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Composting and Composters: A Basic Introduction
Recent studies show that an average family throws away approximately 200 pounds of organic kitchen waste every year. Combine this with all the leaves, grass clippings and other organic garden waste accumulated over time and that's a lot of household waste being added to the already mountainous waste disposal problem. Some local authorities are refusing to take away green waste from gardening and others charge for the service in an effort to curb mounting costs and then when you add in the environmental costs of adding new landfill sites, road transport emissions from ferrying all this waste around and potentially incineration and the fumes that releases the environmental advantages of composting are clear.
In slightly more selfish terms, if you are a gardener then you will know the relatively high cost of fertiliser. Well, OK an average gardener's yearly fertiliser expenditure is not going to break the bank but when you can get fertiliser for free out of the stuff you throw away then it starts looking extremely expensive. Composting simply makes good environmental and financial sense and it's so easy to do there's nothing stopping you.
What Do I Need To Begin?
A compost bin, box, enclosure or handy place to put an open compost heap. Cheap plastic composters and compost bins can be bought from all good garden centers and are quite inexpensive depending on your requirements. A plastic compost bin is generally the cheapest whilst wood composters are generally more attractive additions to your garden but a little more costly. An open heap (just create a pile somewhere) is also an option but it is advisable to have some sort of cover like a tarpaulin available for colder periods of weather.
Another slightly different alternative to composting in the traditional sense is vermicomposting or wormeries. These use a special kind of worms to break down kitchen scraps producing a fine compost-like material fromtheir casts and a nutrient filled liquid plant food which is ideal for feeding indoor pot plants. If do a lot of greenhouse gardening or have a lot of houseplants then a wormery may be the best choice for the disposal of household waste.
If you do not want to actually spend money on a composter then building your own isn't exactly difficult if you do not mind picking up a hammer and nails. Nail together a few wooden pallets for example and you've got an enclosure suitable for composting. For plans and ideas on how to assemble your own composter at little cost, simply head to your favourite search engine and type in phrases like "build your own composter" or "compost bin plans" for an endless supply of simple ideas typically costing under $30.
Where To Put Your Compost
Whether you purchase a composting bin or make your own composter you need to make sure you have a flat, well drained place in your garden not too far away that you begrudge taking your kitchen scraps out to it. Compost bins should not be placed on concrete, patio areas etc. as you want to allow the insects, worms and microorganisms which help degradation of your waste materials the freedom to migrate into and out of your compost without hinderance.
In addition, choose a site which suits your climate. Warmth and moisture helps the composting process so place your composter in a place which receives a fair amount of sunlight and shelter from the wind if you live in a cooler climate and if in a hotter climate, ensure you give it shade to prevent it drying out.
What Materials Can You Compost?
Pretty much all your organic household and garden waste is an elligible candidate for composting although there are a few exceptions. Things to particularly avoid are meat, fish, bones, fats and oils, dairy products like milk and cheese, dog and cat droppings as these can attract animals, create foul smells as they degrade and carry nasty diseases. Also, whilst weeds and plants can be added, it is advised to dry out persisent weeds and remove seed heads before adding these. Ashes are also best avoided, as are glossy magazines although shredded paper and cardboard are fine to add. Feel free to add waste fruit and vegetables, crushed egg shells, coffee grounds (worms love them!) and tea bags, hair, leaves, grass clippings and other organic waste. As a general rule, if in doubt, leave it out but most organic waste will rot down just fine and if you shred it or cut it up smaller, it will compost faster.
How Long Before It Becomes Compost?
This depends on the balance of materials in your compost heap, the weather and the amount of time you can devote to the project. If you want to take an active managed approach to your composting then you can have afully composted pile in 3 months but if your only desire is to dispose of kitchen and garden waste in a more 'green' manner then it can take 6 months to a year or longer.
Managed composting can produce a 'hot rot' with very fast results but it does require additional effort on your behalf to keep it going. A managed, hot compost heap with an excellent balance of materials can reach temperatures of 70 degree celsius but requires regular turning and nurturing with careful layering and balance of browns and greens in the mix, shredding materials and maintaining a good moisture level.
An unmanaged cool heap is however much easier to maintain and rots down at up to 30 degrees celsius with little input from you. Just throwing your waste on the heap will give you a cooler heap which will rot down more slowly but is fine for green waste disposal purposes.
There are ways to increase the rate of the composting process in both cases by, for example, adding composting worms, or by using an activator which help speed up the process. The addition of a handful or soil now and then or horse manure will also add micro-organisms to speed up the composting process free of charge.
For The Best Compost...
...use a wide variety of different materials. The more varied the materials you add to the compost pile, the nutrient rich your final compost will be. Compost made from kitchen and garden waste is the best food for your plants and at the same time you are helping the environment and saving yourself and your local government money into the bargain.
Mark Falco is the webmaster of the British gardening shopping guide found at http://www.ukgardeningsupplies.co.uk which includes where to buy composting accessories including composters, compost worms and accessories as well as garden tools, furniture, plants and gardening accessories online for UK delivery.
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