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Garden Composting and all you need to know.

Why should I compost?

Organic matter improves soil structure and gives life. It opens up heavy soils, aids drainage and provides good growing conditions. Light or sandy soils benefit from its moisture retentive properties.

It provides nutrients for plants. The nutrients in your compost depend on what has been put in your bin, but will always contain a wide range of trace elements and plant foods.

It is a completely natural product. In nature, all living things eventually decay; composting simply speeds up the process.

It is free and environmentally friendly. Up to 30% of household waste is organic and can be converted into compost for use in the garden. Composting is good for plants, good for the environment and good for us.

Where should I locate my Composter?

Preferably in a warm or sheltered position, but this is not essential.

Position composter unit on bare soil. This will aid drainage and allow worms and bacteria to enter and aid breakdown of the raw material.

What can I put in it?

Garden Waste: All types of garden waste including annual weeds, grass cuttings, fallen fruit and old vegetable plants, bedding plants, chopped prunings, hedge clippings, horse and poultry manure and urine, straw, feathers, dried fallen leaves, sawdust and wood shavings, shredded wood and twigs, seaweed, spent compost.

Household Waste: Teabags/leaves, egg shells, coffee grounds, fruit and vegetable waste, human and animal hair, feathers, shredded and soaked cardboard, paper, wood ash.

Avoid placing any cooked food including meat as this is likely to attract rodents.

How to Make the Best Compost?

The composting process requires raw material, water and air. Good compost comprises a balance of as many ingredients as possible. Too much grass will create a slimy mess; too much woody material will create a dry heap, which decomposes very slowly. Chopping and cutting ingredients into small pieces before adding to the composter will facilitate faster decomposition.

The most important balance to achieve is the proportion of woody, high carbon material (e.g. dried leaves, straw, paper, twigs, hedge clippings) to sappy, high nitrogen material (e.g. plants, weeds, vegetables & fruit, grass, manure). The woody material keeps the compost open and aerated, preventing the soggy mass that results from composting too much nitrogen-rich material (such as grass cuttings). However, it provides little or no nutrients for the bacteria in the heap, which creates the heat required for good composition. Soft material contains the nitrogen needed by bacteria, plus water. During colder months a piece of polystyrene or old carpet placed in the bin on top of the compost will prevent heat loss.

An essential ingredient for composting is air. The best way to introduce air into the composter is to fork up the contents and turn it over. It is a good idea to do this on a regular (monthly) basis.

When will the compost be ready to use?

Shredded material that has been kept moist and turned several times can be ready for use in the garden in just a few months but six months is more typical. The length of time really depends on the mixture of ingredients, air temperature, size of coarser material and how quickly the composter unit was filled. Compost at the bottom will always be ready first, so always remove from the bottom first.

If a finer texture is preferred, sieve out the coarse material; this can be used as mulch around the garden or in the base of planters/garden pots to provide drainage and nutrients, or simply replace in the bin for further breakdown. Finally do not use garden compost for delicate seedlings because it is not sterile.

The author is a leading Garden Designer and Landscaper based in Dublin, Ireland. Many of his ideas and advice have been tried and tested through many years of professional experience as owner manager of a well established and award winning garden design and landscaping company which provides Private and Commercial clients a complete landscaping service including Garden Design, Construction & Planting.

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