Composting is a great way of reducing waste in the home. It can be done in the garden or on a countertop bin in your apartment and is especially useful if you are keen on apartment gardening. There are so many indoor compost bins available that there really is no excuse even apartment composting is achievable with a bit of commitment. Either way it’s s great way to reduce waste and to save on buying compost for plants.
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Compostable Material Groups
There is a bit of an art to composting as it needs the right combination of materials to work effectively. Compostable materials are divided into two categories, green and brown:
- Green: Materials like plants, fruits and vegetables. These items provide moisture and nitrogen to your compost and will break down quickly.
- Brown: Materials such as wood-based waste, cardboard and dead plant matter. These are carbon-rich materials that help to provide structure. It breaks down more slowly so it’s best to be chopped into smaller chunks. Many compostable eco-friendly products will fall into the brown material category.
- Accelerators and activators: Nitrogen-rich additives such as Garotta are sometimes added where green waste is in short supply but it shouldn’t be needed if green waste is plentiful. You can purchase activators containing carbon, aimed at composting grass clippings or green waste where you don’t have the right amount of brown waste. But most homes should have a good combination of both of these material groups.
Striking the Right Balance
To help bacteria and micro-organism who produce the compost it’s important to get the right balance of both green and brown materials. Don’t let one material especially grass clippings dominate the heap as they will become slimy, smelly and create a mess.
- Green materials: Aim for between 25% and 50% soft green materials
- Brown Materials: Make up the 75% to 50% remainder with brown materials
Don’t forget to turn your materials periodically as this will add air and distribute moisture. If you’d like to make the turning process a little bit easier you can get a compost bin like this one.
A well-balanced compost heap will heat up as it decomposes, this is completely normal and can be ready in as little as 12 weeks in the right conditions.
Compostable Household Waste
General Green Compostable Material
- Fruit and vegetable scraps, make sure to discard or chop up the seeds as these will sprout in the right conditions, especially tomatoes
- Fruit peels (non-acidic): Banana peels, avocado skins, and melon rinds are okay, avoid citrus fruits as these are quite acidic.
- Tea leaves and natural paper teabags – be careful as most teabags contain plastic. Also, be mindful to minimise caffeine-containing tea as caffeine can stun plant growth
- Coffee grounds – again be very careful with large quantities of caffeine in compost as this can stun plant growth and kill worms
- Expired jams and preserves
- Spoilt foods and condiments (keep cheese to a minimum)
General Brown Compostable Material
- Corn husks and chopped up cobs
- Used, unbleached coffee filters
- Crushed eggshells
- Cardboard packaging, egg boxes, brown paper bags and food punnets. Try not to include coated cardboards with lots of printing as these aren’t generally classed as organic. Tear these into small pieces
- Stale bread, tortilla shells and pizza crusts (meat-free pieces)
- Pastitsio and walnut shells – be mindful that these will take a long time to break down
- Non coated and grease-free paper plates
- Cellulose dish sponges and compostable dishcloths
- Non greased paper towels and paper napkins
- Wooden toothpicks
- Shredded toilet paper rolls
- Hair trimmings
- Cut up natural loofas and other cotton fabrics from clothing, sheets and towels (cut these very small)
- Shredded paper, junk mail, envelopes with the plastic windows and torn up newspaper (non-glossy). Note that some papers and ink can contain bleaches and chemicals so rather leave those out of compost to be used to grow edibles
- Pencil shavings
- Natural wood shavings – no MDF, plywood or chipboard type woods
Compostable Garden Waste
Green Compostable Material
- Green leaves and leave trimmings
- Grass trimmings: Mix these thoroughly and keep turning to add air to your compost heap
- Deadheaded flowers
- Weeds, make sure there are no seeds as this will spread weeds all over your garden
Brown Compostabe Material
- Dead leaves
- Dead plants, including their roots and soil: As long as they didn’t die of disease these are fine
- Bush and shrub trimmings
- Chopped up sticks and twigs
- Sawdust and wood chips from untreated wood
- Pine needles and pine cones
- Compostable plant pots, coir baskets and seed trays – not the plastic version or any plastic bits unless they are clearly marked as compostable
Compostable Pet Waste
Green Compostable Material
- Manure: From herbivores only such as rabbits, gerbils, and hamsters.
- Bird droppings – some droppings such as pigeon droppings can spread disease so be careful when adding these and make sure you mix them well and they aren’t old droppings that could be hosting fungus.
Brown Compostable Material
- Dry dog and cat food – be mindful that these are often non-organic normally so I’d be careful adding these
- Animal fur or feathers
- Pet bedding, newspaper and cage liners from herbivores – no cat litter!
- Bamboo and carboard toys
Top Composting Tips
Make sure your compost heap contain the right mix of materials as outlined above as it will help to encourage good bacteria and creatures such as worms, beetles, ants to help the process along. A balanced heap will also help to control odours.
Don’t forget to turn your compost periodically as noted this will help to increase airflow, which is vital for decomposition.
If you’d like to keep your compost strictly natural to use for organic produce then you’ll need to be a bit stricter with what you put in as chemical residues in the material and inks you place into your compost will generally remain there. When producing compost for garden plants or the lawn this won’t bee too much of a worry, so it might be worthwhile splitting your compost into two if you’d like to use some for growing strictly organic edibles.
You can easily make compost in a heap, but compost bins like this help to neaten up your garden especially if you have a small space and it will help to better control moisture during wet or particularly dry times.
If you have any quesitons or additional material tips, please add them in the comments below.