Here are my top ten composting tips for achieving great compost, which will help you keep your soil in great condition year after year. Using these composting tips can be the difference between a good year on the allotment and a poor one, especially if you’re fond of growing fruit and veg that thrives in nutrient-rich soil.
1. Get the green/brown mix right
The microbes that break down your compost pile need a balanced mix of nitrogen and carbon to thrive. While this may sound complicated, it simply means that you should aim to add an equal amount of ‘green’ materials (such as kitchen waste, manure, and grass clippings) to your compost heap as ‘brown’ materials (such as dead leaves, hay, wood chips, and paper). Try to keep the ratio approximately equal (by weight, not volume), and your compost will thrive.
2. Use a starter
Give your compost a kick-start with a compost accelerator, such as this one from Neudorff. This will help activate the microbes responsible for breaking down organic matter into compost.
3. Give your compost a drink
Adding wine to your compost at regular intervals will also spur the microbes and bacteria into action, as will the waste products which come from brewing beer.
4. Add paper
Newspaper or standard printing paper is a great and easy available source of ‘brown’ material for your compost. Instead of recycling it, shred it and mix it into your compost heap.
5. Give your compost a helping hand
The smaller the items that you put into your compost are, the faster they will be broken down into usable material. Give your compost a helping hand by cutting food waste down as small as you can before adding it to your heap. An easy way to do this is with the Green Cycler from Ecotonix.
6. Don’t add fats, pet droppings, or animal products
Fats, pet droppings, and animal products will attract pests and can spread disease, so you should avoid adding them to your compost.
7. Be sparing when adding ashes
When adding ashes as a ‘brown’ material to your compost, be very sparing, as the high alkaline content can affect the pH level of the compost and stunt production. Be similarly cautious with acidic materials such as pine needles and oak leaves.
8. Be careful when adding straw
Straw is another excellent ‘brown’ material for your compost, but it may contain weed seeds, which will take root in your developing compost and sap it of nutrients. Regularly check your compost for weeds, and avoid adding straw entirely if it becomes a serious problem.
9. Speed things up with a hot composter
Hot composting is a process that usually involves a compost bin or tumbler which gets the material to a much higher temperature than a traditional compost heap. This dramatically speeds up the process, and this method can produce usable compost in as few as 14 days. Mantis produces a wide range of hot composters which you can order online.
10. How to know when you have compost
You know you have compost when it looks, feels, and smells like rich, dark soil all the way through. It should be unrecognisable from any of the items you added to it, and it will usually be less than half the volume of the materials you started with.