Composting 101: Part 1

Composting 101: Part 1

Reduce your Waste and Enrich your Soils

Australia’s diverse climates are all undergoing some transitions during spring. Early to mid-spring, we’re going dry-to-wet and cold-to-warm – some of us are feeling a bit stifled by intense humidity, and all of us are eagerly awaiting the arrival of good beach weather. Meanwhile, I’m out in the yard beyond my garden studying how well my compost material was able to degrade over the past few months. Now, I’m no stranger to bad batches of compost – I’ve seen my share of damp, soggy piles that look only partially digested, ant invasions overtaking my helper worms, and heaps plagued by some nasty, putrid odour. After some trial and error, I’ve come to see that successfully composting is very simple – you just need to follow some basic guidelines.

Everyone with a backyard garden must have a compost heap. Sounds like a strong statement, but compost has far too many benefits to pass up:

  • Don’t send kitchen waste trucking to a dumping ground – return it to the Earth, lower your household’s carbon footprint significantly, and reduce the negative impact that landfills have on our environment
  • Save money by avoiding store-bought fertilisers and nutrient supplements
  • Good compost contains all the essential soil nutrients for a vital, productive garden: nitrogen, potassium, phosphorous, manganese, copper, iron and zinc.
  • Organic carbon and nutrient-rich material will vastly improve soil and crop health
  • Helpful bacteria, fungi and insects will flock to compost and promote rigorous plant growth
  • Adding compost will add complexity to the structure of your soil and enhance the retention of water and nutrients.
  • Turning over soil with compost is a breeze – soil stays loose, well-aerated and very manageable. The consistency of soil with adequate compost is ideal for planting and root penetration.

To get started composting, place a designated compost bin in your kitchen where you can dump scraps. Anything on the following list should find its way to you compost bin:

  • Fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices
  • Coffee grounds and tea bags
  • Cooked rice and pasta
  • Old bread, cereal, and crackers
  • Eggshells
  • Shells from peanuts, other nuts
  • Old paper products such as cupcake liners, napkins and newspapers (all shredded into bits)
  • Hair and fur from (people and pet) hairbrushes
  • Animal or fish bones
  • Ashes from the fireplace

Make sure you omit the following items from the bin:

  • Dairy products
  • Greasy, fatty products

It’s not all about household goods, though. Trimmings from potted or outdoor plants, pulled weeds, wood chips, mowed grass, leaves, hay, and sawdust can all be tossed in the pile once outdoors. 
You’ll need to categorise your contributions into green (everything in the kitchen compost bin, fresh grass and live plant trimmings) and brown (dead and dried leaves, broken branches, woodchips, and straw). If you are starting your first compost pile, winter and early spring is the perfect time to be gathering your green and brown materials – the summer heat will speed along decomposition. For now, focus on collecting your kitchen compost and separate your outdoor materials into green and brown piles, and soon it will be time to build your compost heap!