Composting your kitchen waste at home is relatively easy. From kitchen scraps, peelings and cardboard most uncooked food can go into a compost bin of some sort. There are many different bins available to buy for home composting but the one I use is a rotating compost tumbler made by Draper. It has two separate drums that rotate around an axel allowing you to mix and aerate the composting material with very little effort. I do love going up to the allotment and turning my huge compost pile there but at home you want something quick and easy.
There are a few basic rules to follow when composting food waste at home:
Know what NOT to put in the composter – cooked foods, oils, meat and dairy products will be nasty and could potentially attract some unwanted furry invaders, so keep them out.
Know what is GREAT to add – food peelings, uncooked food, paper, cardboard, egg cartons, coffee grounds, tea bags, weeds, grass clippings, fallen leaves.
Get the balance right – food waste is the main ingredient in good compost and this is referred to as GREEN waste which is rich in nitrogen. You need a mix of 2/3 GREEN and 1/3 BROWN waste for a good mix. Brown waste can come from fallen leaves, cardboard, paper and anything high in carbon. This gives the bacteria something to extra feast on. The BROWN material will also soak up any excess moisture in your composter. So for every food caddy full of GREEN waste, add a few handfuls of BROWN waste.
Get the moisture content right – if your compost is too dry the bacteria won’t thrive and it won’t hold any heat while decomposing, but too wet and the composting material will go slimy and probably stink. The keep the moisture balance right be sure to add brown waste as well as greens. If your compost is too dry use a sprinkle attachment on a watering can to add some more. The ideal moisture balance is when the material feels like a damp sponge.
Get the temperature right – decomposing food will give off heat and this is the trick to break it down quickly and effectively. Position your composter against a wall to protect it against harsh winds and freezing temperatures. The ideal internal temperature should be around 15-20 degrees C. On a cold evening if you know temperatures are likely to fall below freezing, get a large plastic container and fill it with boiling water to tuck your compost up with. You may think I’m crackers for tucking my compost in with a hot water bottle (my husband certainly does) but keeping the heat right will make all the difference to the speed at which your compost breaks down. This is why winter compost takes so much longer than summer compost!
This GIF shows the steam escaping from my compost tumbler after it had been turned this morning (January). It’s a super cold day but the compost was very warm indeed!
Get the oxygen flowing – aerating the compost is one of the most important stages of composting. It adds oxygen to the pile giving the bacteria more sustenance to do their thing. Turning the compost also helps mix it up, move any settled moisture around and spread the heat around as the middle will naturally be hotter than the outside.
Most importantly – be patient! Making good compost takes time, but if you get all the steps above right, you’ll have ready to use compost in a few months. I started my first batch in October 2018 and got a bin bag full out at the beginning of this month (January) so 3 months during winter. I expect the process to speed up substantially once the spring and summer comes and maybe get a drums worth of compost every 6 weeks or so. That’s the dream anyways!
Making your own compost is so rewarding and this “black gold” does wonders for your garden. It’s also great for the environment as you’re replicating a natural process of food decomposition at home in a controlled atmosphere. None of my food waste ends up in the rubbish bin (unless it’s the bad stuff mentioned above) it all goes in my composter.