Sustainability at home: Composting

Composting is a great way of getting rid of rubbish and at the same time creating nutrient-rich hummus that helps the soil retain moisture. However, it’s not only about throwing everything on a big pile and waiting for it to break down – the better the conditions, the faster the composting process happens.

Here are some simple things you can do for more effective composting:

  1. Get the right mix of carbon and nitrogen: Carbon-based materials are mainly dry, such as newspaper, straw and dry cuttings. Nitrogen-rich item are mostly wet, such as vegetable scraps and lawn clippings. The ideal conditions are 1 part wet/green to 25 parts dry/brown. An overly dry compost heap will take ages to break down and one too “green” and wet will start to smell.
  2. If you have lawn clippings, make sure to mix them in thoroughly with the pile, or spread them out for a few days to dry a little. They are usually very moist and rich in nitrogen and as they are so wet, they’ll clump together, dispelling the oxygen needed by the aerobic bacteria which will cause the pile to get quite smelly.
  3. Positioning: ideally the pile should be in a sunny position in colder climates or a shady area in warm climates and preferably over soil so that worms can access it.
  4. To speed up composting, break down materials into smaller pieces or shred.
  5. Maintenance: Turn the pile regularly. Turning introduces more oxygen into the pile so the bacteria can do their work and brings more material into contact with the bacteria. It can help speed up the composting process and prevent nasty odors.
  6. Temperature: keep your pile warm! If you dig a small hole into the pile and put your hand near it, you should feel it being warmer than the air temperature. If it’s cold, you need to add more green parts.
  7. Moisture: it should always be moist – if not, spray some water on to it and work it through.

Things you can add to compost piles:
Newspaper, cardboard, eggshells, vegetable scraps, lawn clippings, cuttings, hair, manure from herbivores, leaves, sawdust, coffee grounds and filters, tea leaves  basically any plant material that that’s not too thick.

Things you should avoid:
Dog and cat droppings, fish, meat and dairy products, weeds, grease and oil. These items may increase the risk of disease and attract pests.

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