Composting isn’t just a great way to reduce household waste, it’s the easiest and quickest way to nourish your garden. Mix your compost through the ground in your yard to improve the condition of your soil, use it to nurture newly potted plants or spread it over your garden beds as mulch. There’s a composting option to suit every home and budget, but sometimes simply starting a compost bin isn’t as easily as you thought it would be. We asked landscaper Paul McNeilly, the founder of Pop Up Gardens in NSW to give us his professional advice on common compost problems and how to solve them.
If your compost isn’t breaking down properly
- Add in some healthy garden soil to get the compost going as it has micro-organisms and will assist your scraps to thrive in their composition.
- The compost needs to be turned and mixed as regularly as possible to ensure that the composting happens evenly throughout the mix.
- Full sun is best for your compost to thrive.
- The bigger the better for compost as larger mosses will generate more heat and speed up the process.
- Having two bins or more also helps keep the cycle going.
If your compost is smelly
- Consider the carbon to nitrogen ratio to keep your compost healthy and decomposing. Go for half dead (brown) and half green (alive) mix and things should work out well.
- Avoid any meats or fish in your compost. Theoretically, a really good heap of compost can get to 60oC plus. This will break down anything, but in a home environment it’s best to stick to vegetables.
- Add water to the compost if it becomes dry, but not too much as a saturated compost will become smelly and less effective with anaerobic decomposition.
If your compost is slimy
- Choose a location in the garden that drains well for the compost and ideally with good air flow. Next to carbon and nitrogen, CO2 and H20 are crucial to the process.
- Don’t add too much water
If your compost is spreading weeds
- Avoid lawn clippings as your grass has lots of weeds, and when you use the compost your just spreading the weeds further.
If you’re not sure how and when to use compost
- You can tell if compost is ready to use when it cools down and starts to look crumbly.
- When the compost is harvested it should be dug into the area a little to get the best results.
Tips for keeping your compost in top-notch condition
- Use a good mixture of green waste and brown waste (ideally 50/50). Green waste is "wet" waste, which includes vegetable and fruit scraps, grass and plant clippings, coffee grounds & paper filters, tea leaves etc. Brown waste is "dry" waste, which includes dry leaves, wood chips & sawdust, shredded paper and cardboard, eggshells, nut shells, hair & animal fur etc.
- Avoid adding meat products (off-cuts, fat, bones etc) greasy or oily foods, dairy products, pet waste, or any items which are not fully biodegradable such as face/surface wipes, teabags (which usually contain plastic), and any "degradable" plastics (because these do not break down fully, they only break into smaller pieces of plastic).
- When adding lots of green waste to your bin (such a veggie scraps), it's always a good idea to add a thin layer of brown waste over the top. This will reduce flies and will prevent smells escaping.
- Finished compost should look, feel and smell like a rich dark soil. Once it is fully broken down, you should no longer be able to see any of the separate items which were originally added to the mix. The compost can added to your potting mix when planting, can be sprinkled on your garden beds as a mulch, or can be mixed through the existing soil to improve its condition.
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