Composting: the ultimate guide

Hurrah! The snow is abating now for most of us and next week promises more spring-like weather. This means that we can get out in the garden at last. We need to tidy up, start planting and do some composting. We like to grow some of our own fruit and veg. A decent compost makes a big difference to the health and yield of our produce.

To get you in the mood for gardening, today I have a guest post from Emma Metson, who blogs at Fixtures&Flowers. I hope you find it helpful and interesting. Over to Emma!

Composting is good for the environment

Quick fact: The average Briton alone has a carbon footprint of around 9.1 tonnes. Times that amount by the country’s population and you’ll get a shocking amount of emissions. Our friends across the pond produce just over double, with a 20 tonne footprint per person. Truly shocking!

That’s only taking into account the emissions of two countries, let alone the rest of the world. Human-kind has a lot of work to do.

It’s true that there are so many things that can be done to reduce a person’s carbon footprint. Composting, for instance, is one of the best and most efficient methods to reduce waste especially if you have a garden.

Composting is cheaper

Composting is also a cost effective way to add extra nutrients to your garden, which in turn boosts the growth of your plants. If you grow your own fruit and vegetables, compost will help produce a better harvest, saving you even more money.

If you’ve been thinking about composting but don’t know where to start, this guide is specifically for you. It will talk about the main types of composting together with everything that you need to figure out which method suits you and your garden best.

Types of composting

First let’s break down the different types of composting that you can choose from.

Traditional or normal composting

It’s kind of difficult to define what traditional composting is. That’s because composting is a general term that refers to the aerobic (with oxygen) and biological decomposition of organic waste. This process is done under ‘controlled’ or ‘semi-controlled’ conditions — through human intervention.

Regardless of the type, composting can be used to enhance the type of soil in your garden. Compost is packed full of nutrients that are perfect for your plants to feed on, so adding compost to your top layer of soil is a favourite for keen growers. This is especially the case if your garden is home to a difficult soil type.

The four components of traditional compost are ‘greens’, ‘browns’, air, and water. Obviously, the last two don’t need any further explanation as to what they are.

‘Greens’ are the organic matter that contains plenty of nitrogen such as kitchen scraps and lawn clippings. ‘Browns’, on the other hand, contain a lot of carbon like paper, cardboard, newspapers, and dead leaves. Both nitrogen and carbon are needed to make that rich humus which is needed by your plants.

Hot or cold?

Traditional composting can further be divided into two — hot and cold composting. The former is a faster process but requires more labour as you need to turn the compost pile regularly. The latter is as simple as putting all the waste in a pile and leaving them be. As you might have guessed, cold composting is a very long process.

A few reminders:

  • If your compost starts to smell, you need to either add more ‘browns’ or turn your compost pile (in the case of hot compost) more often.
  • If your compost pile is too wet, add more ‘browns’. Your compost should feel like a wrung-out sponge.
  • Lastly, add more ‘greens’ if your compost seems too dry.

Vermicomposting

Vermicomposting is a type of composting that makes use of specific types of worms to produce a by-product that is rich in nutrients and is of course, organic. Simply put, the earthworms consume organic matter and excrete it in a digested form called worm cast.

 

The casts that have passed through the stomachs of the worms contain up to eight times as many nutrients as their feeds. Because of this, these worm castings are also known as ‘black gold’. Vermicomposting can be done using different methods, the most common of which are the bed and pit methods.

 

In general, vermicompost is superior to other types of conventionally-produced compost in the following ways:

  • It’s superior to most composts as an inoculant in the production of compost.
  • Worms, aside from being the perfect ‘plowman’ for your vermicompost, can also be used as high-quality animal feeds.
  • Farmers, for instance, can benefit a lot not just from vermicompost but vermiculture as well. When produced in large numbers, both can provide as an additional source of income.

 

On the other hand, vermicomposting has the following disadvantages as well.

  • This process of composting can be quicker. However, it would usually require more labour to do so.
  • The worms require more space to grow since they are ‘surface feeders’.
  • Worms are vulnerable to environmental conditions such as extreme heat, freezing temperatures, or drought.
  • Vermicomposting usually requires more resources to get started with like money (to buy worms) and labour. That being said, the startup cost isn’t very high.

Countertop composting

This type of composting is ideal for urban dwellers. Those who found a way to maintain a garden despite the limited space will also benefit a lot from countertop composting. A good example would be in apartment buildings where you do your gardening on the balcony or perhaps, indoors.

 

At the same time, this is perfect to reduce your kitchen’s carbon footprint since leftovers and scraps are more than welcome in the compost bin. Do note, that meat and fatty foods should be avoided unless you want your compost to be a party place for insects and pests. Citrus peels and onions are also a no-no because their acidity will kill essential microorganisms which can slow down the decomposition.

 

Pretty much, all you need to have is a container where you’ll be putting all your organic waste into. You can buy them in stores, or if you want to save money, you can go for a DIY countertop compost.

Compost tea

Yes, you heard it right! There is such a thing as compost tea. But don’t worry as it’s not the same as the very popular beverage and no, you’re not going to drink it.

Compost tea is organic fertiliser in liquid form. The process of making compost tea is as simple as steeping aged compost in water. It can be made right at home using your well-finished compost.

Here’s why compost tea has become a hot trend with gardeners:

  • It increases plant growth since the nutrients are easily absorbed by the soil and the plants through spraying.
  • When used as a foliar spray, the surfaces of the plants are occupied with by beneficial microbes which prevent pathogens from infecting the plants.
  • The nutritious content of compost tea is easily absorbed by the plant roots. This encourages the growth of root systems to help your plants pull the nutrients farther down.

Bokashi composting

Bokashi is the Japanese word for “fermented organic matter”. This method was developed by Dr Teuro Higa, a professor at University of Ryukyus, Okinawa, Japan, in the 1980s. How it differs from the other types of composting lies in the fact that it’s done anaerobically — no oxygen.

It’s also one of the least expensive and labour-required methods of composting. The Bokashi bucket has an air-tight lid and a spigot at the bottom to drain off the liquid that will be produced. You will need to layer kitchen scraps (you can also use meat and dairy which are not allowed in aerobic composting) with a Bokashi inoculant inside a bin.

The inoculant or Bokashi bran consists of either wheat germ or sawdust combined with molasses and Effective Microorganisms (EM). You can buy them online or get them from stores. And yes, you can also create your Bokashi bran.

The mixture can be used after it has fermented by letting it sit for up to 10 days without direct sunlight. The fermented mixture can be dug into the garden or added to a compost pile to complete the decomposition process.

Why you’d consider Bokashi composting is most likely because there are no restrictions on what can go inside the bin. Another advantage of it is that it requires very little maintenance because you can just leave it be while waiting for the mixture to ferment.

Conclusion

The truth is, there’s no right or wrong method of composting. The best method is the one that works best for you and fits in with your lifestyle and budget.

Remember: The goal of composting is not only to provide healthy food for your plants. It’s also to reduce the waste which ends up in landfills and help save the environment.

Have you tried composting? Which method do you prefer?