Home Composting - Prelude

I plan to do a series on home composting covering both theory and practice. The course is designed for small/town gardens, where space is at a premium, but is easily scaled up.

Hotbin compost sample

There are many reasons for producing and using your own compost: (i) adding soil nutrients, (ii) improving soil structure and drainage, (iii) increasing water retention, (iii) mulching, (iv) encouraging beneficial soil microbes/bacteria/fungi/minibeasts and, if that is not enough, (v) saving money by fewer trips to the waste recycling centre and/or the garden centre.

The science (biology/chemistry/physics) of composting is complex and not fully understood. There are no rules, merely guidelines, and all home composters are empiricists! Commercial composting operations have a wide range of appropriate materials available to blend the perfect compost heap, backed up by a bevy of instruments and analytical tests to ensure the process is optimised and the product uniform. The home composter has to make do with whatever organic matter is available; instrumentation, if any, will be limited to a compost thermometer. Composting at home is best suited to those of a phlegmatic character because not every heap will be a success. Knowing how to 'recover' a compost heap that has gone wrong is an essential skill.  

The simplest and cheapest form of composting is to dig a hole (at least 30 cm deep), fill with cooked/uncooked kitchen scraps (no meat or dairy which may attract unwanted rodents/dogs/etc), replace the soil and leave. It does require the availability of bare soil somewhere in the garden but, otherwise, is ideal if you only have small amounts of stuff to compost. Trench composting is similar but on a larger scale.

Another form of small-scale composting is Bokashi where kitchen scraps are pickled/fermented by bacteria to produce a solid soil improver (added directly to soil/wormery/compost heap) and a liquid product that can be used as a drain cleaner (neat) or plant feed (diluted).  I found this system ideal for small quantities of kitchen waste (cooked and uncooked) though quite expensive to run. My old Bokashi bins are now used to prepare comfrey tea.

Some years ago, I bought a Wormery on the understanding it was suitable for recycling cooked waste as well as other kitchen and garden waste. After only partial success, I learned the hard way it was not really meant for cooked foods. On the plus side, it produced excellent vermicompost and a liquid feed on the occasions it did work. 

Over the years I have also used many of the more common types of static compost bins whether made from old wooden pallets or recycled plastic (often free from the local Council) including a cheap plastic tumbler variety. Nowadays, I opt for a Hot Composting process followed by maturation in static bins. Further details in a future post.


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