipping, fruit and vegetable peelings).
  2. Moisture: It is vital that the moisture content is correct as if it is too wet is becomes slimy and if it is too dry it will stop altogether.
  3. Air: Air is required by all the tiny organisms that make the compost, so please stir the compost allowing air to circulate to keep the organisms alive.

The two most common problems that occur when people try to compost are that the process is too slow/doesn't work at all and that it's smelly or slimy. Either of these will be due to one or more of the above conditions not being right.

Not enough moisture means that the microbes can't break down the waste, so the composting will be slow, or may stop altogether. Too much moisture also slows down the process and makes the compost smelly.

Not enough air means that the aerobic composting organisms get suffocated and die while other organisms that thrive in the absence of oxygen, anaerobic bacteria, taken over. This produces ammonia, which is very smelly indeed (like concentrated cow poo).

Too low a temperature slows down the composting process, which is why it is always slower in the winter. Eventually, the microorganisms will make heat as a natural by-product of the process, but insulated bins are available.

Not enough nitrogen in the compost heap will slow down the composting. If there is too much, there will be smelly ammonia produced.

How do I turn my compost?

This is another common question that people ask. For hot composting, it is absolutely vital that you turn the compost to let in more air for the microbes to use to break down the waste. If you do not, then the mixture will get cold, and the process will be slower or become anaerobic. For cold composting, it is not neccessary to turn the compost as often, but it's still a good idea to do it once in a while, especially during the spring and summer.

If you have a heap, it's simple - just get in there with a pitchfork.

If you are using a bottomless bin or box, then you've got to lift the container so that all the material falls out of the bottom, and then give a good mixing with the pitchfork and put it all back. An easier method is to poke holes in it, the compost with a bit of plastic tubing or something.

Otherwise you can buy a turning tool from garden centre. Original Organic and Blackwalls make them. Some people swear by them, and they have the added bonus of being temperature-sensitive so they will tell you if your compost is at the right temperature.


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