Composting: Benefits, Uses and How to Do It

Composting recycles food and other organic waste into a natural fertiliser, rich in nutrients, which can be used to enrich soil and plants.

Anything that grows will naturally decompose. Composting speeds up this process by providing an ideal environment for bacteria, fungi and other decomposing organisms (e.g. worms) to help break down the organic matter.

Benefits of Composting

Composting is beneficial to the environment because it reuses organic matter to help your plants whilst saving landfill space. One of our favourite things about composting is how easy it is to incorporate into everyday life with little to no cost, just a change in habits. Below are the ways in which composting benefits the environment:

  • Not only does it preserve landfill space, composting reduces landfill’s production of greenhouse gases. The layers of rubbish in landfill creates an airless (anaerobic) environment in which the organic matter produces methane as it decays.
  • Composting helps save water by holding moisture and reducing runoff.
  • The use of compost reduces the need for chemical fertilisers. This not only decreases demand for commercial products, saving environmental damage in their supply chain, it also avoids potentially harmful chemicals contaminating bodies of water and reducing ecosystems.

Aside from this, compost can be incredibly useful for your garden. From lightening clay soils, to protecting plants from drought/freezing and attracting beneficial micro-organisms such as earthworms, composting is guaranteed to aid your garden.

Compost’s Uses

There are a few different ways a publication from the University of California recommends using compost in your garden:

  1. Mix a 3- to 4-inch layer into soil when planting new flower beds or vegetable gardens.
  2. Use it as mulch by spreading a 1- to 4-inch layer of coarse compost around flowers and vegetables. When using it for trees and shrubs, maintain a 3-inch layer, keeping it at least a foot away from the trunk.
  3. Use it to dress your lawn. The Compost Shop recommend first spiking your lawn with a fork to aerate it, then spreading a very thing layer using a brush so you can still see most of the grass. However, be careful with people or pets going straight onto your lawn as they will likely bring the mess back into the house!
  4. Sprinkle a thin layer around indoor or outdoor plants, or make potting soil by mixing one part compost, one part sand, one part ground bark and one part peat moss.

How to Start Composting at Home

When composting in your back garden, choose a dry, shady spot near a water source for your pile/bin. From there:

  • Mix equal amounts of green and brown plant materials (see the images below on what green and brown consist of).
  • Make sure larger pieces are chopped or shredded so they are no larger than 1 1/2 inches.
  • Moisten dry materials as your add them, ensuring your pile/bin stays as moist as a wrung-out sponge.
  • When the material at the bottom is dark and rich in colour, smelling earthy and not rancid, it is ready to use. This can take between two months and two years, hot piles composts will be quicker than cold ones.

What to Put in Compost

what greens and browns to use when composting

What Not to Put in Compost

  • Black walnut tree leaves or twigs
  • Coal or charcoal ash
  • Dairy products and eggs (eggshells are fine)
  • Diseased or insect-ridden plants
  • Fats, grease, lard or oils
  • Meat or fish bones and scraps
  • Pet waste
  • Anything in your garden treated with chemical pesticides

Electric Composters

Beyond composting in your back garden, companies have been working on innovative electric solutions to quickly create compost indoors. Kalea and Tero are two brands who are crowdfunding via Kickstarter for their electric composters.

Whilst these machines will cost more than traditional composting, they are ideal if you live in an apartment or house with little or no garden space. They are also great during the colder months when normal compost will slow down.

You can learn more about electric composters here.

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