Green in garden and the kitchen

A Generic photo of a person pouring kitchen waste into compost bin. See PA Feature GREEN Compost. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/Thinkstockphotos. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature GREEN Compost.
A Generic photo of a person pouring kitchen waste into compost bin. See PA Feature GREEN Compost. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/Thinkstockphotos. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature GREEN Compost.

REDUCING waste, saving money and doing your bit for the environment are all tempting ideas.

But sometimes green schemes like wind turbines and solar panels sound a little daunting.

If you’d like to be a bit ‘greener’ but don’t know where to start, there’s an easy answer: composting.

Creating what’s known as “black gold” for the garden is the perfect way to reduce waste while turning your kitchen scraps and garden trimmings into a terrific soil enricher.

Compost tends to be made up of green and brown materials.

The green waste comprises things like kitchen scraps, leaves and used coffee grounds, and the brown tends to be things which take longer to decompose, such as dried leaves and shredded newspapers.

Green compost is moist and full of nitrogen and, ideally, your bin should have a nice layered mix of the two kinds, to encourage a healthy fertiliser to develop.

So, forget buying those expensive bags of compost from the garden centre, and start turning your kitchen leftovers and lawn cuttings into a fantastic soil enhancer, while helping to reduce the amount of rubbish headed for landfill.

• Getting started

All you need to start your composting career is a lidded container or makeshift frame.

It should ideally be at least one metre (three feet) square, otherwise it may be too small to generate enough heat to rot down the mix.

Experts suggest the container should also be easily accessible, have no gaps in the sides and be insulated with cardboard or straw.

And, if you can put it in a semi-shaded position, or directly on the soil, so much the better.

• What can I put in?

Basically anything which has at some point lived will compost - but some items are best avoided.

Don’t attempt to put meat, cooked food, diary products, cat litter or faeces in there, as these can attract unwanted visitors.

Go for ‘green waste’ such as fruit and vegetable waste, lawn clippings, egg shells, stale bread, tea bags and leaves, coffee grounds, young weeds; and ‘brown’ waste which is carbon-rich and slow to rot, such as torn up newspaper, junk mail, cardboard and newspaper.

• How does it work?

Once in your compost bin, the dry, woody brown materials and your soft green waste will work together.

The woody debris will allow air to circulate through the heap, while the soft waste will provide nitrogen, other plant foods and moisture.

Once your container is full, don’t let it dry out or become too wet.

A good test is to squeeze a handful and see how much moisture comes out - it should only be a few droplets.

• How to add your waste?

To ensure success, you should think about the content of compost like a recipe, making sure that your basic mixture is equally balanced with a mixture of green and brown waste

Green waste tends to break down more quickly than brown waste - so use it to activate the composting process.

But, remember, you also need that bulky brown waste, which decays more slowly, to add body to the compost.

Experts recommend taking out tough weeds, diseased plants and woody prunings as they can take too long to decompose, and breaking up all bulky stuff before it goes in.

They also suggest alternating your brown and green materials in different layers, to encourage both to break down and rot.

If you are making compost for the first time, turn the new heap after about a week to allow the cooler, outer material to enter into the hotter centre, then turn it again two weeks later, after which you should leave it for around six months.

• How long will it take?

If you are filling the heap gradually, the material at the bottom of the pile should almost be ready for use by the time the container is filled.

In less than a year, you’ll have soft, crumbly fruitcake-like compost to spread as a mulch or add to your soil to improve its fertility.

You’ll also have the warm fuzzy feeling that comes with doing a good deed - and getting something for nothing.

• Celebrity composter

Charlie Dimmock has always supported the use of peat-free compost, containing recycled materials.

She said: “If you home compost you could cut down the contents of your household bin by nearly a third and, if you choose to use peat-free composts containing recycling materials like prunings, you’ll be helping to keep waste out of landfill where it rots down to potentially create harmful greenhouse gases.”