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composting for newbies?


I was determined, when I got my garden, that the first things I’d get for it would be a composter and a water butt. I’d even seen the water butt-s that I was going to get – apparently olives are brought into the country in huge plastic drums, which are then discarded. This bloke on eBay recycles them into water butts.
( if anyone’s interested)

I found out that my council does discounts on composters and wormeries – you can buy one for a fiver, though I’m not sure how one would get the worms. But (strangely, to my mind) they don’t do water butts. Water is the most valuable and most easily-conserved natural resource – we get it for free out of the sky, and all it takes is a container and a connection. I did write to ask them why not, but never got a reply.

But once I’d moved in I found that I couldn’t have used one even if the council did them – there are no downpipes to tap into, at least on my walls. There must be downpipes somewhere, but nowhere to be of any use to me. I’d never considered that possibility; outer walls have downpipes.

Sigh, wonder if a water butt topped by a very large funnel would be any good? It might catch some, at least – but enough to be worthwhile?

I bought a composter about a month after I’d moved in. I didn’t think about the size, and it turned out to be bigger than my vague mental pictures; luckily it was of plastic and a bit flexible or I’d never have got it in through the front door and out through the back!

I scanned the instructions into the pc, converted the pdf file to Word, then I could enlarge the text size to something I could read.

Seemed fairly straightforward, but I wasn’t sure about some of it – it said to put alternating layers of: kitchen waste, grass clippings, paper [shredded], prunings, manure from vegetarian pets, hair [human and pet], and a lot more – each to be layered 3-6” [7-14cm] deep.

Slight prob right there: no grass to cut so no clippings; no hedges to prune, no pets. The only green waste I have, apart from the weeds round the edge of the paving, are the plants that don’t make it, and of course I hope I don’t get too many of them.

Ninety percent of the composter contents is teabags! I cook potatoes with skin, so no peelings to go in – but at least I’ve found a use for the weekly council aren’t-we-brilliant propaganda freesheets! The instructions say “shred” paper but I’ve been tearing into small strips, several thicknesses at a time, and scattering them. Would still take a lot to make a 3” layer.

But I did do some weeding at a local charity office where I look after the communal courtyard garden. I broke up the weeds, or at least mangled them seriously enough to ensure they’d fold small enough to fill a dustbin bag, brought that home and put it all in. That should qualify as a thick enough layer! Give it a few months and maybe repeat?

And I can’t quite see myself asking my local hairdresser to save me all their clippings for my composter – they’d think I was weird (though I did think of asking them to save me clippings, to leaving bunches of hair out in the nesting season for birds to line their nests).

When I’ve done some serious repotting I’ve put the old soil in the composter, partly to cover the previous surface in the hope that it’ll keep the files down and partly cos, what’s to lose? New soil for old?

The instructions also say about aerating and turning the contents – a bit beyond me; I’ve tried using a ‘ladies’ long-handled fork but the angle is awkward and I don’t have all that much shoulder or back strength. Still, as Rambling Syd Rumpo used to say, “If that don’t work I’ll poke it down with a stick” – I have an old bathroom metal towel rail and I use that as a poker now and then.

I’ve no idea if I’m doing it right, or at least not too badly wrong – given my vision, the only way I could see clearly would be to put my head and shoulders into the bin, and I don’t fancy that much – partly cos of the “perfume”, and partly cos, if my specs fell of I’d never find them again!

But I hope it’s not too seriously wrong – I’d hate to have to dig out a slimy, gunky mess and take several bags of it through the flat and out to the bins!

And even if it is working right, or at least not too badly wrong, I don’t know when I’ll be able to “harvest” – the leaflet says take some from the bottom now and then and if it don’t look right, put it back in the top.

Checked once (and had prob getting the hatch back on!) and it wasn’t then – but it’s not been going a year yet, so maybe I should leave it a few months – years? After all, it takes time to work even when the right ingredients are put in in the right quantities, so this will take even longer.

Lol I’ll try again when it’s full to the brim. Hope it’ll be ready by then, or I’ll need a second one and that’ll take more space than I conveniently can spare.

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You're not the only one 'doing it wrong'...My attempts at composting produce smelly heaps in which, after 12 months, the 'composted' items can still be easily identified; tea bags are still tea bags, egg shells are still egg shells, etc.
Come on you 'experts'; what are we doing wrong?

18 May, 2011


There are as many ways to make compost as there are gardeners. Ideally you want to get a mix of green waste (non seeding weeds, veg waste, soft plant matter) and drier carbon waste. That is where paper and card go in as well as twiggy waste well cut up. Too much wet vegetable waste etc can go wet and slimy and too much dry waste will be too dry to rot down at any speed. You can water your heap if it is too dry. Mine is more often dry and the bits round the edge don't rot.
If the heap is sited on ground the worms will magically appear. I don't know how.
I don't think you should worry too much about the layers, just try and get a good mix. I can't remember the ratio but I think it is more carbon than green waste. Someone else will hopefully know it.
After 14 years, I think I am getting the hang of it. I have recently been sieving my compost and (gloat, gloat) it looks very good. It's been rotting down for months if not a year and anything that is not rotted properly is thrown back in.
When I only had one bin I used to pull the bin right off and then spade it all back in if it wasn't cooking. It's a good workout.
That is a the basic idea. Hope it helps. There is plenty more to say but I don't want to be boring! I recently went to visit a 'Compost Champion' who takes it very seriously. When he tipped out some compost we all went 'Oooh', in admiration.

18 May, 2011


lol Exoats, I don't know for sure that I'm doing it wrong, I just don't know for sure that I'm doing it right - or right enough. I've not dug into it deep enough to find out if mine might be in the same state as yours. Do you use a bin, or heaps on the ground? I believe that ground-heaps are a lot harder to get right.

I went to Kew Gardens couple of weeks ago, and they have a viewing gallery for their compost heaps! - which I passed up, since I didn't think there'd be much in common between their no doubt stupendous and perfectly-kept heaps and my plastic bin.

Thanks, Marshmallow! I've only just got enough space to have one bin in a corner, so I doubt I'd be up for taking-out-and-putting-back - I'd need somewhere to re-site the bin, or I'd have to shovel it all back in, take the bin off again to put back where it was in the first place, then shovel it all back in again!

Mine's open at the bottom, which surprised me when I first got it, I'd sort of assumed that it would be a closed system where the contents would "cook down" under internal heat. The strip of garden isn't wide enough to get all of the base off the paving, but most of it is, so the worms etc can get in - the leaflet said to fork over the ground first to give them a chance.

The leaflet says that it musn't be too wet, but also that it mustn't be too dry. For a newbie, the "too" is confusing. How wet is too wet? bow dry is too dry? Really, I need some sort of comparison for "just right", then I'll have something to measure against.

I think mine tends to the dry side, at least I hope so! it's easier to add moisture than to try to take some out. Most of what goes in is dried teabags and other fairly dry stuff, so I've watered it now and then, hopefully not too much at a time, but I do it rarely in the hope that it'll have time to recover if I did overdo it.

I know about compost accelerators, at least I know that there is such a thing! It was talked about on BBC Radio 4's Gardeners' Question Time, and i have a jar of accelerator beads, but i'm not sure when to use them - sort of saving them for emergency resuscitation!

18 May, 2011


I have two 'dalek' style bins. One 'cooks' for six months while I fill the other. June/July and Dec/Jan are swop over times so that they get equal amounts of grass cuttings. I shred my prunings before adding them so that they will mix more easily with the 'green' stuff. The vacuum cleaner is emptied into them too, all grist to the mill. Lol. I am very happy with the compost they produce now, but well remember the trial and error stage. Don't give up on it, you WILL get a feel for the right balance of material and delight in the end product.

19 May, 2011


thanks for the enouragement, Xela. It's mostly knowing that I have no usual "garden waste" that was worrying me.

Thought: I'm slowly burning small quantities of small-ish dead wood ("slwoly" and both "smalls" cos I only have a mini-barbie) because I'd read that white wood-ash was the best fertiliser ... but would the ash be of value if added to the composter instead?

19 May, 2011


I've been filling my bin for the last 8 months or so too. Never made compost before.
I did hear Monty Don once saying that it should be predomanently carbon rather than nitrogen - that's where I've been going wrong and mine is looking a touch slimy, even had slugs on the inside of the bin at one point.
So I've upped the nitrogen, mainly by shredded paper - if you have a shredder that's great, all my old bills/receipts/addressed correspondance and even toilet rolls go through the shredder before going on the pile. I empty my hoover contents into it - only as I have pure wool carpets - nylon is a no-no.
I also sprinkle a handful of bonemeal in occasionally too.
Think it'll be a while before my contents look anything like compost - but at least I'm trying!!

19 May, 2011


wow, Donald, I don't think I've ever had "livestock" in mine - but then, given my vsion, I've never wanted to get close enough to look proerply!

I do have a shredder but, not being sure if other paper would break down as easily as newspaper ... the leaflet said that coloured card and shiny paper shouldn't go in, and I shred virtualy everything, and don't fancy trying to sort the shredded remains.

I'm not sure whether my carpets are pure wool, so I've never wanted to risk emptying the vacuum bag

*s* the leaflet also said, and I heard it confirmed on Gardener's Question Time, that urine is a great compost accelerator: he said that it's easier for a male to apply directly! (I suppose it depends on how high the bin is, he might have been referring to heaps on the ground).

19 May, 2011


Love it - urine eh, shall have to get a guzzunder then.

I gave up on my bins last year, removed the supposed compost to the heap of leaf mould in the wood and decided not to have any more, well that was last year. I am trying again now because there are three compost bins stood there and I cannot abide not to see them in use, even if I have to transfer it again to the leaf mould pile - never say die, thats me. Think the biggest problem with mine is that they are not stood in sunshine and so do not get hot enough to 'cook' but they are such ugly bins that they are put out where they are not spied on. lol. I tried egg shells, didn't rot, onion peelings didn't rot either, never tried tea bags though. Will have a go at tea bags, this year am putting grass clippings in periodically, mainly because my chucks like the cuttings and I have to share! Some may wonder why I bother when I have leaf mould available but the leaf mould always has wild seeds in it and nettles and I have tried it but find it just grows me more weeds than I need. lol have enough of those. Keep at it do not let the compost bin win. Daleks must be exterminated!! I always wondered what they reminded me of now I Know!!

19 May, 2011


Ash is good and also urine but much easier for boys!

19 May, 2011


I used to put the whole tea bags in the compost bins only to find that they did not disintegrate so now i tear them open so the leaves can escape and break down. It seems to work for me.

19 May, 2011


Well, I'll try again later in the year. My 'bought' composter is growing early potatoes at the moment so it's not idle. As I can aim better than ladies I 'watered' my compost on and off but maybe the alcohol content was too high....

20 May, 2011


Thanks Rohima; I never thought of breaking open teabags - and I've not looked to see how well or otherwise the bags are doing. I'll try to remember to break them open, but I have a mini-bin for them, and it'd be a drag to cut them open one at a time! but, if that helps ...

Lol Expats, it might come out half cut?

I never thought of the shape as being "dalek" but it is, now it's been mentioned ...

I've only got one end of the garden that might get fractionally more sun, which is why the bin is where it is.

The composter notes says "crushed egg shells" - maybe the crushing makes a difference?

Would it help to bubble-wrap the outside of the bins? that should insulate it a bit more, which can't be a bad thing?

Would it help anyone if I posted the full instructions that I got with my bin?

20 May, 2011


Type Gilli into the search box (top right) and read her blog 'What's in your compost?' from November 2009 ... interesting and hilarious reading!

21 May, 2011


thanks Sbjrley, will do!

22 May, 2011


how's everyone's composting coming along?

5 Jul, 2011

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