Composting Garden Waste

Composting garden waste on small scale

A compost heap is a good investment for any garden, large or small. It gives you a humusrich soil conditioner for nothing, disposes of vast amounts of kitchen waste and gets rid of lots of garden debris too, including vegetable tops, old bedding plants and grass and hedge cuttings. If you feel that as a feature it doesn’t do much to enhance the garden, let the compost build up in a lidded plastic bin instead. you can even compost garden waste in underground trench. To make an underground trench, dig in two spade blade deep, fill it with garden waste and sprinkle activator on top. Finally, cover it with soil from a new trench. That way you can gradually turn every flower and vegetable bed in the garden into compost-rich earth.

Readymade bin vs Treaditional Heap

Bins are best in a small garden where there isn’t much raw material being produced and it is difficult to hide the heap. Bins make small amounts of compost much more effectively than open heaps do. mainly because the whole thing is contained. In an enclosed bin, the heat is retained and this improves the conditions for the microorganisms that do the decomposing. Rainwater is prevented from getting at the raw material as it rots down. This results in a drier, hotter compost that is ready sooner than in a heap. And, of course, the lid helps to contain any unpleasant smells. Only disadvantage against bins is that good ones can be pretty expensive, and they become full in rather a short space of time.

Speeding the process

Garden waste composting accelerator or activator are materials which are added to compost heaps or bins to initiate and maintain the composting process. All contain nitrogen to feed the microorganisms responsible for decomposition, and some also have a neutralising agent to stop the heap getting too acidic. The best also incorporate microbes to start the composting process. Microbes do not like acid conditions, so to get the fastest and most thorough decomposition the heap needs to be neutral or, preferably, alkaline – which is why many experts recommend that a compost heap should be sprinkled with lime every foot or so as it is built up.
Activators are not essential for compost making. The microorganisms from the soil will go to work on the heap anyway. But an activator will speed up composting by as much as two or three months and, more importantly, will ensure that composting is even throughout the heap.

Shredder for composting garden waste

Shredder are designed to chop up raw material that would otherwise have to be left out of a compost heap or bin because of its coarseness. Shredders are expensive and only worth buying if you have sufficient amount of garden waste to shred.

Composting garden waste leaves

If you can have seperate bins, it is preferable to have a seperate bin for fallen leaves and not put these in the main composting bin. The reason for this is that when layered with mixed compost they form a soggy mass that defies decomposition. The flat surfaces of the leaves press together, excluding air and the microorganisms that help the pile to decompose. Then, too. the leaves are fibrous and dry, and therefore decompose more slowly than living green material, slowing down the activity of the whole heap. The seperate bin with fallen leaves compost slowly and creates leaf mould, which is also very useful for garden. The best way to compost leaves is in a small wire-netting enclosure, 4in layers of leaves being interspersed with light coverings of soil. If left alone, such a heap will break down to leaf compost in about a year.

Making Heap for composting garden waste

All that is needed is a three-sided container with a removable roof, though even this may be left out if the heap is covered with a plastic sheet or a layer of soil to throw off rain. To make a basic container you can use something knocked up from old planks, wire mesh or corrugated iron.

Prepare two containers, and use them so that one is full of decomposing compost while the second is being filled with waste material. By the time the second is full, the compost in the first should be ready. Each heap should be as big as practicable -the larger the heap the hotter it gets and the more efficiently it decomposes. For an unenclosed heap, aim for a minimum size of 5ft by 5ft and about 3ft high.

Choose a dry, free-draining position for the heaps. Wet, soggy material takes considerably longer to decompose than refuse stacked on a quick-draining base and it often becomes stagnant and unpleasant to handle. Stack the waste in 4-6in layers, making, if possible, alternating layers of tough, coarse material such as torn newspaper with soft green weeds or lawn mowings. If farm manure is available, spread a layer of it about every 12in. Soil may be used instead, but in any event a 3 in thick layer of one or the other should be introduced at regular intervals.

Throughout the stacking process, keep the heap level by lightly treading the raised areas. This breaks up stems which cause air pockets and hamper decomposition. Regular additions of fresh waste will do a better job than occasional large deposits, for small quantities of green matter ‘feed’ the action of decomposition, maintaining a steady tem-‘ perature in the heap which will turn it into compost quicker. You need. too. a constant heat within the pile to destroy weed seeds and diseased plant remains.

Keep an old damp sack on top of the heap; this will prevent the top layer from drying out. The lower layers will shrink as they break down into compost, so keep adding new material until the heap is full and firm. Top up with a 4in thick capping of soil and leave the heap for a minimum of six months or so before use. The final capping with soil is essential not only to retain heat and exclude rain, but also to absorb the ammonia that is given off during decomposition. Ammonia is a form of soluble nitrogen-rich fertiliser which should be retained if possible.